Phenoxyethanol (and why we use it in some of our products)
What it is: Phenoxyethanol can be found naturally in green tea, but the commercial ingredient is synthetically produced in a laboratory creating what’s termed a “nature identical” chemical. Specifically, it’s created by treating phenol with ethylene oxide in an alkaline medium which all reacts to form a pH-balanced ingredient.
What it does: Fights bacteria. Most personal care products are made with a lot of water and a variety of nutrients (consider all of the natural oils and botanicals in Honest products!) which makes an incredibly hospitable breeding ground for microorganisms. What’s worse – the product might smell and look just fine, but be swarming with bacteria or fungi that are dangerous to your health. Effective preservatives are vital for ensuring safety!
Why we use it: We use phenoxyethanol in a very low concentration as a preservative some of our products because the most accessible alternatives for these types of formulas include parabens and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Both are classes of chemicals with demonstrable evidence of potential health risks, whereas phenoxyethanol is very safe at low levels. It’s been tested on the skin and eyes and it is non-irritating and non-sensitizing at levels of 2.2% or lower while being effective at only 1% concentrations. The European Union and Japan both approve its use up to that 1% level and our formulas fall well below the recommendation at 0.5% or less (depending on the specific product).
Even better, phenoxyethanol doesn’t react with other ingredients, air, or light. This kind of stability makes it an especially effective preservative.
What’s more, it’s included in the Handbook of Green Chemicals and is also Whole Foods Premium Body Care approved. And, their standards, developed by a team of scientists over the course of years, are some of the strictest available. If these two credible sources give it a thumbs-up, we do, too.
What is NOT true: We regularly hear from customers concerned about this ingredient because there’s quite a bit of online controversy about its safety. You’ll find it being mentioned as everything from a developmental and reproductive toxicant to being linked to cancer. Fundamentally, it’s poorly interpreted science.
Here’s the real deal: Most of the studies that have found significant negative health impacts are based on full-strength or high-dose exposures. In real life usage, exposures are quite small. That’s why it’s approved at levels up to 1%. It’s all about the final formulation. So we want you to be fully informed.
PLEASE DO NOT BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ ON THE INTERNET and NON SCIENTIFIC BLOGS! Always do your own research on more than 5 different sites, and make sure they are backed by scientific proof and not just some blogger who heard it's an unsafe ingredient.