The Scoop on Phenoxyethanol

A common ingredient I see many green beauty advocates talking about and customers asking me about is a preservative that you will see frequently in our products called phenoxyethanol.

It’s a hot button ingredient in the green beauty arena. Many say that it isn’t safe and should be avoided and we stand by the fact that it is one of the safest preservatives available currently. I wanted to share our recent release of information surrounding this ingredient and why we still use it. It’s a long read, but I’m always about keeping you all informed!

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Beautycounter believes everyone deserves the right to know what they are putting on their skin and in their bodies. Education, transparency and trust are part of our core philosophy, especially when it comes to potentially harmful chemicals hidden within ingredient labels. We have been asked on several occasions about the preservative
phenoxyethanol—specifically as it pertains to preservation of our formulations. Preservatives in certain personal care and cosmetics products are necessary to protect human health as they prevent the growth of mold, yeast, and bacteria, as well as maintaining the formulas’ stability.

After conducting rigorous scientific evaluation, including our own studies, an exhaustive analysis of the best peer reviewed science, and a partnership with Tufts University, we are confident that phenoxyethanol, when used at low levels in our products, provides broad spectrum preservation benefits with minimal risk to human health.

We have diligently reviewed the two studies on phenoxyethanol that have raised questions about the safety of this ingredient. We believe that these two studies have flaws and do not align with the broader conclusions of the scientific community.

The first study showed that high-level exposure to the chemical through oral ingestion can cause eye and skin irritation. Beautycounter does not use phenoxyethanol in any applications that would involve oral ingestion of the chemical. And when we use phenoxyethanol our formulation levels are significantly lower than those used in the study.

Second, a more recent study investigated a possible correlation between levels of glycol ethers in women’s bodies and how long it took them to conceive. There are several flaws with this study, including:

The study did not test phenoxyethanol, but rather a cousin of the chemical (glycol ethers) The study did not find a cause and effect and relied on a self-administered study (a methodology that is not recognized by the scientific community) The findings of the study were not replicated or corroborated by other scientific studies

To better understand any possible endocrine effects of phenoxyethanol, we have partnered with Tufts University School of Medicine, Department of Integrative Physiology and Pathobiology. We commissioned two non-animal tests of Beautycounter’s phenoxyethanol supply for endocrine activity (’15 and ’18; respectively). The findings from the ’15 study show no estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, androgenic, or anti-androgenic activity at any dosage tested, even those
significantly above the levels in our formulas. The findings from the ’18 study will be published later this fall.

To address possible skin-irritant concerns prior to commercialization, all Beautycounter products, including those containing phenoxyethanol, are tested clinically through patch-testing for dermal sensitivity.

Finally, we don’t stop at our scientific screening and testing processes. Beautycounter is dedicated to finding new
preservatives and continues to be a leader in the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) Preservatives Challenge, where companies have pooled resources to find viable alternatives to existing preservatives or new preservative systems (our Countermatch collection is a recent example of these efforts). Additionally, we are leveraging our advocacy efforts and serve as a Steering Committee member of the Sustainable Chemistry Alliance, a coalition of industry leaders who are working together on Capitol Hill to advance legislation that would help fast-track bringing green and safer chemicals to the market.

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