Meet Phenoxyethanol: The Ingredient that's in Everything
It wasn’t until two years ago when I began my crusade to more thoroughly understand what makes up a face mask, that I began noticing Phenoxyethanol in the products I was using. At base, you’re likely to find it sandwiched halfway down a standard ingredients label, somewhere between things like Ethylhexylglycerin (A skin conditioning agent in Summer Friday’s Overtime Mask), Sodium Benzoate (a preservative in Glossier’s Priming Moisturizer), and Dimethicone (a silicone-based polymer used as a lubricant in Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Cream). Frankly, take any moisturizer, mask or bottle of nail polish you have on hand and you’re bound to find it present - sitting in your bathroom like the perennial cloud on an illustration of a sunny day. At this point, I’m starting to feel like brands throw it in for good measure; “it’s in everything else, so we should have it, too!”
But first; my already overdue explanation to the obvious question of this article: What does this syllabically complex ingredient even do? According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, phenoxyethanol is a colourless, clear, oily liquid with a faint aroma at room temperature and a low evaporation rate. It’s produced when phenol (EU) and ethylene oxide (EU) interact at a high temperature and pressure, and oddly enough, this is a substance which occurs naturally in green tea (EU) [L2621]. Though it’s one of the most widely used preservatives on earth (thanks to the savvy consumer eschewing parabens many years ago), at larger concentrations it proves incredibly irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs. It’s also been banned for exposure on babies due to potential harm to the nervous system, and in Europe concentrations of more than 1% have been banned. The thing is, though; most commonly-used ingredients in mass or luxury-level skincare products contain ingredients like this, and at the right concentrations, mixed with the right product, they can prove harmless on the skin, and even demonstrate significant topical benefits. It’s just all about being informed, balanced in your approached, and on our side of things…doing what you feel is best for you.
And look; this doesn’t mean that phenoxyethanol is the devil. It doesn’t mean, also, that you should throw out everything and subsist on coconut oil alone. But what we do want you to extract is the knowledge that all those little words and numbers on the back of that package you slather on your face means something, and if sometimes a thing doesn’t feel good, you always, always have the power to change that. And we’re always, always here to help.
With love from us and your new-found ingredient friend,