What is Phenoxy ethanol?

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Phenoxy ethanol is an organic compound which is a glycol ether, frequently used in skin creams and sunscreen. Glycol ether is a group of solvents based on alkyl ethers of ethylene glycol. Solvents are compounds which are used to dissolve solid, liquid or gas to make a homogenous mixture. It is an aromatic ether alcohol.  Glycols are found in paints, lacquer and jet fuel. Phenoxyethanol is recently gaining more attention in the cosmetic industry as a preservative. In cosmetic formulations, phenoxyethanol is used to kill bacteria and is used as a stabilizing agent. FDA announced that phenoxy ethanol can affect the central nervous system.  Phenoxyethanol is banned in Japan and in Europe due to its adverse effects on the brain and nervous systems.


What is the chemical composition of phenoxyethanol?

The International Union of Pure and Applied chemistry (IUPAC) name of Phenoxethanol is 2-phenoxy-1-ethanol. Other names of Phenoxyethanol are Ethylene glycol mono phenyl ether, 1-hydroxy-2-phenoxy ethane, Rose ether, Phenyl cello solve, Phenoxy tolarosal, Emery 6705, and Beta hydroxyl ethyl phenyl ether. The molecular formula of phenoxyethanol is C8H10O2. It is a colorless oily liquid with a molar mass of 138.16g/mol. Phenoxyethanol is very stable physically . Phenoxyethanol is formed by the chemical reaction between phenol and the ethylene oxide in an alkaline medium.


When it reacts with very strong oxidizing agents, it undergoes combustion. It has a higher boiling point of 476 degree Fahrenheit. The melting point of phenoxy ethanol is 11-13 degree centigrade. Phenoxy ethanol is often used to replace sodium azide in biological buffers as 2-phenoxy ethanol which is less-toxic. Phenoxyethanol is moderately soluble in water. Phenoxyethanol does not react with copper and lead. Phenoxethanol provides a broad spectrum anti- microbial activity against either gram positive or gram negative bacteria, yeast and molds.

What are the uses of phenoxyethanol?

  • It is found in insect repellents, dyes, inks and in many pharmaceuticals.
  • It acts as a good penetrating agent and is used in detergents, cosmetics and in skin ointments.
  • It is also used in the perfumes as a fixative by reducing the evaporation rate of the perfumes.
  • It is used as a substitute for preservatives which releases formaldehyde.
  • It is used as an anesthetic for fishes.
  • It is also used in vaccines.
  • It is used as a preservative in food items to keep the food items fresh.
  • It used is a bactericide.
  • It is also used in organic synthesis. 


What are the side effects of Phenoxyethanol?

  • It can cause cancer, various allergies and also skin irritations.
  • It can affect the central nervous system and also can induce vomiting and diarrhea.
  • It can also affect the eyes and lungs
  • FDA issued a warning for consumers for "Mommy Bliss" nipple cream, as it contained Phenoxyethanol and Chlorphenesin, as Phenoxyethanol can cause vomiting and diarrhea, leading to dehydration in infants


After knowing all these facts about phenoxyethanol, it is best to avoid these types of chemical preservatives which are harmful in many ways and move towards the green and natural preservatives available now- a-days. There are many essential oils and vitamins which can be used as antibacterial and antioxidants in cosmetics and other industries. Some examples of natural preservatives are Rosemary anitoxidant extracts, T-50 Vitamin E oil, benzoin resin and Grapefruit seed extract.

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