The Great Debate: Phenoxyethanol
Last week we were asked in the comments to explain our stance on phenoxyethanol after it showed up in a product in our Friday Deal. First, full transparency: We didn’t realize that phenoxyethanol was in this product until after the post went up. It was an oversight due to some excitement and haste on our part and being mere mortals, we messed up. It’s not to say we wouldn’t have done the post anyway—but we should have combed the ingredients list first, just like we always do, and included a mention of its presence in the post. At the same time, we’re not losing sleep over it either. In a second we’ll tell you why.
What is phenoxyethanol? It’s an ingredient that is now ubiquitous in cosmetics. It’s often used as an alternative to parabens (there is a great piece—and debate—about it over here, at Truth in Aging), it gets a 4 on Skin Deep, and it’s on our list of 20 ingredients in the book to avoid. The data about its safety is conflicting, because data about these things is always conflicting, but we’re of the mind that in general, the ingredient should be taken out of products. While many clean companies initially thought it was a safe replacement for other preservatives, they later found out it wasn’t so clean after all. So what to do?
In the book we put this ingredient on our black list. But we’d like to quote the book directly here to remind everyone of our philosophy on such matters. Here’s how we prefaced the black-list section:
“We’ve included [this list] here for quick reference, but remember this: not all ingredients are created equal, so use that logical mind of yours. If several of these are showing up on a bottle, you can write the brand off with confidence. If just one appears on an otherwise clean list, then head to Skin Deep for the better picture, or call the company directly to ask them about it.”
One thing we have tried to avoid like the plague is extremism. Another thing we avoid: Picking fights, in-fighting in the natural beauty world, and finger pointing. For us, there’s a gigantic difference between companies that are greenwashing and companies that have one or two questionable ingredients in otherwise clean formulations. Some of our favorite companies still use it in certain formulations—like eye pencils, for instance, or other makeup—but not in other products, and literally all our favorite retailers carry brands that use phenoxyethanol—if not the actual product that contains it (and kudos if you’re being that strict!). But this is to say, the ingredient is still very popular in naturals! But it’s on its way out, and we are very, very happy about that.
So our stance is this: We want ALL clean companies to take it out. We also understand that this can’t happen overnight. Many of these companies have worked really hard to put out clean products, and reformulating is a tall and expensive order. Like we said, we avoid it. But we’re not about to throw the baby (or, um, natural beauty company) out with the bathwater.
As for Juice Beauty, they’ve been actively working with their lab to take it out for some time now, and it’s not in any of their new products. They’re also updating their site to feature full ingredient lists.
Another brand we like, Rare Elements—which uses it in its shampoo, but not in its conditioner, which we do use—is also working on taking it out. Owner John Amato explained to us that when he decided to use it, it was still considered safe, but that he’s spent the last two years now trying to reformulate the shampoo without it.
So for us, for now, we are going to judge its use on a case by case basis. Like we wrote in the book, we think there’s a logical way to approach this stuff that encourages progress. And we are ALL about progress.
So now we want to hear from you: Is phenoxyethanol a deal breaker? Is a company’s transparency enough for you to support a brand that uses it—and there are many more that use it, other than the ones we have named here—or do you look for perfectly clean products?
Let the debate begin!