August 15, 2022

    Parabens Were First—Is Phenoxyethanol Next? Why We Need to Act Now!

    Parabens Were First—Is Phenoxyethanol Next? Why We Need to Act Now!

     We are republishing this article, intact, but without pictures, because it is important for our clients to know what is happening in the marketplace.          


    “"Mommy blogs" (as they are sometimes called) do well to raise alarm amongst consumers, although they really are just looking out for their families' safety. The problem is when pseudo-scientific groups spread misinfor­mation, and bloggers and consumers embrace it, they dictate the direction of product development in ways they don't understand—ultimately making products that are potentially less safe.

    Chris Boone, a scientist at Univar, explained this evolution through the example of parabens during the Midwest SCC November 2019 meeting. He also predicted phenoxye­thanol could be next on the cosmetic preservatives chopping black and urged the industry to act now.

    'Chemicals are Bad'

    In the field of psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect is what Wikipedia describes as "a cognitive bias whereby individuals mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is." Boone pointed to this effect as the starting point for the spread of misinfor­mation.

    "People who have no experience and are not scientif­ically trained but who are given a small amount of information soar with confidence that they know more than they actually do," said Boone. He showed that even most scientists, armed with experience and the facts, do not reach the levels of confidence held by these non-experts. 

    Boone highlighted a blog where a homeopathic remedy was given to treat a poisonous copperhead snakebite, rather than visit the emergency room. It is from a similar misguided or misinformed mindset to this where the impression that "chemicals are bad" emerged.

    Furthermore, Boone added it does nothing to support the case for science when Google search results on cosmetic ingredients are led by the likes of the Environmental Working Group, the David Suzuki Foundation with its "Dirty Dozen" list, and the Honest Company.

    "No doubt, their SEO is optimized to rise to the top," said Boone. "So how, as an industry, can we be sure to get the right message out?"

    The Downfall of Parabens

    This led Boone to the main point of his discussion: parabens and why formulators can no longer use them. He first reiterated their chemistry and safety, describing their ability to disrupt the membranes of pathogenic microbes and protect users.

    But a series of poorly designed studies, i.e., using irrelevant exposure routes and levels, and correlations taken as causations, culminated in parabens' ultimate downfall: Whole Foods releasing its list of unaccepted ingredients for premium body care products. Parabens are among them.

    See related: CIR Conclusion, Parabens are Safe

    "I believe this was the dagger for parabens," said Boone, who showed Mintel data on methylparaben and butylparaben demonstrating a drastic drop in their use as of 2009 and later. These preservatives are still used; however, to a much lesser degree. This is because, according to Boone, "There's always a need to preserve products for people who are less concerned [about these ingredients]; for example, cheap shampoos—and parabens are a cheap and effective way to do it."

    Why Phenoxye­thanol Could Be Next 

    Losing parabens as an option leaves formulators little choice for effective preservation. In fact, as one attendee at the meeting noted, "When we can't use parabens, we use other, less effective ingredients. But when we test them in formulas and they fail, we have to increase their levels, so they are effective. And when we do this, they can become even more irritating. What are we supposed to do?"

    Boone responded, "You've got to live in this new world and do the best that you can." However, he added the industry can be proactive in protecting what few ingredient options remain; take phenoxye­thanol, for example.

    "Phenoxy­ethanol could be the next 'no-no' ingredient," said Boone. "But that's because new research suggests it could be irritating due to impurities and when tested at 100% concentr­ations—which are not relevant to the levels used in personal care." He urged the industry to act now before this effective (and one of the few remaining preservative options) also is lost to misinfor­mation.

    "It's up to us," he said, to which another attendee added, "and it doesn't help when big manufacturers in our own industry make claims of being free-from [perfectly safe] ingredients." All in all, the audience agreed the industry needs a coordinated effort to get the right message out to consumers and legislators; like the Public Access to Sunscreens (PASS) Coalition, but for preserva­tives.

    Phenoxyethanol as a Safe and Important Preservative in Personal Care     

    April 22, 2014 Contact Author John Krowka, PhD, and Linda Loretz, PhD, Personal Care Products Council; Karolina Brzuska and Jose Filipe Almeida, PhD, Cosmetics Europe; Megan Diehl and Stanley J. Gonsior, The Dow Chemical Company; Andress Johnson, PhD, and Stephané Sellam, Thor Specialties; and Steffen Bade, PhD, and Samantha Champ, BASF 

    Formulating Cosmetic Emulsions: A Beginner’s Guide

    Today’s personal care and cosmetic industry face a combination of challenges as it seeks to maintain the integrity and safety of its products and respond to market trends and consumer opinions regarding preserva­tives. As the effects of preservatives are largely preventive, i.​e., of microbial growth and product degradation, it is easy for consumers and others who do not see or appreciate their benefits to dismiss preservatives as unnecessary or potentially harmful. At R&D’s forefront is the ongoing scientific evaluation of preservatives and the need to communicate their safety and ability to protect products from microbial growth—in support of their continued use. In this second in a series of articles, the authors review phenoxye­thanol, a commonly used preservative in personal care products and cosmetics; the first article, “The Importance of Formaldehyde-Donor Preservatives in Personal Care Products,” was published in July 2013.

    Antimicrobial Efficacy and Formulation Consider­ations

    The ingredient 2-phenoxye­thanol (phenoxy­ethanol) is well-known for its antimicrobial efficacy against a range of microorg­anisms, and it is particularly effective against Gram-negative microorg­anisms such as Pseudomonas species. It is used as a preservative in both leave-on and rinse-off personal care products.2 Introduced in the 1950s, it has had a long history of safe use as a cosmetic preservative. In recent years, the use of phenoxye­thanol has expanded due to its low sensitization potential and global approval. Although the phenoxye­thanol used in personal care is typically synthetic, it does occur naturally in green tea. The natural form has been employed to preserve “natural” personal care products. In addition to its function as a preservative, phenoxye­thanol is used as a solvent for low water-soluble cosmetic ingredients such as fragrances and other preservative actives.

    A member of the glycol ether family, phenoxye­thanol is the product of the reaction of ethylene oxide with phenol.4 It is a free-flowing liquid and light in color, with a mild rose odor.5, 6 Cosmetic grades are of high purity and do not impart free phenol, odor or color to the final formulation. A high purity grade of this preservative is recommended to avoid odor issues, especially in personal care wipes.”

    Private Label Skincare Florida

    We here at Private Label Skincare Florida, thought it was important for our customers and the end-users, to understand what “Kitchen Chemists”, and Mommy bloggers, and other miss-informed individuals are not only impacting Creativity of our formulating Chemists who have studied for nearly a decade, but ultimately their own safety, by forwarding this type of miss-information, and bashing on social media ingredients, that are not what has been said about them.  Hope this helps.  

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