Safety review of phenoxyethanol when used as a preservative in cosmetics

J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2019 Nov;33 Suppl 7:15-24. doi: 10.1111/jdv.15944.


Phenoxyethanol, or 2-phenoxyethanol, has a large spectrum of antimicrobial activity and has been widely used as a preservative in cosmetic products for decades. It is effective against various Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, as well as against yeasts, and has only a weak inhibitory effect on resident skin flora. According to the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, phenoxyethanol is safe for all consumers - including children of all ages - when used as a preservative in cosmetic products at a maximum concentration of 1%. Adverse systemic effects have been observed in toxicological studies on animals but only when the levels of exposure were many magnitudes higher (around 200-fold higher) than those to which consumers are exposed when using phenoxyethanol-containing cosmetic products. Despite its widespread use in cosmetic products, phenoxyethanol is a rare sensitizer. It can be considered as one of the most well-tolerated preservatives used in cosmetic products.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Availability
  • Carcinogens
  • Cosmetics / adverse effects*
  • Cosmetics / chemistry
  • Cosmetics / pharmacokinetics
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology
  • Endocrine Disruptors / adverse effects
  • Ethylene Glycols / adverse effects*
  • Ethylene Glycols / pharmacokinetics
  • Ethylene Glycols / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / adverse effects*
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / pharmacokinetics
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / toxicity
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Skin Absorption


  • Carcinogens
  • Cosmetics
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Ethylene Glycols
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • phenoxyethanol