- less toxic than many other preservatives
- non-formadehyde releasing
- can cause irritation
- can produce organ toxicity
Phenoxyethanol is chemical preservative, a glycol ether often used in dermatological products such as skin creams and sunscreen. It is a colorless oily liquid. It is a bactericide (usually used in conjunction with quaternary ammonium compounds), often used in place of sodium azide in biological buffers because phenoxyethanol is less toxic and non-reactive with copper and lead. It is used in many applications such as cosmetics, vaccines and pharmaceuticals as a preservative.
Synoym(s): 2-HYDROXYETHYL PHENYL ETHER; 2-PHENOXY- ETHANOL; 2-PHENOXYETHANOL; 2-PHENOXYETHYL ALCOHOL; ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXY-; ETHANOL, 2PHENOXY; ETHYLENE GLYCOL MONOPHENYL ETHER; PHENOXYTOL; 1-HYDROXY-2-PHENOXYETHANE; 2-FENOXYETHANOL (CZECH) ; 2-PHENOXYETHANOL
The phenoxyethanol controversy:
This ingredient is not recommended by Be Yourself Beautiful and should be used under caution.
PAULA'S CHOICE says: Common synthetic preservative that is considered one of the less irritating to use in cosmetic formulations. It does not release formaldehyde. Phenoxyethanol is approved for worldwide use in all types of water-based cosmetics. The safety of phenoxyethanol has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. This group evaluated the scientific data and concluded that phenoxyethanol was safe as a cosmetic ingredient. Interestingly, although phenoxyethanol used in skin care is almost always synthetic, this chemical occurs naturally in green tea.
Further studies and accumulated safety data have shown that phenoxyethanol was practically nontoxic via oral and dermal (skin) administration. In a study examining oral intake, increased weights of some organs were noted when high doses of phenoxyethanol were swallowed. The doses in this study were considered to be much higher than those resulting from use of cosmetics and personal care products containing phenoxyethanol. In short, phenoxyethanol is considered a safe and effective preservative when used in amouts approved for cosmetic products.
Yet the EWG SKIN DEEP COSMETIC SAFETY DATA BASE says:
HIGH concerns: Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Occupational hazards;
MODERATE concerns: Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive);
A synthetic ether alcohol preservative. Causes contact dermatitis.
It is also used as a fixative for perfumes, an insect repellent, a topical antiseptic, a solvent for cellulose acetate, somedyes, inks, and resins, in preservatives, pharmaceuticals, and in organic synthesis. It is moderately soluble in water. It is used as an anesthetic in the aquaculture of some fish.
It is also listed as an ingredient for many United States vaccines by the Center for Disease Control. In Japan and the EU, its usage level in cosmetic products is restricted to concentrations of up to 1%. 
The Food and Drug Administration has warned that the chemical is toxic to infants via ingestion, and "can depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea." Combined with Chlorphenesin, these two chemicals can cause respiratory depression in infants. Since these chemicals are often present in cosmetics and lotions applied to the hands and are easily ingested, caution should be exercised.
German research in 1999, concluded that it had neurotoxin potential.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) data sheets show chromosomal changes and genetic mutation effects in testing as well as testicular atrophy and interference with reproductivity in mice.