Phenoxyethanol is a newer glycol used in the skincare industry. Glycols are made up of various chemicals and used in cosmetics as a anti-bacterial agent. You may see Phenoxyethanol in inks, dyes, insect repellents, and shampoo. In perfume, phenoxyethanol is used as a fixative.
A study was conducted in 1988 using phenoxyethanol combined with lemon grass oil and found antibacterial activity against bacterias of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
Studies in the 1980's find phenoxyethanol can cause DNA mutation in animals. The Internal Journal of Toxicology released a Safety Assessment Report on Phenoxyethanol in April 1990 with the following information:
"In a subchronic oral toxicity study in rats of Phenoxyethanol, signs of toxicity included reduced body weights and an impaired ability to utilize feed. Increased liver, kidney, and thyroid weights were noted at necropsy in surviving rats."
"Undiluted Phenoxyethanol was a strong eye irritant, but was nonirritating when tested at 2.2%. Phenoxyethanol at 2.0% was a slight irritant to rabbit skin, but was neither an irritant nor sensitizer to guinea pig skin."
"In dermal treatment studies, Phenoxyethanol was neither teratogenic, embryotoxic, or fetotoxic at doses which were maternally toxic. Phenoxyethanol was nonmutagenic in the Ames test, with and without metabolic activition, and in the mouse micronucleus test."
In Japan, phenoxyethanol is classified as restricted in cosmetics with a concentration limit. Europe has classified phenoxyethanol as a irritant and it is limited to low doses. Material Safety Data Sheet also classifies phenoxyethanol (undiluted) as harmful if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed though the skin.
I would avoid using Phenoxyethanol because its chemical makeup is a suspected carcinogen. With more than 3000 chemical allergens, Phenoxyethanol was on the list as the top 10 most likely chemicals to create an allergic reactions in humans. I have found some cosmetic products that claim "hypoallergenic" even when Phenoxyethanol is listed as the ingredient.