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INCI of cosmetics, you know what you are applying on skin Part 4, the preservatives alcohol and phenoxyethanol

July 01, 2018
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INCI of cosmetics, you know what you are applying on skin Part 4, the preservatives alcohol and phenoxyethanol

Inci in cosmetics, let’s see in detail some preservative substances such as ethyl alcohol, phenoxyethanol and what uses the eco bio cosmetic

Let’s go further with the study of INCI, the label of cosmetic products that, by law, must indicate all the ingredients used in a cream, serum, lotion, shampoo and that may be really helpful to identify the irritating or dangerous substances for skin and hair. Today we’ll see in detail a very used type of substances in cosmetics, the preservatives.


Preservatives in cosmetics are required in order to counteract the bacteria action and to prevent the mold caused by the presence of the aqueous phase. But, as always, there are different types of preservatives. In conventional cosmetics the most used substances are alcohol, parabens, EDTA and qaternium. For what concerns alcohol, that in INCI can be found with the name Alcohol denat, this is considered to be irritating to skin by making it dry. In fact, alcohol, if present in a percentage higher than 5%, may alter the hydrolipid film and attract water by leaving the skin dry, for this reason, if you already have the skin dry, it is better to avoid products that contain alcohol in the first places of INCI. In addition to this, since the alcohol used in cosmetics is denatured, it should be processed by using, sometimes, phthalates, that, according to a scientific study (Lind et al, Diabetes Care, 2012), may be linked with a higher risk of developing diabetes type 2. More studies are needed in order to confirm this statement. However, since science hasn’t given a clear answer yet and it is not possible to know how the alcohol is processed, it is better to avoid cosmetics with Alcohol denat. When we speak about alcohol in cosmetics we are referring to ethyl alcohol. In INCI there are other substances, whose name is alcohol followed or preceded by another word, such as Cetyl alcohol, ceteryl alcohol or mirystyl alcohol, however, these substances aren’t a type of ethanol, they are used as thickeners and they may cause skin irritations depending on your skin. Among the preservatives in cosmetics, we can mention also phenoxyethanol, not an alcohol but soluble in alcohol. Phenoxyethanol has been long debated, in 2012 indeed the French National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety (ANSM - Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament e des Produits de Santé) required, as a consequence of studies about its toxicity, to avoid phenoxyethanol in cosmetic products for kids under 3 years. Today, due to its allergenic effect, it has been established that phenoxyethanol may reach a maximum of 1% and under this amount it is considered safe, it can be used also in eco bio cosmetic. In INCI can be found as Phenoxythol or Phenoxyethanol. In eco bio products, as preservatives, other types of substances are used, such as Sodium Benzoate, naturally present in apricots or blueberries, Potassium sorbate or Benzyl alcohol. For what concerns the diy cosmetics, a good choice may be to limit the aqueous part and, consequently, also the risk of bacterial contamination. A lot of recipes are freshly prepared and used and don’t require preservatives, in alternative there are natural preservatives such as grapefruit seed extract. The chapter about preservatives doesn’t end here, in the next post we will discuss about a very debated class, the parabens and the quaternium.

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