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Five Best products without phenoxyethanol

October 8, 2008 Reviewed by Marta 21 Comments
Readers have been asking me to recommend some products that don't use the preservative phenoxyethanol. And with good reason. There are several animal studies that demonstrate that it is toxic - with effects on the brain and the nervous system - at moderate concentrations. In Japan, there is a concentration limit for its use in cosmetics. In Europe, the European Union classifies it as an irritant and there are various studies (on rabbit skin, for example) that demonstrate reactions at low doses.

I have pulled together some highly recommended products, serving different functions, and none of which has phenoxyethanol.

Tracie Martyn Amla Purifying Cleanser ($65). Tracie Martyn goes out of her way to avoid sulfates, parabens and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Her Amla cleanser is a standout product and I haven't yet found anything to beat it. It is wonderful for anyone with rosacea and/or sensitive skin. Amla is Indian gooseberry and a powerful antioxidant due to the tannins and polyphenols. This cleanser also has turmeric, a spice whose cosmetic purposes run the gamut from lightening skin to removing superfluous hair to curing eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Pricey, but it lasts for ages.

Replenix Retinol Plus Smoothing Serum 10X ($72). Over the counter retinol creams are mostly a sorry bunch, with very little vitamin A and lots of chemicals that you could happily live without. With a 1% concentration of retinol, Replenix Retinol Plus wisely keeps everything else stripped to the bare minimum. Hyaluronic acid will help with moisture retention and caffeine and green tea provide the antioxidants

Nutra-Lift Rejuvenating A Therapy ($40). This serum is great for what's in it as well as what isn't (no nasty preservatives here). This is one of the better matrixyl 3000 creams going, with a hefty 5% dose. Close your eyes and think of all the proven anti-agers. Whatever came to mind, Nutra-Lift probably has it. There's vitamin C, CoQ10, grape seed, astaxanthin, marine collagen and elastin, vitamin E.....I could go on and on.

Your Best Face Correct ($150). This is the best eye cream I have so far found. Honestly, the comments I get from friends since I started to use are almost embarrassingly complimentary. I even look as if I've had a little eye-lid lift (I haven't!). Another matrixyl 3000 product, this also has YBF's signature ingredient, spin trap, a molecule that stops free radicals in their tracks. Snap-8 is a neuropeptide that helps the facial muscles stay relaxed (so no squinting). Alpha arbutin is a skin brightener that inhibits melanin production. Your Best Face products can be bought from the TIA Shop.

Stem Organics Smooth Skin Exfoliant ($39).This is my new favorite and the gentle scrubbing ingredient is bamboo. It also contains Stem's two signature ingredients: pomegranate (an anti-oxidant with a clinical pedigree to prove it) and kakadu plum (an obscure Australian fruit that has more vitamin C than a gazillion oranges).

Ingredients in Tracie Martyn Amla Cleanser

Testingaqua (purified water), amla extract, sorbitol, coconut and soy amino acids, castor and soy hydrolized protein, decyl glucoside and lauryl lactylate, lactic acid, salicylic acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), malic acid, allantoin (comfrey), papaya enzymes, pineapple enzymes, silicon dioxide, honeysuckle extract, turmeric extract, spinach extract, blend of spearmint, lime and other natural essential oils.

Ingredients in Replenix Retinol Plus Smoothing Serum

Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Cyclomethicone, PEG/PPG
18/18 Dimethicone, Caffeine, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Polyphenols,
Retinol, Polysorbate-20, Purified Water, Hyaluronic Acid.

Ingredients in Nutra-Lift Rejuventing Therapy

Certified Organic Aloe Vera Gel, Matrixyl 3000 at 5% (Palmitoyl
Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 PAL KTTKS), Vitamin C ester, sea
kelp / algae, liposomes, astaxanthin, grape seed extract, cetyl esters,
nikkomullese, co-Q10, pycogenol, natural mixed tocopherals (vitamin e),
anti-oxidant complex 14, natural firming complex (dmae, alpha lipoic
acid, vitamin C ester, & astaxanthin), fruit flower complex 12,
herbal complex 30, plant derived polysorbate 20,
hydroxyethyl-cellulose, hyaluronic acid, copper peptide, marine
collagen, marine elastine, organic royal jelly, Mexican yam, green tea,
active copper peptide , milk thistle, retinyl palmitate, ( vitamin A)

Ingredients in YBF Correct

Reverse osmosis water,
licorice root extract, snap-8 (acetyl glutamyl hexapeptide-3),
pepha-timp (polypeptide), cucumber extract, simugel (C16H34), syn-ake
(tripeptide), haloxyl (hydroxysuccinimide, chrysin, palmitoyl
oligopeptide (and) palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3), nutmeg butter, matrixyl
3000 (palmitoyl oligopeptide, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3), dimethyl
isosorbide, alpha arbutin, cyclomethicone (and) dimethicone copolyol,
ethyhexyl palmitate, spin trap (phenyl butyl nitrone), glycerine,
l-proline, provitamin B5, raspberry seed extract, alpha lipoic acid,
sepilift DPHP (palmitoyl-1, palmitoyloxy-4 proline), triglyceride,
paraben du, sodium hyaluronate, caffeine, cetearyl isononanoate,
ceteareth-20, cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate, cetyl palmitate,
ceteareth-12, vitamin e, BHT, olive leaf extract, vitamin a, violet
leaf extract, oakmoss absolute.

Ingredients in Stem Organics Smooth Skin Exfoliant

Organic Aloe Extract, Bamboo Extract, Vegetable Glycerin, Vegetable
Emulsifying Wax, Gylceryl Monostearate, Coco Glucoside (vegetable),
Organic Jojoba Oil, Guar Gum, Tasmanian Kelp Extract, Kakadu Plum
Extract, Organic Prunica Granatum (Pomegranate), D-alpha Tocopherol
(Vit E), Willowbark Extract, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate (amino acid
based preservative), Organic Sweet Orange Essential Oil, Tangerine
Essential Oil, Organic Geranium Essential Oil, Limonene (occuring in
essential oils), Bottle Brush Bush Essence, Organic Lemon Essential
Oil, Citric Acid.

  • November 29, 2015

    by kerry

    Would love an update to this best 5 since this one is from 2008! thanks!

  • May 1, 2015

    by Mariam

    So expensive :(

  • March 14, 2012

    by Sophia

    Thanks SammieB for mentioning Get Creamed Body (! I checked out their website and beauty reviews and their entire line is fantastic!! Not a single unpronounceable chemical in the bunch! My new go to everyone should look at: Get Creamed Body! They have a feature in LOULOU magazine this month too! Go Canadian companies!

  • December 6, 2011

    by Jina

    Hi CherylIM,
    Interested to hear why you had this test done? What symptoms did you have? My problem is that I seem to be sensitive to even aloe Vera gel because it has minute amount of phenoxyethonal. Irritates my skin. Look forward to hearing your comment.

  • December 5, 2011

    by CherylM

    FYI on phenoxyethanol: I had a very expensive lab test done by a lab in the UK called Acumen for health reasons. Surpised to find that I am chemically sensitive to phenoxyethanol AND it has attached to my cellular DNA, i.e., for me it has become a "DNA adduct." Adducts can cause DNA mutations and as we all know, mutations in DNA can cause cancer. Before this test I didn't even know about phenoxyethanol. If you think this chemical is not harmful - think again. Nothing should be attached to your DNA. Discovered it in ALL of my personal care products - cleanser, moisturizer (pricey brand by noted Dr.) , lotions and hair products. Threw ALL out! It is often found in "natural products." Every brand at WholeFoods has it except for Aubrey & Dr. Hauschka. We live awash in a sea of chemicals - and we take them for granted. I don't feel a need to debate this. With stuff already attached to my DNA I can not afford to wait for the debates to be resolved. I'm starting over and going clean. But it is hard. This darned chemical is in EVERYTHING!!!!!

  • July 19, 2011

    by Darrell

    Hi there SammieB,
    Actually as the above post is from 2008 and the formula you're looking at was upgraded in 2009 -- sans dimethicone.

    I'm curious though about your comment on dimethicone being a formaldehyde releaser. Could you share more as my understanding is this that type of breakdown only occurs under conditions of 300 degrees F or higher.


  • July 19, 2011

    by SammieB

    your favourite eye cream there has dimethicone. this is a formaldehyde releaser, a known skin toxin and possible carcinogen. phenoxyethanol is bad, but not the only bad thing in skincare. check out get creamed body's eye cream; a fraction of the price and way way better for the skin!

  • April 2, 2011

    by Marta

    Jaysie, I think that's a great point. The average person probably uses about 10 products a day and if there is phenoxyethanol, for example, in all of them, then it starts to mount up.

  • April 2, 2011

    by Jaysie

    Marta - What do you think is the best way to get manufacturers to disclose the percentages of their formulas? Are they just afraid they'd be giving away the farm?

    I'm not a purist in the strictest sense, but the thing that bothers me is that I, like many, use a variety of skin & hair products and often I am layering products on my skin where they stay put all day or all night. Something like phenoxyethanol or one of the other dubious ingredients might be acceptable in one product, but if you are applying numerous products and they all contain the same nasties, aren't you doubling or tripling the concentration?

    I find myself thinking "If my serum has a couple of baddies, then my moisturizer or eye cream or sunscreen or scalp treatment or foot balm should be cleaner." And when it comes to mechanical devices that can drive ingredients further into the skin, that's just another ball of wax to ponder.

  • April 1, 2011

    by marta

    So Dene, are you going to join our campaign to encourage manufacturers to disclose the concentrations of the ingredients they use? Consumers of beauty products have a right to know what the real concentration of the actives are in their products, as well as the amounts of products that may be a hazard depending on the amount. We'd welcome your support.

  • April 1, 2011

    by Dene Godfrey

    @Cheyenna - it is not a matter of whether or not you agree with any specific hazard rating; the whole point is that you cannnot make a judgement on safety on the basis of hazard alone - which is precisely what Skin Deep tries (and claims) to do. Did you read the linked article from my comment above?
    You can read all the references you like, but unless you know the concentration of the substance as well as the hazard, it is impossible to assess safety. Glacial acetic acid is highly corrosive to skin, yet we sprinkle a dilute form on our food - it's called vinegar!
    Not only does Skin Deep not work at the most basic level, but there are many, many errors. They even have entries for substances that don't exist! (Search for "polyparaben" - there is no such substance!)

  • March 25, 2011

    by cheyenna

    @ Dene Godfrey, thanks for your reply and effort, however cosmetic database doesn't seems like a waste of time to me. They also mention references, you can check them out and make your own conclusion. I agree that the hazard rate they mention is not always agreeable (sometimes higher, sometimes lower) and I did see some minor mistakes in it, but with thousands of substances and brands that can happen sometimes, you can always also check the references they mention, for a better overview and/or when you're not sure. Overall it seems like a good source for a fast check.

  • March 5, 2011

    by Dene Godfrey

    @Cheyenna - much of what you say makes a refreshing change in terms of the reality of preservatives. The only point I would challenge you on is the usefulness of the cosmetics database. In terms of evaluating the safety of products and ingredients, it is a complete waste of time. Check out this link for more details on why I make this claim:

    Happy reading! :-)

  • February 11, 2011

    by cheyenna

    correction: by grape seed i ment grapefruit seed..

  • February 11, 2011

    by cheyenna

    All these products have one or more ingredients in them that are just as harmfull or even more harmfull then phenoxyethanol. Some examples are salicylic acid, a possible carnicogen, check, cyclopentasiloxane, PEG/PPG (not natural at all), grape seed extract (wich contains methylparaben & hydroquinone being very harmfull), BHT!, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate containing formaldehyde.. You might as well use something with phenoxyethanol wich is safer then some other ingredients found here. Preservatives are a neccesary evil, they are not 100% safe, being irritating and even toxic in large quantities, however a lotion or cream without a preservative are a bigger health danger then with a protecting preservative, prohibiting dangerous health damaging bacterial growth, and preservatives in low concentrations are safe for humans, unless you're allergic or sensitive for it. Some people are very allergic to (natural) peanuts.

  • December 3, 2010

    by Sally Allen-Smith

    You had me until you recommeded a product containing BHT. What is wrong with you? How can you do that? Perhaps you have sold out to the manufacturer. Shame on you.

  • July 18, 2009

    by Microbes kill and injure

    The YBF product lists Paraben DU as in Diazolidinyl Urea (formaldehyde releaser) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) in the ingredients list here and on their website. It should be removed from the list.

    Ingredients in YBF Correct

    ..., triglyceride,
    paraben du, sodium hyaluronate, ..., vitamin e, BHT, olive leaf extract, ...

  • June 24, 2009

    by Karen

    I like using Arbonne. What do you have to say about this product. Personally, I think it is great.

  • October 9, 2008

    by Stan

    <p>When I say organic I also mean natural not just 'certified organic' The thing I am noticing is a lot of good products are relying on silicons for major ingredients. It does give a great feel to the product but at what price. In my mind silicons repel moisture and might prevent the absorption of beneficial ingredients. Maybe they are so nano-esque that they do no harm, but I don't think we need them at all. </p>

  • October 9, 2008

    by marta

    <p>Actually I still use them. But we are overdue for an update and the Five Best Organics is a great idea</p>

  • October 9, 2008

    by Stan

    <p>I would also like to see these compared to your one time favorites: IMAGE's Ormedic line and regular Ageless. Maybe we can get a new five best and a new five best organic post!</p>

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