Type of Ingredient: A preservative and solvent, metabolized to benzoic acid, is an organic alcohol found in many fruits, teas, and essential oils.
Main Benefits: Used as a solvent and as an intermediate in cosmetic, pharmaceutical and flavor/fragrance formulas.
Who Should Use It: Benzyl alcohol can also be used to treat lice in adults and children of over 6 months old, thanks to its antimicrobial properties.
Ideal For These Concerns: Benzyl alcohol is ideal as a bacteriostatic preservative for some medications and cosmetic products.
Works well with: Benzyl alcohol reacts with triethyl phosphite and zinc iodide to form the corresponding phosphonates to create a solvent.
What is benzyl alcohol?
Benzyl alcohol is an aromatic alcohol used in cosmetic formulations as a fragrance component, preservative, solvent, and viscosity-decreasing agent. Benzyl alcohol and benzoic acid are used in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products, including baby products, bath products, soaps and detergents, eye makeup, blushers, cleansing products, make up products, as well as hair, nail, and skincare products.
The benefits of benzyl alcohol
When used in high concentrations, benzyl alcohol functions as a fragrance component. Since it is found in some essential oils such as jasmine, hyacinth, neroli, rose, and ylang-ylang, pure benzyl alcohol ads a floral-like scent to products.
Benzyl alcohol can also be used as an antibacterial preservative in cosmetics and personal care products. Preservatives are an essential part of the cosmetics industry to prevent microbial contamination, especially since most cosmetics and personal care products have a high potential for contamination. It is used essentially in products such as creams and lotions that are packaged in jars, opened frequently, and applied to the skin with the fingers. The ingredients used in cosmetic formulations, such as water, oils, and peptides, in addition to warm temperatures create the perfect environment for microorganisms to grow. Microbial contamination can cause significant health issues, from skin irritation to infections. That is why preservatives like benzyl alcohol can help prevent those issues.
Benzyl alcohol is also used as a solvent in cosmetics. Solvents allow other ingredients to dissolve into a solution and can be used to thin out formulas, making the product easier to spread. Solvents like benzyl alcohol can even increase the efficacy of active ingredients by enhancing their absorption through the skin.
Benzyl alcohol’s skincare power duo
As a bacteriostatic preservative, benzyl alcohol works by inhibiting any bacterial reproduction, while not necessarily killing them, that’s why it is typically combined with other preservatives in a cosmetic formulation.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved benzyl alcohol as an anesthetic ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) anorectal, oral healthcare, and topical analgesic drug products. Additional clinical data indicated that some people had non-immunologic reactions to benzyl alcohol, which caused redness and itching. But since the non-immunologic reactions were strictly cutaneous, it was concluded that benzyl alcohol could be used safely at concentrations up to 5%. The panel also concluded that benzyl alcohol was safe for use in cosmetic products.
Dr. Estee Williams, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical School explains that “although there aren't any alcohols that need to be avoided at all costs, it's important to understand why it's in a product and whether the concentration is high enough to merit attention.”
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