Type of Ingredient: A preservative and solvent; an organic alcohol found in many fruits, teas, and essential oils
Main Uses and Benefits: Used as a solvent and an intermediate in cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and flavor/fragrance formulas; also an ideal bacteriostatic preservative for some medications and cosmetic products
Find It In: Common ingredient in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products, including baby products, bath products, soaps and detergents, makeup products, as well as hair, nail, and skincare products. Benzyl alcohol can also be used to treat lice in adults and children of over 6 months old, thanks to its antimicrobial properties.
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, blushes, cleansing products, makeup products, as well as hair, nail, and skincare products.
What Is Benzyl Alcohol Used For
1. Adds fragrance to skincare products
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 adds a floral-like scent to products.
2. Extends the products shelf life and prevents bacterial contamination
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.
Benzyl alcohol 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. Preservatives like benzyl alcohol can help prevent those issues.
3. Enhances skincare product texture and absorption
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.
Is Benzyl Alcohol Safe for Skin?
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 concentration of 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.”
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, March 2007, issue 5, pages 1737-1742
- International Journal of Toxicology, 2001, Supplement 3, pages 23-50
- Eagleson M. Concise Encyclopedia Chemistry, 122-122 (1994)