Is Phenoxyethanol Banned in Japan?

phenoxyethanol-banned-in-japanIs Phenoxyethanol Banned in Japan?  My recent post on phenoxyethanol prompted this question on Twitter.  The answer is no it isn’t.  Phenoxyethanol is limited to 1% in Japan exactly as it is in the European Union.  But why did my twitter chum think it might be.  I did a quick google and found that there do seem to be quite a lot of people who think it is banned in Japan.

Most of the search results were to blog posts that said it was either banned or restricted.  The source of the rumour appears to be a website called Innovateus, which for good measure claims that it is also banned in Europe.  It isn’t too difficult to find accurate information if you dig a little deeper, but it would be easy to slip up and assume that the Japanese had indeed banned it based on the search results.  This is particularly the case if you don’t trouble to actually click through from the couple of sentences Google serves up.

For the record, here is the actual Japanese government’s english translation of their regulations.

It is on a list of restricted chemicals in Appendix 3 on page 5.  This restriction came into force in 2000 when Japan stopped requiring cosmetics to be registered, and adopted the European system of publishing regulations to which all products had to comply.  It also adopted the European limit level.  So it would be sort of true to say that Japan took action to limit the use of phenoxyethanol in 2000. But it would also be misleading, since it was part of a much bigger legislative change.

A good example of how this fact can be used misleadingly can be found in the discussion on a post debating the risks of phenoxyethanol on the No More Dirty Looks blog.  An organic product manufacturer is quoted as saying “It is restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan, which is always ahead of the curve when it comes to cosmetic safety”.    Well if you think being ahead of the curve means adopting legislation from Europe that has been in force since the 1980s, then yes I suppose they are.  Even the Americans, who routinely beat themselves up for their supposed lackadaisical approach to cosmetic safety managed to get a detailed toxicological review published in 1990.

So for anyone who wants to have a debate about the safety of phenoxyethanol there is a lot of technical information out there in the public domain about it.  There is also a pretty wide scientific and regulatory consensus that it is safe at a use level of 1%. A consensus is not necessarily right of course, and anyone who seriously challenges it should be listened to.  But there is no reason to respect people who simply pass on inaccurate gossip about chemicals.

So to conclude – phenoxyethanol is not banned in Japan.  Ignore anyone who says it is.


The possible source of the phenoxyethanol banned in Japan story:

JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF TOXICOLOGY  Volume 9, Number 2,1990 Final Report on the Safety of Phenoxyethanol

10 thoughts on “Is Phenoxyethanol Banned in Japan?”

  1. Hi Colin, I am rarely surprised at the level of misinformation around these days, and this is no exception! However, I left a comment on the Innovateus page and I just received an acknowledgement and they have promised to check their facts. I followed that up with your link to the Japanese regulation to assist them. Let’s hope they correct it soon!

  2. Thanks Colin – I just checked the site again, and they’ve removed all references to phenoxyethanol being banned. This is quite unusual for such sites, so I think they deserve a little bit of kudos, but there are still many things that are taken grossly out of context in their phenoxethanol entry. I won’t be commenting further, though!

  3. Sorry – I’ve just realised that I’ve ruined the impact of the link you provided, because it no longer claims that phenoxyethanol is banned!! Shall I ask them to put it back? :-/

    1. I am happy that the internet has been cleaned up a bit Dene. But as you say, my article is now out of date and I only wrote it yesterday. So it’s swings and roundabouts.

  4. I think they confused with formaldehyde-releasers – like DMDM Hydantoin. Just in very few cases formaldehyde-releasers can be used in cosmetics in Japan. But even in these cases the Japanese cosmetic industry doesn’t use – since they prefer parabens ( parabens in Japan are fine from a marketing point of view).

  5. @Pedro – DMDM hydantoin is one of two formaldehyde releasers that ARE permitted in Japan (the other being imidazolidinyl urea). However, the accompanying labelling requirements are so undesirable that, to the best of my knowledge, hardly anyone uses either preservative. It is good to hear that the Japanese are not so easily swayed by the parabens myth-makers as much of the rest of the world!

    1. Yes those two formaldehyde donors are permitted in Japan, but the presence of formaldehyde is prohibited. So although officially approved you can’t actually use them.

  6. Hi Colin,

    This is a serious issue. Thank goodness the rumour is not true. Phenoxyethanol is still a safe cosmetic ingredient. Thanks for sharing! 😀

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