Benzyl Alcohol in Personal Care

Benzyl alcohol is an aromatic alcohol with a light floral scent. It has various beneficial properties and is commonly added to cosmetics and personal care products.
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Benzyl alcohol, or α-Cresol, is a colorless liquid with a light, pleasantly aromatic scent. Many plants naturally produce it, commonly found in honey, cocoa, mushrooms, and various fruits and teas. It’s also found in many essential oils, including jasmine, hyacinth, and ylang-ylang. Benzyl alcohol is used in cosmetics and personal care products as a preservative, fixative, and diluent in ointments, perfumes, soaps, and various cosmetics. 

What is Benzyl Alcohol?

Benzyl alcohol is one of several aromatic alcohols. Represented as BnOH, its molecular formula is C6H5CH2OH. Benzyl alcohol serves several functions in cosmetics and personal care products. It is especially known for its performance as a solvent due to its polarity, low toxicity, and low vapor pressure.

Chemical structure of Benzyl alcohol

Source: Wikipedia

How is Benzyl Alcohol Produced?

Although benzyl alcohol is found in various natural sources, it’s only in modest amounts. It’s typically manufactured synthetically for commercial and industrial purposes by treating benzyl chloride with sodium or potassium carbonate. 

Applications of Benzyl Alcohol in the Personal Care Industry

In cosmetics and personal care products, benzyl alcohol functions as a fragrance, pH adjuster, preservative, solvent, and viscosity-decreasing agent.

SolventBenzyl alcohol helps to dissolve other ingredients in a product formulation, acting as a solvent.
PreservativeBenzyl alcohol acts as a preservative, inhibiting the development of microorganisms due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Viscosity Controlling AgentBenzyl alcohol also helps to alter the viscosity of cosmetic products, allowing the product to flow more easily.
Fragrance Ingredient As an aromatic alcohol, benzyl alcohol is naturally fragrant and gives off a slightly sweet, floral scent. 

Product Examples

SkincareCreams, Lotions
Hair CareHair Color, Shampoo, Conditioner
Baby CareBaby Lotion, Baby Cream, Baby Shampoo

Properties of Benzyl Alcohol

Physical FormLiquid
OdorSlightly aromatic
Shelf LifeThe recommended retest date is 24 months from the date of manufacture. 
Molecular Weight108.14 g/mol
Appearance @ 20 °CTransparent Liquid
Density @ 20 °C1.044 g/cm3
Viscosity, cps at 20 °C5.474 cP
Melting Point−15.2°C
Boiling Point205.3°C
Refractive Index1.5396
Specific Gravity at 20 °C1.042 – 1.047
SolubilitySoluble in water at 40 g/L @ 25°C; soluble in benzene, methanol, chloroform, ethanol, ether, and acetone.
  • Benzyl alcohol oxidizes slowly in the air to benzaldehyde and benzoic acid. It does not react with water. 
  • Aqueous solutions may be sterilized by filtration or autoclaving. Some solutions may generate benzaldehyde during autoclaving.
  • Benzyl alcohol may be stored in metal or glass containers. 
  • Plastic containers should not be used. However, exceptions include polypropylene containers or vessels coated with inert fluorinated polymers such as Teflon.
  • Benzyl alcohol should be stored in an airtight container, protected from light, in a cool, dry place.
  • The product should be protected from freezing or excessive heat in a dry area with no possibility of coming in contact with moisture or condensation.

Typical Formulations

Body Therapy: Cleansing bar for hair & body

Produces an off-white to yellow solid bar, stable for one month at 50°C and three months at room temperature / 40°C.

PHASEINCI NameTRADE NameSupplier% Wt.
ACetearyl alcohollanette OBASF30
Hydrogenated vegetable oilCegesoft HF 62BASF5
Cetearyl alcohol, Lecithin, Sodium cetearyl sulfate, Vegetable oil Plantaquat NCBASF10
Sodium lauryl sulfateTexapon K12GBASF33
Benzyl alcoholMicrocare® BNAThor0.4
BAquaDemineralized water 9
Cocamidopropyl betaineDehyton PK 45 BASF5
SorbitolBeauté by Roquette® PO 070Roquette2.60
GluconolactoneBeauté by Roquette® GA 290 Roquette1
Succinic acidBeauté by Roquette® SA 130Roquette1
Gluconic acid, Caprylyl/capryl glucoside, Cymbopogon citratus leaf extractBeauté by Roquette® LS 007Roquette1
CCyclodextrinBeauté by Roquette® CD 100Roquette2

Source: Knowde 

Formulation Procedure

  • Prepare phase A at 70°C in a separate beaker.
  • At 70°C, add phase B into phase A under gentle to medium agitation. Keep agitation and temperature for 10 minutes.
  • At 70 °C, add phase C.
  • Pour into packaging at 60-65°C.

Safety & Regulatory Considerations

FDA InformationBenzyl alcohol is safe in the present practices of use and concentration, according to CIR. In 2001, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) published a final report on the safety assessment of benzyl alcohol, concluding that benzyl alcohol is safe for use in cosmetic formulations at concentrations up to 5%. Benzyl alcohol was safe for use in hair dyes at concentrations up to 10%.
Canada RegulationsIncluded in the Canadian List of Acceptable Non-medicinal Ingredients.
EU Information According to the Cosmetic Products Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 (EU, 2009b), the presence of benzyl alcohol must be indicated in the list of ingredients when it is used as a fragrance or in aromatic compositions or their raw materials and its concentration exceeds 0.001% in leave-on products and 0.01% in rinse-off products, respectively. 
As a preservative, the maximum allowed concentration of benzyl alcohol is 1% in ready-for-use preparations.
Allergenic substances such as benzyl alcohol must be labeled on the packaging of detergents if added at concentrations exceeding 0.01% (EU Regulation No 648/2004 on detergents (EC, 2004; EMA, 2017; EFSA, 2019).
Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) InformationBenzyl alcohol is safe in the present practices of use and concentration, according to CIR. In 2001, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) published a final report on the safety assessment of benzyl alcohol, concluding that benzyl alcohol is safe for use in cosmetic formulations at concentrations up to 5%. Benzyl alcohol was safe for hair dyes at concentrations up to 10%.

Safety & Toxicity of Benzyl Alcohol

A report by the European Chemicals Agency included the following findings for benzyl alcohol:

  • Acute Toxicity and Irritation: No additional concern was identified. CLH proposal for acute oral toxicity and eye irritation submitted to ECHA.
  • Skin sensitization: Weak to moderate skin sensitizing potential confirmed. Classification as skin sensitizer Cat. 1B justified based on positive reactions above 500 µg/cm2 in Human Repeated Insult Patch Tests (HRIPTs) and a low—but substantial—incidence of up to 0.3% in large study populations with consecutive patients in clinical departments of dermatology. CLH proposal for skin sensitization submitted to ECHA.
  • Carcinogenicity: No concerns identified.
  • Mutagenicity: No concerns identified.
  • Dermal DNEL (local effects): DNEL shall only be seen as an upper bound “best case” DNEL estimate due to high uncertainties. It does not represent an exposure level at which no sensitization will occur in the exposed population. However, any exposure exceeding this value indicates a risk of dermal allergy.
  • The conclusion from the findings of the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety states benzyl alcohol is an “established contact allergen in humans.” (SCCS, 2012). Furthermore, the conclusion that benzyl alcohol is a weak sensitizer is also consistent with the outcomes reported in the recent Scientific Opinion by EFSA, in which the risks associated with using benzyl alcohol as a food additive were re-evaluated (EFSA, 2019).

Identification Numbers

Chemical NamePhenylmethanol
Synonyms(Hydroxymethyl)benzene Benzenecarbinol
CAS Number100-51-6
Index number in Annex VI of the CLP Regulation603-057-00-5
EC Number202-859-9
FEMA Number2137

Acceptable Limits or Maximum Usage

The maximum usage level of benzyl alcohol in the cosmetic industry, as per CIR, is as follows:

CategoryUsage Level (%)
Eye Area0.000008 to 0.8 %
Deodorant (underarm)0.03 to 0.5 %
Hair: Non-Coloring0.0002 to 3 %
Hair: Coloring0.00007 to 10 %
Nail0.00002 to 0.5 %
Baby Products0.004 to 0.9 %
Leave-on0.000008 to 3 %
Rinse-off0.000006 to 10 %
Diluted for Bath Use0.001 to 0.9 %

Fun Facts About Benzyl Alcohol

  • If benzyl alcohol is exposed to the air for long periods, it may smell like bitter almond because of oxidation.
  • In medicine, benzyl alcohol is sometimes used as a local anesthetic to reduce pain associated with Lidocaine injection.

Additional Resources