Since several of the parabens have been put on the poo-poo list, I have been working with alternative preservatives, trying them out in different products. One of these newbies (for me) is Benzyl Alcohol (INCI: Benzyl alcohol).
Natural Source Benzyl alcohol is produced naturally in many plants, fruits (such as strawberries) and some essential oils (such as ylang ylang and jasmine). As it derives from aromatic material, it has an inherently pleasant scent. You'll find it is frequently used as the preservative for intravenous medicines, as well as – of all things – photographic developer.
Wonderfully Broad Spectrum
Benzyl alcohol functions by killing or preventing the growth of a broad spectrum of bacteria, yeasts and moulds, and is ideal for emulsions as well as soap or water-based produtcs. I have therefore been trying it out in everything from skin tonics to hair and bath products (hair & body wash, shampoo) and must admit – so far, it seems to be functioning as well as my old faves, Ethyl and Methyl Paraben.
Cautions? The Environmental Working Group gives benzyl alcohol a rating of 'moderate hazard', which I found a bit confusing until I studied what their concerns were. Their conclusion: if you stay within the limits of use and don't overdose, there are no concerns. Fair enough. There was, however, one area listed as 'unkown', and that was whether or not there should be concerns when the ingredient is inhaled. Apparantly there are as yet no studies on this.