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Follain Bans Controversial Ingredient Phenoxyethanol

Nov 30, 2023

Clean beauty keeps getting cleaner.

Boston-based beauty retailer Follain has decided to ban from its shelves products containing phenoxyethanol, a preservative that is commonly used as an alternative to parabens, WWD has learned.

The decision to ban phenoxyethanol came directly from Follain's vendors, according to founder Tara Foley.

Phenoxyethanol is often used in clean beauty as a preservative substitute for parabens, which are generally verboten amongst the clean beauty cohort. But phenoxyethanol is a controversial ingredient. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning for consumers not to buy a certain nipple cream on the market because it contained "potentially harmful ingredients", including phenoxyethanol.

Foley noticed a trend over the past year of her vendors beginning to slowly drop the ingredient from their formulations, instead opting for naurally derived alternatives such as lactobacillus or radish root.

Follain bans about 30 ingredients from the products in its stores. "We practice what we call a precautionary principle," Foley said of her philosophy on which ingredients to restrict.

At a time where many clean beauty players are stepping into the role of activist, Follain's decision to ban phenoxyethanol is equally about pushing chemical manufacturers to come up with alternatives as it is banning a potentially toxic ingredient from shelves.

Foley does not always make a point of publicizing her decisions to ban certain ingredients. This is different. Calling phenoxyethanol a "contentious" ingredient, Foley is hoping the move will encourage chemical manufacturers to supply less expensive natural preservative options, and is hoping to discourage brands in the industry from using it. As part of the phenoxyethanol ban at Follain, eight stockkeeping units were removed from the store's assortment.

"We ban things all the time, but this ingredient is contentious," Foley said. "A lot of clean beauty retailers and our clean beauty brand peers are going to scoff at us and say that it's all about the percentage you use. We need to push the envelope to continue to find safer alternatives, push brands to not include these ingredients and push chemical manufacturers to make better options. That's how we make change."

As consumer interest in clean beauty swells and major retailers such as Sephora begin to get involved with clean beauty programs of their own, many clean beauty players are scrambling to enforce standards and boundaries to help define a historically murky category.

Follain's decision to ban phenoxyethanol is the latest an example of clean beauty player stepping into the role of activist. In June, San Francisco-based Credo Beauty issued a lengthy set of standards regarding ingredients and transparency, stating its vendors would need to comply by 2019. In 2017, Beautycounter founder Gregg Renfrew started the Counteract Coalition, a group of clean beauty players focused on lobbying for updated cosmetic safety laws.

"This is a great example of how we can stay ahead of the pack," said Foley, who is opening the seventh Follain store in Dallas in October and plans to have 10 brick-and-mortar locations by the end of 2019. "[We’re hoping] our peers are going to follow in lockstep behind us."

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