Benzyl alcohol is a chemical often used as an anesthetic or mixed into other products as a solvent. It is a colorless liquid that is clear but denser than water and has a strong but pleasing scented odor. It has low vapor pressure and low toxicity which makes it an appealing choice as an ingredient. As a chemical compound it has a formula C6H5CH2OH.
Natural Chemical vs. Synthetically Produced
Benzyl alcohol is a naturally occurring chemical in some plants. Some of these include jasmine and hyacinth which are used in essential oils thus Benzyl alcohol can be found in these oils. It can also be found in some teas and some fruits.
However, Benzyl alcohol is most often created with a combination of chemicals including sodium hydroxide and benzyl chloride. Rarely it is created by reacting formaldehyde with phenylmagnesium bromide.
Benzyl alcohol is found in everything from make-up to paint thinners, e-cigarettes to soap. Because it is a good solvent, it is often used in epoxy, paint, stain, shellacks, waxes, and ink. It can be used in dye for fabrics as it enhances the ability of the dye to permeate the fabric.
Most moms will recognize Benzyl alcohol as the main active ingredient in head lice products. It works by helping to suffocate the lice when used with mineral oils. It's been approved by the FDA for this use when included in the solution at a measure of no more than 5%. It's also been known to be used in insect repellents.
Benzyl alcohol is often used in other shampoos and conditioners, soaps, perfumes and make up. It acts not only as a preservative in these products, but because of its chemical compound helps to dissolve other ingredients and make these beauty products have a smoother formula.
Benzyl alcohol works as an antimicrobial agent and as a local anesthetic. With these applications it's used at a 10% concentration which is higher than what is approved for general inclusion in skin care and make up products. It can be used to treat damaged skin, cuts and abrasions and topical skin cleansing.
It is also used as a bacteriostatic preservative in IV medications and other drugs at low concentrations. Bacteriostatic water for use in reconstituting research peptides, includes a small amount of Benzyl alcohol, both for its sterility and preservative factors.
While Benzyl alcohol has been found to be mostly safe and is approved for use in all of the things mentioned above, some caution should be taken. In concentrated doses Benzyl alcohol can irritate the mucous membranes, eyes and skin. In very high concentrations it has been shown to cause respiratory failure, paralysis, and convulsions. It should be avoided around infants as it can cause respiratory distress.