Zinc phenolsulfonate is a benzenesulfonic acid zinc salt. It’s got several names, including zinc sulfocarbolate, zinc phenolsulfonate octahydrate, zinc p-phenolsulfonate, and zinc sulfophenate. It’s a weak acid that contains benzene, a cancer-causing chemical associated with increased risk of leukemia and other blood cancers.
Zinc phenolsulfonate is included in antiperspirants and personal care products for the following reasons: as an antimicrobial to kill bacteria and other microbes, or suppress their growth and reproduction; as an astringent to contract and tighten the skin; and to produce tingling sensation. In addition to its application in personal care products, zinc phenolsulfonate is used in the formulation of insecticides.
Exposure to zinc phenolsulfonate occurs through skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion. Contact with the skin causes irritation and burning. Inhalation can trigger irritation of the respiratory tract, i.e. the nose, throat, and lungs causing coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Ingestion of large doses can cause emetic effects (induce vomiting) and corrosion of the gut.
Although zinc phenolsulfonate has found its way into many personal care products, very little work’s been done to ascertain its long-term health effects. However, according to a fact sheet released by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, it can cause cancer, reproduction, and other chronic health effects several months or years after exposure.