Benzyl alcohol is used as a general solvent for inks, waxes, shellacs, paints, lacquers, and epoxy resin coatings. Thus it can be used in paint strippers, especially when combined with compatible viscosity enhancers to encourage the mixture to cling to painted surfaces.It is a precursor to a variety of esters, used in the soap, perfume, and flavor industries. It is also used in e-liquid for e-cigarettes to enhance the flavors used. When applied to damaged skin or mucous membranes at a 10% concentration it acts as a local anesthetic and antimicrobial agent, and is sometimes included as a degreaser in rug cleaning products. As a dye solvent, it enhances the process of dying wool, nylon, and leather. It also has use as a photographic developer, and as an insect repellent.
Benzyl alcohol is used as a bacteriostatic preservative at low concentration in intravenous medications, cosmetics and topical drugs.
The use of benzyl alcohol as a 5% solution has been approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of head lice in children older than 6 months and in adults. It affects the louse's spiracles, preventing them from closing. These then become clogged with water or mineral oil or other matter and cause the insect to die from asphyxiation.
Benzyl alcohol is used effectively for treating lice infestations as the active ingredient in lotion shampoo with 5% benzyl alcohol.
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