The substance is an emulsifier, which is used in cosmetic products in order to mix substances, which normally would not mix - e.g. oily and watery components. This enables the product’s maintenance of its’ function.
Phenoxyethanol is an aromatic ether which is used as a preservative.
It is difficult to avoid preservatives in personal care and cleaning/washing since water give rise to good growing conditions for bacteria’s, fungus and mold. If microorganisms are allowed to grow this could, besides destroying the product and limit the durability, also result in a risk for infection for the consumer.