Over the years preservatives have formed a bad rep, not only in skincare/cosmetics, but also in food. For a while now, preservatives are subject to marketing and safety discussions. Due to safety, some preservative systems face public depreciation, legal restrictions or even prohibition. For formulators or brands, preserving a product with approved preservatives and coming across as a “clean” product or brand seems to get harder and harder. While there is a rise in preservative free or “all natural” beauty products, almost all beauty products need preservatives.
Why do we need preservatives?
While preservatives seem to be a pain in the a(beep) for everyone, it is essential for any water-based formulas. This also includes products that are waterless but are prone to moisture exposure. In fact, without the assistance of preservatives, our cosmetic products can cause more harm than good. Many of us don’t realise that our cosmetic products can actually spoil or grow bacteria, fungi and yeasts just like they would in food.
Microorganisms can grow readily in the presence of water and the pH of our skin and cosmetic products is a perfect breeding ground. Think of it this way, you buy a $400 anti-aging cream with amazing benefits and it starts spoiling in a few days or weeks. This $400 cream has gone from ground-breaking to worthless and harmful in seconds. We dare say, you just wasted your money. See how important preservatives are?
How does it work and is it safe to use?
The mechanism of action depends on the type of preservative but they all have the end goal of killing off bacteria or microbe cells. If you see a product that contains water but no preservative system then PUT HER DOWN. For this reason, we also don’t recommend DIY cosmetics at home if it doesn’t have an effective preservative system or if you would use longer than a few days.
Based on current science, cosmetics that contain preservatives are safe to use. There are also plenty of cosmetic regulatory bodies to ensure product safety for consumers. They do all the hard work and set boundaries for brands and formulators so that you don’t have to worry when choosing a product.
The key is to have the microbiological and toxicological risks balanced out.
What are common cosmetic preservatives?
There are 4 main groups of preservation:
Preservatives from the aldehyde group and paraben group are becoming less and less popular due to scientific studies that suggest pontential negative impact to the body. It is probably best to avoid these ingredients.
The most common preservative is Phenoxyethanol which is considered perfectly safe for all consumers, including pregnant women and children of all ages, when used as a preservative in cosmetic products at a maximum concentration of 1%.
There are also alternatives for natural preservatives that also work well at killing off microorganisms but still be perfectly safe for use.
Be sure to check out safety profiles to see if it’s suitable or not!