Understanding what goes into every day beauty products can be very confusing, especially when there are so many stories regarding what to try and avoid. In particular, the use of preservatives and what is safe and effective. We have put together a no nonsense straight forward approach to understanding this in order to allow you to make the decision right for you.
What is a Preservative, and why do we need them?
Preservatives are used to stop products from deteriorating by protecting them against contamination once they’re in use. Preservatives are essential in maintaining the quality and safety of many of the products we use daily. Without them, bacteria, and other harmful organisms could develop in products leading safety issues.
Did you know that bacteria, yeasts and moulds are always present on our skin, in the air around us and even in the water we drink? It is there for easy to understand how these can easily get into the products we use.
Contamination of products, especially those used around the eyes and on the skin, can cause irritation and sensitivity problems if the level of contamination is high. Preservatives can prevent these problems by stopping micro-organisms from multiplying in the product.
So What Makes a Good Preservative?
In order to ensure a product is safe to use, while preventing the development of contaminants, it is crucial to use the right preservative. There is no standard preservative system that can be used for all kinds of cosmetic products and so dependant on brand, ingredient content, and customer preference there are two groups of Preservatives that are used – Synthetic or Natural, or a combination of both.
There are natural preservatives available for use in products. These generally cover a smaller spectrum of bacterial activity, and thus shorten the shelf life of the product. These ingredients include:
Extracts (Grapefruit Seed, Rosemary)
Essential Oils (Tea Tree, Neem Seed, Thyme)
Vitamins (Vitamin E, Vitamin C)
There are a hand full of synthetic preservatives that are commonly used by the cosmetic and toiletry industries:
Parabens: Methyl-, Ethyl-, Propyl-, Butylparaben
Urea-Derivatives: Imidazolidinyl Urea, Diazolidinyl Urea
Isothiazolones: Methylchloro-, Methyl-Isothiazolinone
Halogen-Organic Actives: Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Methyldibromo Glutaronitrile
Organic Acids & Others: Sodium Benzoate, Chloracetamide, EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Triclosan, DMDM-Hydantoin, Quaternium-15
Parabens are the most widely used synthetic preservatives. However some brands, particularly those containing high levels of naturally-derived ingredients, use Paraben-free preservatives to avoid any potential health risks. The UK Soil Association has fully approved Phenoxyethanol for use in natural and organic products, as it has a long history of safe usage and has no negative environmental impact.
Ultimately, we all want safe and effective beauty products that are a pleasure to use and deliver results. The rule to follow when choosing your products is to check the preservation system in the products you are considering and opt for the solution that meets your own needs and concerns.