November 7, 2016

Preservatives in Cosmetics

Often the subject of internet scaremongering, preservatives are misunderstood and perceived as “nasties”. However, they are there to protect you from the real nasties: micro-organisms which can cause product spoilage and very serious infections of skin, eyes etc.


Laboratory staff have to wear masks, gloves and protective eye wear when handling preservatives (and other cosmetic raw materials, including organic substances). Repeatedly handling an undiluted material in bulk runs the risk of it causing irritation, getting into eyes, cuts or grazes, or being inhaled.  So safety measures have to be in place.


Handling tubs or barrels of an undiluted raw material is hardly the same as using a product containing less than 1% of it.


By law, all cosmetics containing water must be properly preserved or they are not safe to use. Some people use oil-based cosmetics to avoid preservatives but these can be too heavy for skin health, resulting in clogged pores or irritation.


Some ranges claiming to be preservative-free use essential oils, which may not be effective and can cause irritation. Or they may use high levels of alcohol, usually around 20%.


So, “preservative-free”, “totally natural” and “naturally preserved” cosmetics could clog pores, cause irritation or contain unhealthy levels of micro-organisms which you really do not want anywhere near your skin.


Natural preservatives:


•  may not be as effective as their chemical counterparts and

•  therefore have to be used at higher levels resulting in skin irritation

•  are unlikely to protect against all varieties of micro-organism

•  can affect the product’s pH, so additional chemicals have to be added to counteract this

•  may adversely accentuate or change the odours of certain ingredients in a formulation with the result that fragrance or essential oils have to be added to mask the unpleasant odour, which in turn can lead to irritation.


Always check labels and ensure your products were properly manufactured in a laboratory. Never buy used or “kitchen cosmetics” – you could be getting much more than you bargained for. Just because a product smells OK doesn’t mean it isn’t teeming with wildlife!


See also: Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid