Some people consider preservatives to be a controversial ingredient in cosmetics. There are many products that claim to be preservative-free and this leads to the belief that preservatives may be potentially harmful or even unnecessary. However, unpreserved products present consumers with a serious public health concern.
Read on to learn more about cosmetic product preservatives and what they do.
What Are Preservatives?
A preservative is a synthetic or natural ingredient that is added to cosmetics in order to keep them from spoiling or becoming contaminated. They ensure that cosmetics remain safe to use for an extended time period. Preservatives undergo quality testing and safety assessments. This rigorous testing ensures that the cosmetic products will not harm consumers.
Why Are They Needed in Cosmetics?
Without preservatives, cosmetics can become contaminated. Like fruit in a bowl, cosmetics can spoil, get moldy, and potentially make the consumer ill. When a product becomes contaminated, especially if it’s used around the eyes, it can cause serious infection or irritation.
When water is introduced to a formulation, microbes begin to grow – no matter how carefully the products are made or how sterile the space is. In addition, every time a consumer touches a product, more microbes are added from their fingers. And if left in the bathroom, with every steamy shower or toilet flush, products become tainted. Without preservatives, it only takes a small number of bad microorganisms to turn a safe product into slime or fuzz. Because of how cosmetics are used, they need to stay safe for their entire shelf life and beyond.
Unfortunately, natural products are more susceptible to microbe growth than those with preservatives. There are more nutrients for bacteria to feed on and for microbes to flourish. In addition, people who have health issues often purchase natural products, thinking these are better for them. Those consumers may not have a strong immune system and are more prone to illness without realizing it. Some of the illnesses caused by bacteria in cosmetics are pneumonia, strep throat, pink eye, thrush, meningitis, and many more.
While not all products need preservatives (i.e., bar soap, lip balms, oil-based serums), anything that incorporates water, like shampoo, lotion, or liquid foundation, does.
Some preservatives can be used in low concentrations and small amounts, but always do research before adding preservatives to your products. All of them have pros and cons. The most common preservatives are:
- Parabens: Ethyl-, methyl-, propyl-, isobutyl-paraben, and others, are widely used because, compared to other preservatives, they’re very effective at low doses. They are easy to use, have no color or smell, and skin can easily tolerate them.
- Formaldehyde Donors: Types of formaldehyde donors include glutaraldehyde, DMDM hydantoin, and imidazolidinyl urea. Formaldehyde itself was once commonly used, but no longer. Instead, chemists developed donors.
- Phenol Derivatives: Including phenoxyethanol. It has become the primary replacement for parabens in natural formulations because of its effectiveness at low concentration levels.
Be aware that natural preservatives are less effective than those named above. They need to be used at higher doses and higher concentrations, which can make them allergenic. Natural preservatives are also more expensive to use and can add colors and scents to a product.
Most are weak acids, such as benzoic acid, citric acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, sorbic acid, etc. In addition, there are herbal options like fermented ingredients, certain essential oils, and alcohols which can preserve formulas. To use preservatives effectively, you need to understand how they work and how much to use. Not a chemist? Then your best bet is to contact Architectural Beauty. We’re here to help you formulate and market your cosmetic products. Call today!