Know Your Skincare Preservatives

Preservatives in skincare are the ingredients that are unavoidable to most of us. It is undeniably one of the most controversial topics in the skincare world. Sometimes it would present a serious health concern for consumers. Whether it's chemical preservatives or natural ones, the most important thing is to know which ones are safe to use on your skin.

Why are preservatives used in skincare products?

No matter how safe or sterile the manufacturing factory and packaging are, as soon as the water is introduced into a formulation, microbial growth is inevitable. The main purpose of adding preservatives is to prevent the formation of yeast, bacteria, and mold. On top of this, even if the product was able to get to you from a manufacturer free of microbe growth after the skincare is exposing to the air the microbial growth will continue to grow. Most likely the skincare products are kept in the bathroom where interaction with a product is slowly introducing it to new microbial life.

Without preservatives, they’d end up covered in mould within just a week or two, in the worse case--bacteria or yeast that could cause skin infection. However, all-natural skincare products are usually safer for the skin because they contain less water content than those made with a lot of chemicals.

Here are the list of common preservatives one should avoid:

  1. Parabens have been linked to health issues including reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and skin irritation. The ingredient is also thought to be carcinogenic which can mimic estrogen hormones which could increase the risk of breast cancer.
  2. Formaldehyde is the exact same formaldehyde that’s used to embalm dead bodies. It can cause irritation, illnesses that range from leukemia to brain cancer.
  3. Ureas has known to be a potential irritant, it is also a formaldehyde releaser, which can be harmful to the skin.
  4. Quaternium-15 is another formaldehyde-releasing preservative and therefore, not a safe choice to use in general.
  5. Butylated Hydroxyanisole is a potential cancer risk that is banned as a food preservative everywhere from Japan to the EU.

Thankfully, these are alternative preservatives that are safe to use:

  1. Phenoxyethanol is a naturally occurring preservative that is safe to use as long as it’s used in concentrations of 1% or less. It can be found in natural ingredients like green tea and chicory.
  2. Benzyl Alcohol Found in plants, teas, and fruits, the ingredients used in skincare are generally safe for most people to use.
  3. Caprylyl glycol is an alcohol derived from a fatty acid caprylic glycol. It's a safer option than traditional preservatives, such as parabens. It is derived from the natural fatty acid found in palm and coconut oils which helps increase the antimicrobial activity of other preservatives.
  4. Potassium Sorbate is a salt that makes a great natural preservative that is found in berries, it’s also produced synthetically in cosmetic production.
  5. Ethylhexylglycerin is derived from coconut or palm oil, this clear liquid is often used as an alternative to parabens.

Do all products need preservatives?

Not all products need preservatives. Only the formula that incorporates water, needs a preservative. These products include lotions, creams, moisturizers, shampoos, and makeup. Products that don’t require a preservative include water-free products such as balms or oil-based serums, powdered facial masks, or bar soaps.

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