We have all gone on Etsy and have seen a product labeled preservative-free. This can seem very appealing for someone who wants their products who believe 100% all-natural excludes preservatives. For the most part products without preservatives can be bad for your skin as well as for your pocket.
Why do we use preservatives?
Cosmetic products and skincare products need preservatives in order to prevent microbial spoilage that would make a product unsafe for use. Once a product is exposed to air it will be exposed to bacteria. If a product does not have something to combat this it will be harmful for your consumption and will result in you throwing out the product early. No one wants to spend money on something that will spoil that just sucks. So the million-dollar question is…What exactly are preservatives- what needs preservatives and what does not?
What products need preservatives?
Preservative plays a huge role in products containing water. As the universal solvent water is easy for bacteria, mold, and yeast to form. Preservatives kill these microorganisms and prevent waterborne bacteria from forming. If a product has water listen in the first 4 ingredients and do not have a preservative STAY FAR FAR AWAY. Even the safest consumer will develop bacteria in their product. The human body is covered with microorganisms and we pick up millions of bacteria from everything we touch. Just placing an applicator bottle on your skin once, scooping product out of a jar, or even pressing down on a dispenser will expose your product to billions of microorganisms and bacteria.
All preservatives are not created equal. All because a product contains a preservative does not mean it will last forever. Preservatives have a shelf life just like every other product. If a company is using an old preservative it will be less effective than a brand new preservative that has not been exposed to air and bacteria. All responsible companies will list the shelf life of their product on their packaging. This is usually denoted by the symbol that looks like an open jar with a number before “M.” The number indicates how many months the product is good for opening.
Photo from Hilary Says – https://www.bellanaija.com/2016/08/hilary-says-know-when-your-beauty-products-expire/
Let us know if you would like a future article going more in detail about the expiration dates of skincare products.
What products do not need preservatives?
Products containing water will always need a preservative but, products containing oil it isn’t as important. Lipid oxidation, the degradation of oil-based products occurs and can be detrimental to one’s health but is easier to combat than will water-based products. Products with high concentrations of Vitamin C or Vitamin E often can have a long shelf life without a preservative. Vitamin E will often protect an oil-based product from going bad and can use used as a preservative in many products such as dog food and treats. In skincare products, tocopherols of Vitamin E can come in 4 different homologs, α-, β-, γ- and δ-homologs, showing structure-specific chemical and biological activities. The hydroxyl group determines the homolog and it plays the chief role in determining the antioxidant activity, as it can donate a hydrogen atom to reduce free radicals as well as bacteria. Tocopherols are seen as an excellent preservative because they have the ability to retard lipid oxidation by reacting with several radicals generated from lipid molecules, thereby protecting functional compounds from oxidative degradation. Vitamin E has its negatives it only has the shelf life of 12 months starting from the day the product was made. Low concentrations of Vitamin E can cause a product to oxidate faster as well. Oil-based Vitamin C has shown to have the same effects as Vitamin E but it is even less stable. When exposed to high temperatures or light it can degrade in a matter of weeks, making it terrible as the only preservative in a product.
Most of the time you will see products with a high concentration of AHAs do not actually need preservatives. ( Read about AHA’s here) These acids make it a difficult environment for bacteria to survive, however, you’ll notice a good chemist will always keep a preservative in the formulation for good measure. All because it is less likely to develop a bacteria doesn’t mean that it won’t. For instance, if a product contains Lactic Acid or Malic acid it is less likely to need a preservative because these AHAs will serve as a preservative on their own. A good chemist knows that adding baking soda to acid will form a buffer that can act as an all-natural preservative to the compound. This will balance the pH of the product as well as adding in an extra preservative. Most products mass-produced today will have a preservative included for good measure. Chemists rather spend the extra money to make sure your product has full protection. Think about it when it comes to sunscreen are you going to buy the Sunscreen with just UVA protection or are you going to buy the sunscreen with UVB and UVA with broad ban protection? You have to do what makes the most sense.
Wait there is a preservative loophole. What doesn’t need a preservative? Powder products like bath bombs do not need a preservative. It is really hard to get bacteria and microorganisms to grow in an environment without liquids. That is why you never see a preservative in bath bombs.
(Makeup and powder foundation is a different because of the constant application to your skin.)
Where should preservatives fall on the ingredients list?
If you want to know if your preservative is in a safe amount that won’t irritate your skin. It should usually fall on the last line of the formulation. Preservatives based on the formulation should be from 0.1% all the way up to 5%. ( the higher the concentration usually means it is more irritating)
Read your products!
Preservatives are important! You should always make sure your water-based products contain a preservative. You should also check to see if your oil-based product contains a preservative if not check for Vitamin E and the shelf life of the product. Also, make sure your company is using environmentally friendly or all-natural preservatives for the environment.