Preservatives in Cosmetics

Preservatives are chemical—more commonly synthetic and not natural—ingredients added to a variety of skin creams, lotions, shampoos, and eye makeup to protect users from infections, rashes, and other microbial attacks. Importantly, many personal care potions require preservatives as contaminated products could bring on skin rashes, eye irritation, or infections in open cuts or wounds. Firms such as French cosmetics maker LVMH use preservative ingredients currently approved for use in the European Union.

Which preservatives are commonly used in cosmetics?

Parabens and their family are among the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics, and if included and used in correct formulations, are safe to use. Parabens are substances that are often used as preservatives in cosmetics, personal care products and skin care products. Some firms such as Jason Natural Cosmetics prefer to make cosmetics with preservatives that are also recognized as food ingredients, such as phenoxy ethanol and sodium benzoate. Jason promotes its Sunbrella sunscreen as paraben-free.

What are these preservatives in cosmetics made of?

Some of the major parabens are benzylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. They are usually petroleum-based chemicals that prevent the growth of bacteria, and have been now in use for a long time in skin care and personal care products. Often two or more parabens are combined together in a product formulation to extend the shelf life of a product.

Are all preservatives in cosmetics harmful?

Various users allege that parabens cause breast cancer and liver problems etc. Most of these claims are not applicable to cosmetics, as parabens are only used topically i.e, on the top layer of the skin and not systemically i.e, internally.

The European Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association (COLIPA) reiterates that parabens are hydrolyzed in the skin and that they do not enter the bloodstream. Parabens are also not officially identified or listed as an endocrine disrupting chemical by any government or regulatory organization.

What are the negative effects of preservatives in cosmetics?

Some ingredients can cause allergies in susceptible people, including dermatitis and other side effects. But at the same time, you need to include enough preservative to control microbial growth, yet not load it so as to cause allergies, dermatitis or any side effects.

Do baby products contain harmful preservatives?

University of California, San Diego, pediatrics professor Sharon Jacob-Soo has pointed to data showing that formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives that are normally present in baby shampoos are sensitizers and causal agents of contact dermatitis in children. However, ingredients are being used by prominent companies in a balanced and tested way so as to not cause allergic reactions commonly.

What if preservatives are not used in cosmetics?


Would preservative free cosmetics be safe?

The European Cosmetics Association (Colipa) says humid bathrooms where cosmetics are stored are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria. “Without preservatives, cosmetics would have to be kept cool and would spoil in the same way as perishable food,” the group notes. It adds that treating cosmetics like fresh food would be very costly and inconvenient for consumers. Installing a refrigerator in the bathroom either is not a practical option.

Are there any alternatives for synthetic preservatives?

Cosmetic companies such as International Speciality Products (ISP) are developing synthetics that are bioidentical i.e., identical to compounds found in nature, yet are man-made. Last year, the firm introduced Optiphen MIT Ultra, a broad-spectrum blend of the synthetic preservative methylisothiazolinone and phenylpropanol, a molecule found in flowers and fruit. Synthetic phenylpropanol in the blend could be one option closer to the all-natural preservative, the cosmetics market is looking for, the company claims.