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Preservatives in Beauty Products - A Necessary Evil?

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Article by Natural Glow Organic Beauty

Surely, preservatives are the bane of every natural and organic beauty product manufacturer?

In the same way that many food items contain preservatives to prevent them from spoiling, personal care items and cosmetics require preservatives to prevent the growth of micro-organisms such as bacteria and mould and to extend their shelf life. Preservatives in cosmetics may be natural or synthetic (or a combination of both) and there are various pros and cons for both the natural and the synthetic variety.

In general, synthetic preservatives provide a broad spectrum of protection against bacteria, usually at lower concentrations and at a lower cost to the manufacturer. The downside is that they are often petroleum based and have been shown to cause health issues. In recent years, certain synthetic preservatives have gained a bad reputation following reports of negative health impacts. 

It has been widely reported that parabens, for example, are believed to mimic oestrogen and can potentially disrupt endocrine function. In 2013 Cosmetics Europe, the European Cosmetics Trade Association, told its members to remove Methylisothiazolinone from products left on the skin following an explosion in cases of allergic reactions and eczema. 1

So it is not surprising that many consumers prefer to opt for products containing natural alternatives to chemical preservatives. There are quite a few options available when it comes to natural preservatives used in beauty products and cosmetics. Some natural preservatives, such as Vitamin E and Rosemary Extract, act as anti-oxidants to extend the shelf life of products. Others like Grapefruit Seed Extract are anti-microbial, working to prevent bacteria. Often, manufacturers of natural and organic beauty products will use a combination of natural preservatives rather than just one in order to improve their efficacy and ensure a reasonable shelf life for products.

While the benefit of natural preservatives may be the avoidance of toxic and harsh chemicals, in general, natural preservatives are not considered to be as effective as some of their synthetic counterparts and this means that products with natural preservatives usually have a shorter shelf life.

Manufacturers of cosmetics are not required to include expiry dates on their products, except in the case of sunscreen, although some do. Products with more naturally derived preservatives can still have an unopened shelf life of 2 years or more.

Generally speaking, once opened, natural products should be consumed within 6 months. Of course, mascaras should be discarded within 3 months of opening, regardless of whether they are comprised of natural ingredients or not.  Put into perspective, these times frames are completely reasonable.  For example, a moisturiser used every day will normally be consumed within a 2 to 3 month period.  

The issue of preservatives is a complicated and, sometimes, controversial one. Some preservatives, whether synthetic or natural, can cause allergies and dermatitis in susceptible people. Other preservatives only work in specific conditions, such as a low pH. Research surrounding preservatives is ongoing and scientific and public opinions are constantly changing so, no doubt, there is more to come on this controversial topic.

1 16 Dec 2013

12 Feb 2016

Last Update: 13 Feb 2016

Article/Information supplied by Natural Glow Organic Beauty

Disclaimer - Any general advice given in any article should not be relied upon and should not be taken as a substitute for visiting a qualified medical Doctor.