Beauty biz – what’s preserving your products?

cosmetics3The good news and the bad on what’s keeping your cosmetics.cosmetics2

For the purpose of keeping this post fairly short I will omit the other (mostly unpronounceable) family names like “Imidazolidynyl urea” that are also used to name the various preservatives mentioned.  If you need to know, you’ll have to google “what other names does “said” preservative go by,” because the list can be unfortunately extensive.

While many people want to avoid chemical preservatives in beauty and personal-care products, manufacturers use them for two crucial reasons: efficacy and consumer protection.  Preservatives aren’t required in all products (e.g., those with no water, such as oil-and wax-based lip balms; hermetically sealed products; and glycolic acid products with low PH). But where they are needed, they extend a product’s shelf life and prevent microbial growth that could lead to infection.  Without preservatives, whether natural or chemical, we’d need to keep products in the fridge (where incidentally, I do have a bunch hiding in the butter compartment – but no butter).

cosmetics1Here’s a glossary of some commonly used chemical preservatives, with information on their safety.  If you check the ingredients list on cosmetics, this post will help you with the latest info.


Found in moisturizers, hair-care products, makeup and shaving products.  They are commonly used as a preservative; effective against a wide range of bacteria, yeast and moulds, thus protecting consumers and extending product shelf life.  All commercially used parabens are produced synthetically (although some also occur naturally as preservatives in certain fruit), and are generally used at concentrations of 0.3% or less.  They come in multiple names like methylparaben and ethylparaben, etc.  What you need to know is that if it ends with paraben then it is paraben. A small scale study in 2004 detected parabens in breast tumours however the study was found to been flawed (?) and there has been no known relationship between exposure to parabens and increased cancer risk. Still, the proverbial horse has left the barn, with many companies opting to go paraben-free.  Why take chances?


Found in eye makeup, foundation, skin-care products, moisturizers, hair-care products, facial cleansers and sunscreen.  It is often used as a carrier or solvent in combination with other chemical preservatives.  Many companies that have turned their backs on parabens use phenoxyethanol instead.  The cost is low.  Health Canada considers it to be safe and does not place restrictions on the levels while Japan’s standards for cosmetics restricts the concentration to one percent.

Formaldehyde Donors:

Found in skin and hair-care products and nail polish. They’re effective against bacteria but weak against yeast and moulds, and are therefore combined with stronger chemical preservatives to assure a long shelf life.  Japan’s standards for cosmetics restricts their use due to safety concerns regarding the release of formaldehyde.  They’re considered safe by the European Union’s Cosmetic Directive and by Health Canada (interesting) at up to 0.2% concentration.  I say you make the decision because regulations are all over the map…literally.


Found in hair products, liquid soaps and some other bath products, some hand creams and sunscreens.  This chemical acts as a strong anti-bacterial, but is weak against yeast and moulds.


Found in anti-bacterial soaps, hand and body washes, mouthwashes, deodorants and toothpastes.  A synthetic ingredient used primarily as an antibacterial in personal care products, but can also be used as a preservative to slow the growth of microbes and to prevent spoilage of the product.  The Government of Canada confirmed in March 2012 that Triclosan in “significant amounts” may pose a risk to the environment. The scientific data is currently being reviewed by the CCTFA (The Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.

Other preservatives including natural ones:

You might also see ingredients like glyceryl caprylate, caprylate glycols and ethoxydiglycol.  They may be naturally derived or synthetic.  They have limited efficacy on their own, but they might boost the efficacy of other preservatives.

Natural preservatives (e.g., turmeric and rosemary) may have some drawbacks, such as strong odour and colour, or, like orange-seed extract, have low efficacy.

Another group is the acidic preservatives such as benzoic acid and sorbic acid.  These two molecules are found in nature.  The weak preservative properties of these two acids are improved whenever the PH of the product is low, but there is a drawback: the lower the PH, the higher the potential for irritation to skin.

This in part was taken from an article written by Ann Chandler for “Look Great.”

I’d like to share some kitchen ingredients that can work wonders for various skin issues in another upcoming post. You’ll be surprised at what manuka honey, oatmeal, coconut oil and turmeric (all good for you to ingest) can do to combat skin problems from acne to hyperpigmentation.

Back to regular beauty product reviews next Thursday.

spoiledimage - CopyYou can try for 100% natural face products that not only do wonders for your skin but smell good too.

 Is there a natural personal care product that you recommend?


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