Preservatives in cosmetics and my shocking personal experience.

Preservatives in cosmetics

Preservatives in cosmetics are essential skin care ingredients and without them your skin can suffer from some allergic reactions among another consequences. That’s why it is so important to know about skincare preservatives and how to identify the ones to avoid.

Preservatives in cosmetics
Natural preservatives in cosmetics

What is a preservative?

Preservatives in cosmetics are often a feared group of substances that some of you try to avoid. There has been misinformation that they are harmful to human health, absorbed into the body or cause skin rashes.

Yes, there is certainly a list of preservatives in cosmetics, which are better to avoid, because there is a higher risk of allergic reactions. On the other hand, there are also some synthetic and natural preservatives for cosmetics that are harmless to us and make an important part of the product.

Manufacturers took advantage of it as many people don’t know what is a preservative, of course. Thanks to that we now have the opportunity to purchase cosmetics that is preservative-free, chemical-free and who knows what else. Sometimes the packaging says that the product does not contain cosmetic preservatives when, in fact, the product does not even require them for customer safety.

I will give you a foot balm for cracked heels as an example. Best foot balms for cracked heels often consists of butters, oils, waxes and antioxidants. What? And how come that an ultra healing foot balm does not require preservative? Let’s have a look at it.

Why are preservatives necessary in cosmetic products?

Synthetic or natural preservatives in cosmetics are required in all products containing water or when there is a possibility it will come into contact with water during its use.

Try to pour water into a glass and leave it on your kitchen table all week. In water, bacterias start to grow in 4-6 days. And do not forget that they are there even before we can see them with the naked eye.

“Without preservatives in cosmetics, bacteria and funci would quickly multiply in water-containing products, which could lead, among other things, to an ugly skin rash.“

Check the video below to understand why are preservatives necessary in cosmetic products and compare a product that contains a preservative and a product that doesn’t.

Why are preservatives necessary in cosmetic products?

What is the function of preservatives in cosmetics then?

  1. Preservatives in cosmetics protect the product from accidental contamination when used by the consumer.
  2. They protect the product from degradation, which could cause changes in colour, smell, consistency or it could even reduce the functionality of the product.
  3. Natural preservatives in cosmetics prevent the product from spoiling which otherwise could lead to undesirable skin problems.

The most common microorganisms that can be found in cosmetics are:

  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Klebsiella oxytoca
  • Burkholderia cepacia
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Escherichia coli
  • Candida albicans
  • Enterobacter gergoviae
  • Serratia marcescens

How to prevent the growth of bacteria in cosmetics

  1. Always wash and dry your hands before you use a product – for example, when you have to scoop up your cream with your finger
  2. Do not store your products somewhere hot or in direct sunlight, such as a window sill or a car. There is a good reason why ‘Keep dry and cool’ is usually stated on the packaging.
  3. Always drip your serum into your palms or fingers first, and then spread it on your face. The pipette is there so that the unused product does not come into contact with the skin. It’s because the skin has its own natural bacterias. Plenty of bacterias….
  4. If you’re like me, you’ll mix the remaining shampoo with water and shake the bottle to use up the product to the last drop. Only add as much as you need to use it up right away. The added water could reduce the function of preservatives in cosmetics.

Contamination with micro-organisms can be divided into 2 groups:

  1. Primary contamination with micro-organisms
  2. Secondary contamination with micro-organisms

Primary contamination with micro-organisms

Primary contamination may occur during the manufacturing process. Therefore, each cosmetic manufacturer is responsible for GMP (Good manufacturing practice), which is a set of rules that must be observed in order to minimize the risk of product contamination

GMP includes, for example:

  • Use of clean (disinfected) equipment during the manufacturing process
  • Also, the surface on which production takes place must be disinfected
  • All the ingredients are clearly marked and correctly stored

Secondary contamination with micro-organisms

Secondary contamination can occur after the manufacturing proces.

What affects secondary contamination of the product?
  1. The choice of packaging is very important. Appropriately selected packagings act as a physical barrier between the product and an external environment full of microorganisms. A facial cream in a jar will be more susceptible to contamination than a cream in a pump bottle or a serum with a dropper. Furthermore, the color of the packaging is super important. Dark glass or opaque materials can prevent contact between direct light and the product, thanks to which the product could degrade much faster.
  2. There are two types of emulsions – water in oil and oil in water. Oil emulsions in water usually contain 70-80% water, and this makes them a great environment for the formation of microorganisms, if the product preservation system is not properly chosen.
  3. Another factor is the pH of the product. Bacterias prefer pH between 5 and 8, which means that any pH outside this range creates undesirable conditions for their growth. Bacterias cannot grow at a pH less than 4 or greater than 10. So, for example, a product that contains salicylic acid (that requires a pH very low) is less susceptible to contamination. Liquid soaps, on the other hand, usually have the pH too alkaline and that’s why they do not have such favorable conditions for bacterial growth.
  4. Of course, choosing the right preservative is a very important factor that can affect the whole product.

A properly selected preservation system must meet certain requirements

  1. It must be highly effective against all types of microorganisms, meaning it must have broad spectrum effectiveness
  2. It mustn’t endanger the health of the consumer.
  3. It must work well with other ingredients in the product.
  4. It mustn’t affect the physical properties of the product, such as color, smell, texture, viscosity.

Some cosmetic preservatives are only effective against certain types of bacteria or fungi, so they are often used in combination with other types of preservatives to offer broad-spectrum product protection.

Tests that has to be carried out by the manufacturer

Before a new product is available to us in stores, its manufacturer must perform 1 to 2 tests depending on the type of product.

Stability and compatibility testing

This test is required for all types of products (creams, serums, balms, make-up removers….).
It helps to determine whether the product will perform its function in terms of stability under the right conditions for storage, transport and use by the consumer. This means that a lip balm will still look like a lip balm in summer and not like liquid oil.
It also determines whether the manufacturer has chosen the right packaging for the product. This means that it will be easy for consumers to use the product in the chosen packaging and that the packaging performs its function as the physical barrier mentioned above.

Changes that are observed in this test:

  • Color
  • Smell
  • Appearance
  • Ph
  • Density
  • Product weight

Challenge testing (PET = Preservative efficacy testing)

This test is only required for products that contain water. Its purpose is to ensure that bacterias do not grow in the product during its intended period of consumption.
The test is carried out by contaminating the product sample with various microbes. For 28 days, the amount of microbes that survived is then measured at certain intervals. If there is a significant decrease in the amount of microbes during this time or there is no growth of microbes, the product has passed the test.

Examples of preservatives used in cosmetics:

  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Benzoic acid
  • Parabens
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Potassium sorbate
  • Sorbic acid
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Sodium citrate
  • Sodium levulinate and lots of other

List of natural preservatives for cosmetics

  • Benzoic Acid
  • Sorbic Acid
  • Salicylic Acid
  • Alcohol

On the packaging of cosmetic products you can notice these two signs:

Cosmetics expiration date symbol

cosmetics expiration date symbol
Egg timersymbol in cosmetics

In Europe, any cosmetic product that has a lifespan of less than 30 months must show this “Best before the end of” date. This can be shown using the “egg timer” symbol followed by the date, or the words, which can be abbreviated to BBE or Exp, followed by the date.

How long do unopened skin care products last?

how long do unopened skin care products last
Cosmetics expiry date

In Europe, cosmetic products with a lifespan longer than 30 months must show a “period after opening” (POA) time. That is, the time in months when the product will remain in good condition after the consumer has used the product for the first time.

They are closely related to the freshness of the product, its functionality, the preservation system and possible skin rashes. I do not recommend buying cosmetics, if you know you will not be able to use it up unless you want to throw money away.

My personal experience avoiding preservatives in cosmetics.

And finally, I would like to mention my personal experience from times when I was still a beginner.
Three years ago, when I was trying to switch to more natural alternatives, I tried to make my own makeup remover. I found the “recipe”, of course, on the Internet, because on the Internet you can find anything you can imagine.
And so I mixed water with castor oil in a bottle, because castor oil is said to be good at removing impurities. I shook this mix before each use to “combine” everything. I was using this miracle for about a month or two twice a day until I got a red rash around my eyes, nose and corners of my lips. The reason for this was the growth of bacterias in the bottle. There was no preservative to stop them from growing. I have studied a lot of information since then and gone through a course, so I am a lot smarter now and I have more knowledge about preservatives in cosmetics.

Preservatives in cosmetics

I wanted to point out that it is really not necessary to avoid all preservatives in cosmetics. In the first place, it is much better to read and learn about them to find out why you can find them on so many product labels.