Our ethos at Le Bleu is to create only natural health and beauty products that are free from any harmful and artificial chemicals. We have done extensive research on preservatives and what to or not to use in our products. Clients regularly ask us for information on preservatives and we’ve made this handy guide to answer the most common questions.
Do cosmetic products really need preservatives?
Products that contain aqueous (water) ingredients need preservatives to delay the formation of fungi, yeast, bacteria and mold and to extend the shelf life of your product. Without a preservative, the shelf life of these products would only be a couple of days. Generally these would include lotions, creams and shampoos. Oil based products such pure essential oils, oil serums, massage oils, balms, tissue oils and so forth generally don’t need a preservative as they don’t contain any water.
Are there any ‘natural’ preservatives?
Short answer is no, not really. Vitamin E, rosemary extract and grapefruit seed extract is sometimes used as ‘natural’ preservatives, but they are in fact antioxidants and not preservatives. Antioxidants do assist fats and oils from going rancid, but they do not offer broad spectrum antimicrobial protection.
Natural substances that show antimicrobial activity are either not adequate for broad spectrum protection or they have undesirable qualities. Others, such as essential oils, require unsuitably high concentrations to be effective. Some have offensive odours or colours that would be unacceptable in skin care products. Many become inactivated by manufacturing procedures and other factors. So an all-natural preservative is not really an option.
What preservatives are considered natural and safe to use?
Like various products over the decades, preservatives have gotten themselves a bit of a bad rap. Studies have shown that substances which release formaldehydes and parabens can be harmful if exposure is sustained over long periods of time.
The good news is that the beauty industry has come a long way and there are now many preservatives on the market that are considered safe as they are either derived from natural sources or are nature identical. Many of them carry certification from bodies such as Ecocert and have undergone rigorous testing.
While there are many options to choose from, listed below is some of the most popular natural preservatives on the market. Always check the product label as the preservative should be specified on the ingredients list.
- Geogard 221 is one of the most popular liquid broad spectrum preservative and it is ECOCERT approved for use in natural and organic formulas.
- Euxyl PE is a phenoxyethanol based liquid broad spectrum preservative and also Ecocert approved.
- Geogard Ultra is a relative of Geogard 221 but in powder form. It is also broad spectrum, ECOCERT approved and globally accepted.
- Potassium sorbate is a natural preservative for cosmetics and food. It can be used in a wide variety of products including makeup, skin care products, hair care products, bath products, nail polish, fragrances, oral care products, spermicides, and insect repellents.
- Citric acid is not considered a preservative in itself, but is often used alongside another preservative such as potassium sorbate. Citric acid is mostly used as a pH adjuster as it has a pH of around 2.2 which is very low. In low pH levels, certain preservatives do work better and yeast and mold activity can be limited.
What factors to consider when choosing a preservative?
A producer of cosmetics or beauty products needs to keep the following in mind when selecting a preservative:
- Amount needed as preservatives are typically only used in very small amounts, anywhere from 0.5 – 2% of the formula.
- A preservative must offer broad spectrum protection against bacteria, mold and yeast.
- The pH level of the product.
- How sterile is the equipment used during production?
- Are all the ingredients compatible with each other?
- Is heat used somewhere in the production process?
- Is the final product stored in sealed container in a cool and dry environment?
Armed with the right knowledge on the correct use of preservatives; you as a consumer can make an informed choice when selecting which cosmetics to buy.