WHY AREN’T THERE MORE
PRESERVATIVES IN COSMETICS
Preservatives are not an ingredient formulator want to include in products. While they make products safer and last longer, they don’t deliver a functional benefit. They also can cause allergic reactions, can be sensitizing, and consumers have been thoroughly frightened by them thanks to chemical scaremongering. It’s little wonder that some marketers prominently feature the claim of “preservative free” on product whenever possible. With all the negatives associated with preservatives, it does make one wonder why there aren’t more preservative free cosmetics.
In fact, cosmetic chemists, cosmetic manufacturers and certainly cosmetic marketers would be happy to get rid of preservatives. Unfortunately, the disease-causing microbes would like that too. There are some companies that offer preservative free products but not many and for good reason. Here are the top reasons why more companies aren’t making preservative-free cosmetics.
FASCICOLO SPONSORIZZATO DA
Perhaps the biggest issue is that the number and type of products able to made without preservatives is limited. These are primarily anhydrous products like body butters, balms, and hair conditioning or styling products. While these have their place in the market, they are generally too heavy, greasy or have limited functionality. Most cosmetic formulas like cleansers, moisturizers, and serums are water-based, colloidal solutions. And whenever there is water in a formula, some type of preservation system is needed.
THE NUMBER OF POSSIBLE PRESERVATIVE FREE FORMULAS IS LIMITED
A standard cosmetic can have a shelf life of 1 or even 2 years or more. This is great for those products people have stuffed in their medicine cabinet or bathroom drawers. They can feel confident that if they open them up tomorrow they won’t get tetanus or gangrene. A preservative-free cosmetic, especially one that contains water, won’t last more than a couple of weeks. It will spoil just about as fast as milk. Since cosmetics are not used up nearly as fast as perishable foods this makes unpreserved ones dangerous.
PRESERVATIVE FREE COSMETICS DON’T LAST AS LONG
Unless a formula is put in some special air tight packaging, preservative free cosmetics would need to be refrigerated to keep them safe. They would also have a short shelf life just like the food in a refrigerator. This refrigeration step is a huge inconvenience for people so manufacturers figure most people will not want to bother. While there are some cosmetic refrigerators now available, they have not had much impact on consumer habits.
BECAUSE THEY NEED TO BE REFRIGERATED
It is good advice that consumers should not share cosmetic products. This is because each time a consumer uses a cosmetic, both the consumer and the product gets exposed to microbes. Even when there are preservatives microbes can persist in the form of spores and survive in small numbers. Since many of the microbes are ones that live on the consumer’s skin, the recontamination with their own microbes is not usually a problem.
But if they share the product, that can be problematic. Since preservative free cosmetics are even more prone to contamination, this can make product sharing even more dangerous.
PRESERVATIVE FREE PRODUCTS CAN EASILY GET CONTAMINATED
In addition to making anhydrous formulas, it is possible to make preservative free cosmetics by using special packaging. Unfortunately, both of these options can double, triple, or quadruple the cost for manufacturing. And while most people don’t mind spending $5 on a lip balm, spending $20 for the same thing that is merely preservative free is harder to get them to accept. Companies don’t want to make products that people don’t buy.
THEY ARE MORE EXPENSIVE TO MAKE
One strategy for creating preservative free cosmetics is to use plant extracts or other natural sounding ingredients that have some antimicrobial effect. Technically, the products are not preservative free, but from an advertising standpoint companies have gotten away with making this claim (at least so far). Unfortunately, natural preservatives are not nearly as reliable as standard ingredients like parabens and formaldehyde donors. The recent increase in cosmetic product recalls due to microbial contamination demonstrates the problem.
BECAUSE NATURAL PRESERVATIVES DON’T WORK AS WELL
Probably the most important reason there aren’t more preservative free cosmetics is because the preserved products work great and most scientific experts regard them as perfectly safe. True, some of the compounds used to preserve products can be dangerous with high levels of exposure, but when used at effective levels in cosmetics they have been demonstrated to be relatively harmless. Remember, everything (even water) is dangerous at a certain level. Cosmetic marketers just don’t find people willing enough to spend extra money for a benefit that is imperceptible. And if people are not going to buy a product, cosmetic companies are not going to make them.
BECAUSE PRESERVED COSMETICS ARE SAFE
*Article previously published in HPC Today, July/August 2021, Vol 16(4)
Element 44 Inc | United States
Perry Romanowski is an independent cosmetic formulator and Vice President of Element 44 Inc.
You can contact him and learn more about formulating and cosmetic science at his website.