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  • Writer's pictureCindy

Preservatives-A Necessary Evil

We get several customers asking us if we make lotions or sugar scrubs or if we will start making them. The answer is sadly no. We have definitely considered it, we know they will be popular and sell. We had to ask ourselves: are we doing this strictly for profit or do we have a purpose? We started this company to make safe, affordable body products and we want to continue to do that. This is why we do not sell any products that need a preservative and why we do not sell lotions or scrubs.

Why not make a lotion or scrub without a preservative, you ask. Well, back to our goal of safe products. Any product that has water (hydrosol, aloe vera, lotions or milk) can grow fungus, yeast and bacteria very quickly. Although, sugar scrubs do not contain water, they are going to get water in them since they are used in the shower. I could show gross pictures of yeast, or fungus growing in a cosmetic jar- but ewww! You get the point. So to be very clear: a preservative is absolutely needed in a water base product! Usually a combination of preservatives is needed to get full protection.

What is our problem with preservatives if they are so necessary? Again, back to our goal of making safe products. Are preservatives safe? There are four categories of preservatives used in cosmetics, parabens, formaldehyde releasers, phenoxyethanol and organic acids. So here is our basic (not to scientific) rundown...


How they are labeled on your bottle: usually end in -paraben on the ingredient label. Examples to look for on label: Germaben II (Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben and Propylparaben), Butylparaben.

About: Parabens started being commonly used in cosmetics around the 1950's. These are the most commonly used because they are effective against fungal and some gram negative bacteria. Usually at least two parabens are used or combined with another preservative such as phenoxyethanol to increase effectiveness. They are also found in food and medicinal products. Our bodies can absorb parabens through our skin and by digestion.

Why are they a concern: Parabens have weak estrogen like properties. In large amounts, this can cause hormone disruptions in both men and women and may increase the cell growth of certain cancers (mainly breast cancer). In 2005, the CDC did a study showing that 99% of Americans excreted parabens in their urine. Most products use a very small amount of parabens, less than 1% per individual product. Therefore, the CDC and FDA consider them safe. The actual amount of parabens needed to be harmful is yet to be determine. The actual amount of parabens one person absorbs in a day, month, year hasn't been never been studied.

Formaldehyde Releasers:

How are they labeled: usually have the word urea (Formaldehyde, DMDM Hydantion, Imadozolidinyl Urea, Diazolidinyl Urea)

About: Formaldehyde releasers work by releasing small amounts of formaldehyde into the product. They are effective for bacteria protection but weak for fungal. Therefore, another preservative is needed for full protection. Again, they are used in food, medicine, cosmetics, hair dyes, finger nail polish, glue and paper/plywood products. Formaldehyde can be absorbed through our skin, digestion, and inhaling.

Why are they a concern: According the CDC, formaldehyde is possibly linked to certain cancers, such as leukemia. It is most toxic if inhaled, but can be absorbed through your skin and from digestion. Again, the actual amount absorbed per day and amount considered dangerous has yet to be determined. Therefore, it is considered safe to use in almost every product because each product uses such a small amount.


How are they labeled: phenoxyethanol

About: These are the newest preservative to hit the cosmetic world. Many companies are using phenoxyehtanol as a "safe" alternative to parabens. They have great bacterial coverage but not fungal, so again, another preservative is still needed. They are used in cosmetics, food and medicine. They can be absorbed through the skin and digestion.

Why are they a concern: Phenoxyethanol can cause skin irritation, including eczema to the exposed skin. Although, the FDA concluded that they are considered "skin-safe" if used at less than 1%. In 2008, a voluntarily recall was issued for a nipple cream that contained chlorphenesin and phenoxyethanol and reportedly could cause respiratory distress, diarrhea and vomiting in nursing infants. However, the FDA still considers phenoxyethanol to be safe, even for infants.

Organic Acids

How are they labeled: Usually have the word acid or end in -oate (Benzoic Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Sorbic Acid, Potassium Benzoate, Levulinic Acid, Anisic Acid)

About: These are labeled as organic because they are sometimes found naturally in foods. However, they are synthetically made when used in cosmetics and food as a preservative. They are effective to prevent fungal growth but not bacterial, therefore, they are usually combined with one of the above preservatives.

Why are they a concern: The biggest concern with organic acids is skin and eye irritation.

Unfortunately, there are no natural, safe preservatives to use in water-base cosmetics. But, they are needed to keep the product safe from bacterial growth. They are a necessary evil if you are a lover of lotions and sugar scrubs. An alternative to lotions is to use body butters which do not contain water, therefore do not need a preservative. An alternative to sugar scrubs, would be to use an exfoliating soap or soak with bath salts.

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