Both in and out of the skincare industry, the word “preservative” is tossed around with a lot of mystery and insecurity as to its actual safety or use. You may be more familiar with this conversation when it comes to the food industry, as preservatives in products – particularly those with a long shelf life – have been tested and debated for ages. However, with the skin being the largest organ in your body, it’s a wonder that there isn’t more conversation around the inclusion of preservatives in your skincare products.
So what exactly is a preservative? The types of preservatives that are added to skincare products can be naturally made or extracted, or may be chemically created or synthetically made. The term “preservative” refers to the ingredient that is added to help preserve the quality, integrity and longevity of a particular product. Their addition is supposed to decrease the likeliness or time frame for spoilage, and delay, decrease, or diminish microbial growth that could lead to bacteria production.
As you can see, the addition of preservatives in skincare actually makes sense. The word “preservative” can be scary if you don’t understand what they are, why they are used, and which are the healthiest for use in your skincare products. Although there are many considerations when it comes to the safest and most natural skincare products – a lot of which we will cover here – it can quickly be seen that preservatives can play a really important role in the overall health and safety of the products that you’re putting onto your skin. It’s obvious, too, that not all preservatives are created equal.
Let’s first talk about the addition of chemical preservatives in skincare products. It can be easy to assume that something that is sold over the counter is safe to put onto your skin, but did you know that in America, the FDA cannot require skincare companies to test their products for safety? While you may assume that the chemicals (preservative and otherwise) that are added to your skincare products are safe, you may be surprised to hear that many of the chemical additives used in the US are banned in European countries, well known for their safety standards when it comes to skincare. In fact, a Cosmetics Ingredient Review panel in the US has only declared 11 chemicals as dangerous in skincare products. For reference, Europe has banned over 1,000. Fragrance products in particular – of which are not required to be listed on skincare ingredient labels – have been found to cause hormone disruption.
You may read the facts about chemicals in your skincare and swear off anything that isn’t organic or labelled as natural for the rest of your life – but not so fast. Believe it or not, these ingredients can also pose their own risks, as can the labeling of such. For example, chemicals known as petrochemicals can be included in products with an organic and natural label as long as it’s kept under a certain limit. In addition, even naturally extracted products may not be the best. Although there are naturally-derived preservatives that maintain anti-microbial properties, they may not be the most ideal in skincare. Essential oils, although a buzzword with many positive qualities, would need to be used in large quantities, and many times do not produce the scent desirable to those creating and selling the products. Without proper research and use, natural preservatives present their own challenges!
This may have you wondering if preservative-free skincare is right for you – and maybe it is. Keep in mind that skincare without preservatives will decrease the timeline for which the product should be considered safe and effective. Additionally, since preservatives can serve as an antimicrobial in these products, some people may find that preservative-free skincare products can actually lead to irritation or infections. Many spas, for example, use products that are made right before a service is given, typically making them very safe and preservative free since they need no shelf-life for use. It may be less realistic for you to use these types of products in your home.
So, if natural and chemical preservatives, and preservative-free products all offer their risks – where can you turn for the right kinds of products? Firstly, you have to understand the labeling of these products to make better informed decisions. As we mentioned, the term natural does not determine if a product is suitable for skin consumption. You may be able to find plant-based or vegan skincare products which will likely not include chemicals or unsafe products, but they can be harder to find. Another term you want to watch for is “antioxidants,” as the presence of antioxidants is natural additive that extends shelf life without sacrificing safety. Most closely, watch out for paraben additives, artificial dyes and fragrances, and sulfates.
The information is, understandably, overwhelming to process. A great option, if you’re unsure of an ingredient’s safety, is to use this website to look up individual ingredients. Also, choosing products such as oils can reduce the amount of additives, as these require no to very minimal antimicrobials to be added, typically. In general, oil based products will stay fresher longer. In addition to ingredients, you can watch for and select products with smarter dispensing options, such as a pump. Twist-open jars or containers can greatly increase the chance of contamination as, beside all of the additives and ingredients we covered here, unwashed hands can add unhealthy bacteria that are then spread onto your skin, causing additional harm.
Don’t get discouraged – there are plenty of good options out there too! Taylor Made uses responsibly sourced ingredients, typically from small and women-owned businesses, in the United States. The methods and quality of ingredients in our formulations require little to no antimicrobials. And our ingredients and standards far exceed safety standards in US and Europe. We believe in quality and responsibly sourced materials to give you the best cosmetics and skincare line possible. We are happy to provide a solution to the overwhelming and confusing world of skincare.