The Necessity of Preservatives in Natural Skin Care Products

By Ronald Taylor

The Necessity of Preservatives in Natural Skin Care Products

There has been a lot of press lately about natural skin care brands bucking traditional preservatives for "natural" options. While skepticism about potentially harmful ingredients like parabens and formaldehyde is warranted, preservatives play a vital role in keeping skin care products safe for consumers.  

Avoiding preservatives altogether is considered very dangerous, with virtually all experts highlighting that no "natural" preservative can effectively protect cosmetics against yeast, mold, and bacterial growth. Here’s an overview of why cosmetic preservatives are essential for your skin care products and how you can determine which products are best for you. 

Broad Spectrum Preservatives Are Necessary 

Any skincare product that is water-based needs preservatives. Broad spectrum preservative is best because it prevents mold, bacteria, and yeast growth. Ecocert, a US-based inspection and certification body for sustainable development, offers a series of guidelines for natural and organic cosmetics to follow to ensure consumer protection. The Ecocert standard checks for ingredients derived from renewable resources and a minimum threshold of the total ingredients coming from natural origin. Ecocert also performs audits to certify the safety and organic composition of new cosmetic products. 

Antioxidants Are Not Preservatives 

Some companies risk the health of their consumers by using antioxidants as “natural cosmetic preservatives” to keep their ingredient list looking better. For example, Vitamin E, rosemary extract, and grapefruit seed extract have numerous health benefits, but they are not preservatives. They are antioxidants which help oils from going rancid, but do not prevent mold or bacterial growth. Consumers should be wary of skin care products that tout using antioxidants as natural cosmetic preservatives. 

Natural vs. Synthetic Preservatives 

It’s worth noting that there are valid reasons for manufacturer concern about preservatives. Although synthetic preservatives are commonly used in personal care products, some types are not necessarily ideal for your health. Formaldehyde and parabens are two examples of synthetic preservatives that some research has indicated can cause health problems, ranging from skin irritation to increased cancer risks. While the FDA has not banned either of these ingredients and much of the research is inconclusive due to parabens’ and formaldehyde’s relatively small amounts in personal care products, consumers may wish to avoid using products with these cosmetic preservatives and manufacturers may wish to seek alternatives.  

On the flip side, virtually no effective cosmetic preservative can claim to be 100% natural. Many “natural” options are found in nature, but are still synthetically produced in labs, which makes the “natural” claim a bit iffy. Regardless of the classification, there are a few of these types of cosmetic preservatives that are better for you and your skin. Here are a few that offer broad spectrum coverage and can be found in nature and/or made synthetically: 

Dehydroacetic Acid and Benzyl Alcohol 

Dehydroacetic Acid and Benzyl Alcohol is a broad spectrum preservative that conforms to Ecocert standards. This organic preservative is commonly used in “natural” cosmetics, and is known for its non-paraben and non-formaldehyde properties. This preservative also features a subtle almond scent derived from the Benzyl Alcohol, which is a compound that can be found in essential oils, fruits and teas. Dehydroacetic Acid is an organic acid that comes from the solandra, or nightshade, species of flowers. 

Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid 

Phenoxyethanol (And) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid is another effective broad-spectrum preservative, which appears as a clear to light yellow liquid. This preservative can be used in a variety of skin care, hair, and makeup products and is known for extending the shelf life of these products by 6-18 months. This preservative also makes cosmetic products more emollient, an added benefit for the skin. 

Benzyl Alcohol & Salicylic Acid & Glycerin & Sorbic Acid  

Benzyl Alcohol & Salicylic Acid & Glycerin & Sorbic Acid is a broad spectrum preservative derived from four organic compounds that are found in plants. This preservative is a liquid that is added to a cream during its cooling phase. Similar to Dehydroacetic Acid and Benzyl Alcohol, this preservative is known for having an almond-infused scent as the Benzyl Alcohol oxidizes to Benzaldehyde. Used in water-based, oil-in-water, and water-in-oil products, Benzyl Alcohol & Salicylic Acid & Glycerin & Sorbic Acid is one of the cosmetic preservatives certified to Ecocert standards.  

Brands Labeled as Preservative Free Are Risking Customers’ Health 

Not using preservatives in cosmetic products can have a negative impact on consumers. Recently, a popular natural cosmetic brand Herbivore faced massive recalls at Sephora after their products were quickly growing mold. The company used Vitamin E and fermented radish root as “natural” preservatives, but they really aren’t. Consumers noticed that although the shelf life for these products was advertised as being shorter due to its synthetic preservative-free formula, many products had already gone bad by the time they were opened. Using contaminated cosmetics can lead to a host of health issues, such as infections and allergic reactions.  

TEA.L has chosen dehydroacetic acid and benzyl alcohol 

TEA.L striving to be 100% natural, while still using preservatives, is putting the safety of the consumer first. TEA.L products are using effective broad spectrum preservatives Dehydroacetic Acid and Benzyl Alcohol, which some sources mark as "natural," and others as "synthetic." These preservatives have been researched as effective, gone through rigorous testing, do not contain parabens or chemicals that break down in formaldehyde, and are Ecocert approved. This is the best preservative we can find to keep our products safe while being conscious and transparent about our additives. All of our products go through rigorous “challenger” testing by third party labs to ensure preservative effectiveness. Aside from using a reliable preservative, TEA.L products are also made from natural, organic ingredients such as teas and essential oils to deliver maximum, healthful benefits to the skin. 

Consumers can also take action for ensuring their own health and safety when it comes to their skin care products. Other ways to extend the shelf life of cosmetic products include cleaning makeup brushes often, and using a spatula rather than dipping fingers into a product jar. And remember that no matter how natural the brand, effective preservatives must be used to protect consumer health. When choosing a cosmetic product, always look for the Ecocert-approved label and check the ingredient list to ensure you aren’t in for a nasty, moldy surprise when you open the container.