Preservatives in Cosmetics: Natural vs. Synthetic


First lets analyze what a preservative really is. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary a preservative is an “additive used to protect against decay, discoloration or spoilage”.  Other dictionaries call a preservative a “chemical substance used to preserve foods or other organic materials from decomposition or fermentation”. So, technically speaking the only way to do this is by the use of a chemical.

Why are people so interested in  products that contain natural preservatives instead of chemical or synthetic ones? People are becoming aware and troubled by the fact that cosmetic products contain ingredients that are harmful to our health. Some estimate that the amount of chemicals applied to our bodies on a daily basis is 200. Think about all the lotions, moisturizers and other skin care products you use on a daily basis. Some of which, you need to apply to your skin and allow it to absorb the product.

Also consider that products that you wash off like shower gel, for example, need less preservatives than those you leave on your body. The more it stays on your skin without being washed off, the more harm it may cause. Some of the preservatives that are absorbed by the skin, travel through the body by means of  the blood stream. Another issue is that these preservatives accumulate in the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the epidermis an whose main purpose is to protect the skin. If these preservatives are poisonous they will kill beneficial bacteria on the skin.

Some may argue products need to have synthetic chemical preservatives to ensure the level of quality. The thing is that just because strong chemicals are added to cosmetics it does not necessarily mean that they are safe to use. Some companies use both chemical and nature preservatives, which makes no sense, when these chemicals may kill the benefits of the natural products.

Due to controversy surrounding the use of chemical preservatives in food and cosmetics, some companies are turning to other options to help extend products’ shelf life.  Some are switching from synthetic to natural. Unfortunately all natural preservatives may not be as good as they sound, especially if taken in excess. But on a positive note they aren’t as toxic as synthetic preservatives. The best option would be no preservatives at all, but products would not be able to stay fresh too long.

The issue with manufacturing products entirely without the use of preservatives is that, besides taking a lot of time to make they are very expensive. Products manufactured without preservatives need to be fabricated in a sterilized environment using a flow hood similar to that found in hospitals and laboratories. They should also be refrigerated immediately after their first use. Because of this some companies are considering making products using natural preservatives.

There are ways of reducing microbial activity (such as using essential oils) in a more natural way. Antioxidants can help in this task as well. They will protect the oils, which become rancid when hit by light or air, from spoiling and becoming susceptible to contaminants.  This is a process that cannot be stopped 100%, but antioxidants have the ability of slowing down this process.

Antioxidants and essential oils are completely natural ingredients.  Antioxidants, as the word implies,  is a substance such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C or beta carotene that protects cells from the damaging effects of oxidation. in the case of essential oils, these are powerful antiseptics that kill most of the harmful bacteria and fungi without causing any damaging effects to the human system. Essential oils are derived form plants, flowers, leaves and grasses. The discovery of these oils antiseptic properties was made in France during the cholera epidemic when it was observed that workers in perfume factories seemed to be almost fully immune to the disease while the rest of the population perished.

Be careful with what products you purchase. Even some “natural” products contain toxic substances.  Check labels at the store and stay away from products that contain hexachlorophene, methyl, propyl paraben and formaldehyde.

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Posted by on Nov 11th, 2009 and filed under FEATURED ARTICLES. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Responses for “Preservatives in Cosmetics: Natural vs. Synthetic”

  1. Eldie Yeung (Ms) says:

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Our company mainly produces skin clare and has our own factory in Hong Kong. We are really interested in your materials.

    Natural Preservative.- Powder material

    It would be much appreciated for your early reply asap !
    Thank you.

    Best Rgds
    Eldie Yeung (Ms)

    E-mail :

    Tel : 852-2326-6329
    Fax : 852-3173-8270

  2. Very good post! I am against the chemicals and synthetic ingredients too and as you said it’s very important to check the labels, because companies can mislead us by saying it’s natural, when it’s not.

    Actually there are lots of natural preservatives, like Tea Tree essential oil, Thyme essential oil, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Wheat Germ oil (Vitamin E), but companies prefer to use synthetic preservatives, because they are very cheap.

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