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Let’s Talk About Preservatives in Cosmetics – 100% PURE
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Let’s Talk About Preservatives in Cosmetics

How they work, why we need them, and which ones to avoid

Written by: 100% PURE®
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Natural preservatives for cosmetics aren’t exactly rare. Ingredients like salt, sugar, and coconut oil – common natural preservativesn – often play recurring roles in our formulas.

There are also preservatives that while not quite natural, are still safe to use on the skin. And then there’s the harmful and unstable class of preservatives, hidden in plain sight in many popular cosmetics. Using wrong preservatives in cosmetics can cause a world of trouble for our skin – but before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s rewind a bit.


The History of Preservatives in Cosmetics

To look at cosmetic preservatives now, we have to go a long way back – almost as far back as the dawn of cosmetics themselves.

In ancient Egypt and Rome, wealthy women reached for beauty products made with kohl, saffron, wine, and even goose fat. Water and oils were used to achieve a texture ideal for application, and products were often stored in special jars and tins for preservation.

In East Asia, an ancient shrub was used to dye hair and lips a dark red; this beauty treatment is still around today, known as henna. In China, beauty regimens involved ingredients such as gelatin and beeswax.

As recently as the 1800’s, natural preservatives for cosmetics like honey, rose, and lemon were used to enhance and beautify the skin. Those techniques have since been improved, and allow natural preservatives to thrive in the modern world of beauty.


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How Do Cosmetic Preservatives Work?

Preservatives are nothing new, but how exactly do they work?

Any product comprised of certain components will naturally degrade over time; this is where preservatives come in. Preservatives help to maintain ingredient stability and ward against bacterial population, keeping it safe to use over time with relatively the same quality and performance – at least, until the product hits its expiration date.

Most of us never consider just what it takes to preserve a product. The more water it contains, the stronger and more concentrated the preservatives will need to be. This is because water can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

As our largest organ, the skin has a hard-enough job just keeping us, well, together! Its other job is to act as a barrier against harmful outside pathogens and bacteria. That’s why the products we apply topically need to be effective at staving off bacteria – you don’t want them bringing more onto your skin! Natural preservatives are a clean way to help protect our outsides (and our insides) from beauty bacterial exposure.

In general, many think that dry or oil-based products are relatively safe from growing bacteria, but that’s not necessarily true. We cross-contaminate our products every day by digging fingers into eyeshadows, dusting last week’s brushes into blushes, and pressing in our less-than-fresh sponges for quick spot coverage.

Spreading moisture, natural oils, and bacteria between products is reason enough to make sure every formula has its own preservative system in place.


Preservatives to Avoid in Cosmetics

There are a few dirty beauty ingredients that, thanks to modern technology and research, can be avoided if we look out for them. A few that come to mind: parabens, formaldehyde, and SLES or sodium-lauryl-sulfate.

Many of us are trying to be more conscious of what we buy and use, and have been able to dodge them. Unfortunately, while they’re still widely used, they are definitely unsafe for our skin. Let’s break down why.

PARABENS
We all know about parabens, currently in the cosmetic hot seat. Parabens are able to be absorbed into our bodies, where they can disrupt normal hormone functions. Not only do parabens often cause irritation and allergic reactions, but parabens have have even been linked to breast cancer.

FORMALDEHYDE
If you recognize the cosmetic ingredient formaldehyde, it is probably because you’ve heard of it from another industry. Yes, the same formaldehyde that’s used in the funeral industry for embalming fluid is also added to many common beauty products as a preservative: nail polish, eyelash glue, and hair gel to name a few.

Because formaldehyde is considered an active ingredient, it can actually be inhaled when we’re exposed to cosmetics that contain it. Formaldehyde has been linked to tumors and the development of certain cancers.

SLS/ SLES
Sodium lauryl sulfates (aka SLS or SLES) has also spent time on the cosmetics naughty list. While we’re happy so much awareness has been raised about the risks of using this product, it is still used as a cleansing agent in skin care and household items.

SLES is a cosmetic preservative that lingers in the environment, and is a known carcinogen. Sulfates can irritate the skin, leaving it stripped and inflamed. It can trigger skin conditions like rosacea, eczema, and acne.


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Clean & Synthetic Alternatives

When we’re referencing natural preservatives for cosmetics, what do we mean by “natural”? Essentially, any preservative organically found in nature, or a preservative from a natural plant source would count as a natural preservative.

There’s another type of preservative which we approve of – synthetic preservatives. These are created in a lab utilizing natural sources, but they’re free of toxins and carcinogens like the other toxic preservatives we mentioned earlier.

Why do we find using natural preservatives for cosmetics so important? There are two simple reasons, the first being personal safety. We’ve seen and heard of chemical preservatives having a harmful effect on the skin and the body, begging the question of if their benefits indeed outweigh their risks.

We’re also passionate about natural preservatives because of their environmental impact. Many preservatives used in cosmetics contribute to pollution, by using non-renewable fossil fuels or contaminating precious water resources. Naturally sourced preservatives tend to be gentler on both the planet and your skin, making them a win-win for everyone involved.

Here are a few clean and synthetic preservative alternatives to look for in your cosmetics:

Honeysuckle
Our carefully distilled Japanese honeysuckle is a favorite natural preservative used in 100% PURE™ products. It is naturally antibacterial, and offers antioxidants to fight age-causing free radicals.

Rosemary
This fragrant antioxidant adds aromatherapy benefits to products, while also helping to keep them bacteria-free. It is a natural antibacterial known to calm the skin and effectively fight breakouts.

Tocopherol
A vegetable derived compound of vitamin E, tocopherol is a great natural preservative for cosmetics because as an antioxidant, it helps to repair and fortify the skin against environmental damage.

Grapefruit Seed Extract
Also sometimes labeled as GSE, this natural preservative has been around for decades. High in healthy antioxidants like vitamins E and C, grapefruit seed supports healthy, glowing skin.

We carefully hand-select products based on strict purity standards, and only recommend products we feel meet this criteria. 100% PURE™ may earn a small commission for products purchased through affiliate links.

The information in this article is for educational use, and not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be used as such.

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