Why We *Do* Use Preservatives Sparingly In Our Natural Skincare Products
It’s no secret that we at Belmondo Skincare love using nature’s ingredients in our healthy skin regimen. Teaching our clients, customers, and readers about the benefits of using earth-grown ingredients in their skin care regimen is the heart and soul of what we do.
In Part 6 of this 10-part series on the benefits of natural skincare, we’re sharing our knowledge about preservatives and how they work in skincare products. We’ll fill you in on the internationally accepted preservative we use in Belmondo’s own line and why we believe this is the safest and most skin-friendly choice for you available on the market today.
P.S. Look for Belmondo’s Favorite Tips scattered throughout this series. There’s one in each article. We’re giving you the inside scoop on how we enjoy the things of earth, naturally, for beautiful skin and a greener planet – and how you can, too!
If you’re anything like us, your eyes light up at the sight of ‘preservative-free’ on a product label. But when it comes to skincare products, the use of some preservatives are well-advised. We’ll tell you why.
Our readers always want the scoop on preservatives in skincare products: what’s safe, what’s not, and whether the particular formula they’re considering using needs a preservative to be effective longterm.
To answer these questions, we first need to give you the lowdown on what preservatives are and why any skincare company would want to use them in products.
What is a preservative? Why use them in skincare products?
A preservative is a substance used to kill and inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. While bacteria are part of nature, yes, there are some bacteria you don’t want any part of, for example, the dreaded Escherichia coli (also called E. coli) and Staphylococcus (known as ‘staph’).
Bacteria, mold, and yeast grow in the presence of water and cannot thrive without water. Why do you need to know this? When you’re evaluating skincare products, check to see if ‘water’ or its Latin equivalent (‘aqua’) is listed as an ingredient (the Latin-sounding ingredient names on cosmetic labels come from the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients [INCI] list). If it is, the product should also contain a preservative in order to kill and prevent the inevitable growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. If water is present in a product, it’s an invitation for microbial bodies to breed.
Preservatives are necessary for keeping skincare products fresh and free of bacterial growth.
Water-containing lotions and other cosmetics are a breeding ground for unwanted microogranisms, especially considering that we usually store these products in warm, damp environments such as the bathroom. Now can you see how an unpreserved skincare product could be potentially dangerous to you? No preservative + the presence of water in a product = microbial bodies = ugh!
Note: Some skincare products, such as balms or salves, are made without water, and therefore wouldn’t normally require a preservative, except that a user could introduce water into it via wet or unclean hands. In this case, a preservative could be a great protector.
A world of skincare without preservatives?
It’s important to note that preservatives need to be used in products that contain oil and water mixtures in order to prevent bacteria, mold, fungus and yeast. Most all-natural lotions will last only about one week in the refrigerator.
Every natural skincare producer, including Belmondo, has to weigh the ‘cost’ to its clients of creating products with preservatives versus keeping them entirely preservative-free. Too many preservatives or those of the chemical variety can lead to unwanted skin conditions, while no preservatives can lead to unwanted skin conditions brought about by the presence of microbial bodies in the products.
As a natural skincare practitioner, I (Daniela) am well-aware of the overuse of preservatives, chemicals, and synthetics in most skincare products. I hold my own skincare line to a higher standard. However, a nightmare scenario for me would be having a customer open up a jar of our luscious cream, only to find mold and bacteria growing inside -- not a safe or sexy experience for our dear customer!
As a skincare product creator, I weigh the two scenarios and settle on the solution that assures the highest quality, safest products for my customers, and the deepest integrity in my product line.
At Belmondo, we use an ultra-minuscule amount of an internationally approved food-grade preservative to prevent microbial growth in our products.
Belmondo’s preservative of choice is called Optiphen Plus. It’s a broad spectrum antimicrobial preservative that is paraben and formaldehyde-free. Optiphen-Plus contains a mixture of three parts: Phenoxyethanol, which prevents microbial growth and has a broad range of anti-fungal properties; Caprylyl Glycol, which is naturally derived from coconut (which is food-grade) and protects against microbial growth from bacteria and yeast, and Sorbic Acid, which has anti-microbial properties and is derived from the berries of the mountain ash. Optiphen-Plus, at the time this article is being written, one of the most widely used paraben-free preservative options on the market. We make our products in small batches with shelf lives of 6-8 months and use the tiniest amounts of preservative possible.
While I (Daniela) by no means advocate for the use of preservatives and chemicals in skincare products, I am sensitive to customers’ desire to prolong the life of their products and am invested in customers having a consistently positive experience with each use of our products. In my own research and my conversations with chemists and herbalists on this topic, I find that the tiny percentage of preservatives used in cosmetics is less likely to cause harm to humans than the preservatives we regularly ingest through our food supply. Greater harm is actually caused by not preserving skincare products to protect you.
So how do potentially harmful preservatives show up on product labels?
Parabens, essential oils, and grape seed extract: common preservatives you need to know about.
A common preservative found on many cosmetics labels are ‘parabens.’ Parabens are often the first choice preservative for product manufacturers as they are FDA- approved across Food, Drug, and Cosmetics categories. Commonly, parabens are listed as ‘methylparaben,’ ‘propylparaben,’ and ‘butylparaben.’ Typically, these parabens are used to preserve liquid colorants in products, such a colored shampoo or facial mask. If these additives are present in a minute enough percentage, they may only be listed as ‘Flavors,’ ‘Fragrance,’ or ‘Natural Flavors.’ Parabens are known endocrine-disruptors, upsetting the hormonal balance in humans. They’re also known to have mild estrogen-mimicking effects, which is believed to have an effect on the development of breast cancer.
Other commonly used preservatives are essential oils, which keep other oils present in a product from going rancid. Essential oils are not, however, great at preventing the growth of bacteria and mold. Essential oils do not stand up against the presence of microbial growth-encouraging water in products. It’s true some essential oils do have antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities and in order to successfully preserve a product containing water, you must use these oils in their fully concentrated forms which is completely unsafe.
Thirdly, natural healthcare-conscious consumers may have noticed the popularity of grape seed extract, or GSE, as a highly touted preservative. While ‘grape seed extract’ sounds healthy, pure, and ‘all-natural’, the truth is that in most cases GSE contains synthetic preservatives and it’s the synthetic ingredient that’s doing the preserving, not the GSE. (GSE is an antioxidant by nature, not a preservative.) Should the products you're using contain this ingredient, ask the creator/manufacture where they're being sourced from to best educate yourself and to understand if the ingredient has a 'paraben' added in order to make it a preservative or if it's strictly the ingredient being used as a preservative.
Belmondo’s Favorite Tip No. 6: Our clients frequently ask us, what should I apply my face toner with? Cotton balls? A facial tissue? A couple squares of toilet paper? (Don’t laugh! You know you’ve done this.) Click here for our money-saving answer.
Belmondo’s last word on ‘all-natural’ skincare preservatives: ‘natural’ doesn’t always translate to safe. Selective, minimal preservative use in skincare products is safe, wise, and advisable.
The risks of using an unpreserved product outweigh the appropriate use of preservatives in our book, which is why we will continue to use the minimal advisable amount of safe preservatives in our products. At least until the market comes out with something even more natural that is backed up by sound science.
We’re committed to constantly furthering our education on the issue of safe preservative use in skincare products. We’re prepared to alter our current position should a better alternative to what we use today arrive on the market. Meanwhile, we stand fully behind our brand and products. We’re confident what we're using is a good paraben-free alternative.
While we can't promise that everyone will always agree on what's best, we can promise we will always head in the direction of what we believe to be the highest quality.
For our reader’s further edufication, here is a post describing the ingredients we at Belmondo avoid putting in our products.
You can converse with me, Daniela Belmondo, on Twitter.
*We at Belmondo Organic Skincare are natural skincare professionals, not medical professionals. If you have a skin condition you feel needs medical attention, please consult a physician.