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Do you need preservatives in your skin and hair care products?

Do you need preservatives in your skin and hair care products?

There has been a lot of talk about “Preservative Free” skin and hair care products in the media and on the web.

There are many blogs that talk about the dangers of preservatives and other chemicals in skin and hair care products.   There are others that think it’s necessary.  How do you feel about it? Do you want a “natural product” or  a product that gets a little help? It can be mind boggling; however, don’t worry, I will clarify, why,  it’s necessary to have it in your skin and hair care products.

What is a preservative and the function?

Preservatives help prevent microbial growth, mold, yeast, and fungus, in products, which can cause weird smells, separation, speed up rancidity of oils and butters.  A product that becomes contaminated is not pretty and it can be dangerous. There have been many reports of UN-preserved products causing contact dermatitis, rashes, and infections.

When should a preservative be used?

If a product contains water it must contain a preservative.  Anhydrous product, oil based, don’t need preserving; however, if the product might meet water, like scrubs or shower lotion bars, it must have a preservative.

The nasty mold, yeast and fungus can grow fast, before you know it.  By the time, you see the fuzzy pink or green color in the product, it’s way too late.  Unfortunately, you’ve been using the contaminated product for days.  That’s just plain yucky.  Also, keeping the product in the fridge, isn’t a viable option because if you left the product out for a few hours while you’re taking a bath or cleaning the house, then guess what, you’ve got contamination.  I like to use the analogy of making a cup of coffee to explain the necessity of having a preservative included in the recipe.  If you left it on the counter for few hours, would you want to drink it?  Most likely; however, if you left it on the counter for a week or more, would you feel comfortable to drink it or, if placed it into the fridge for a week or more, would you want to drink that instead? I know I wouldn’t.  If you said no, then why would a skincare product be any different? If you won’t drink it, why would you put that product on your skin?

Sometimes a company will say preservative free, so they have an anti-oxidant ingredient to act as preservative instead of a chemical preservative in their product.  This will not do the job of protecting the product from the nasties.  An anti-oxidant is an ingredient that is added to the product that contains oil to slow down the rancidity of those oils, butters, and esters.  Vitamin E, rosemary extract, citric acid, grapefruit extract, BHA and BHT are examples of anti-oxidants. They will not preserve the product and are not preservatives.

If you still don’t feel comfortable about preservatives, because of the information going around about causing breast cancer from using preservatives.  I will help ease your concerns. The main preservative that seems to be getting all the bad press is the Parabens. Parabens are easy to identify by name, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben. The American Cancer Society, The National Cancer Institute, and the FDA have all come out to say that there is no proof that parabens cause cancer.

According to The American Cancer Society,

“The researchers looked only for the presence of parabens in breast cancer samples. The study did not show that parabens caused or contributed to breast cancer development in these cases — it only showed that they were there. What this means is not yet clear.  Although parabens have weak estrogen-like properties, the estrogen’s that are made in the body are hundreds to many thousands of times stronger.  So, natural estrogen (or those taken as hormone replacement) are much more likely to play a role in breast cancer development.   This study did not contain any information to help find the source of the parabens found in breast tissue.  So far, studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and any health problems, including breast cancer. What has been found is that there are many other compounds in the environment that also mimic naturally produced estrogen.  The bottom line is that larger studies are needed to find out what effect, if any, parabens might have on breast cancer risk.” (Source: American Cancer Society)

According to the FDA page about parabens, “The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) reviewed the safety of methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben in 1984 and concluded they were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25%. Typically, parabens are used at levels ranging from 0.01 to 0.3%.”

So, the million-dollar question is, why are companies removing paraben from their products?  Because the customers are asking for it.  Why are they?  After the studies about cancer and parabens correlation came out, most likely a company wanting to differentiate from the rest of the competitive world of personal products made a big deal about removing it.  Then good old “Madison Ave” took the ball and ran with it.  It became a snowball effect.  Soon all these over reactive watch groups started to make a big thing out of it.  They never fully understood the findings of the study.    Parabens are not the only victim of “getting on the band wagon”, just look at eating too many eggs, effecting the cholesterol levels and non-fat products. It turns out we need some fat in our diet and those products contained too much sugar.  Now we have the gluten free issue.  It will be interesting see how that plays out.

As with other natural and synthetic ingredients, some people can handle them and other’s, not so much.  Yes, it is possible you can be sensitive to a preservative.  That doesn’t mean all preservatives are bad.  You will have to become a detective to determine what sets off your reactions.  This is the same process to determine food allergies too.  A good example of a deadly allergy reaction is peanuts.  To some unfortunate people, peanuts can be life threatening if they consume any part of a peanut or a byproduct. Does that mean all peanuts are bad and can be life threatening?  I think not.

Finally, when you see a product label advertising “”no chemical preservatives” and think this is a good thing, remember, you are buying a product that will have a shelf life of a week if you’re lucky.   It most likely will be contaminated by the time you use it.


One Comment

  • Sexy Mama says:

    I appreciate your clarity on this topic. In particular, the ending sentence a.k.a. your ‘punch line’ should make all of us sit up, wake up, and take notice. Who wants to put a rancid product on one’s face. Not me!

    Thank you.

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