What’s up with preservatives in cosmetics?

Ok girlfriend, I’ve got a pop quiz for you today:

Do you know what prevents the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast in cosmetics?

Insert your guess here: 

The answer is preservatives. Did you get it right? (I hope so – I gave you a hint in the title!)

Just the word “preservative” sounds bad, doesn’t it?

But you might be surprised to learn that preserving a cosmetic product in and of itself isn’t harmful, it’s healthful. You don’t want bacteria, mold or yeast lurking around in your products, do you? (Didn’t think so.)

The problem with many cosmetic preservatives is that they are linked with cancer, infertility, reproductive system abnormalities, organ dysfunction and more. That’s no good.

Instead of warding off all cosmetic preservatives like the plague, avoid known harmful ones like BHA, BHT, parabens and formaldehyde-releasers like quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, or bromopol.

Opt for cosmetics with safer preservatives (used in the appropriate concentrations) like sodium benzoate, chlorphenesin, ethylhexylglycerin, gluconolactone, pentylene glycol, potassium sorbate, phenoxyethanol and salicylic acid. 

Oh and this is fun to know:

Because companies are savvy to the rising consumer demands for safer cosmetics, they sometimes use “front of the label” marketing claims to trick the consumer into thinking products are safer than their counterparts. (This is common in the food industry too.) This is known as greenwashing.

For example, the term “preservative-free” is unregulated by the FDA. A company could use this term but there isn’t a standard as to what it means. If a company uses this claim on a water-based cosmetic product label, it is likely that one of the following is occurring: a) they suggest that you keep products refrigerated and you use them quickly, b) they are risking bacteria, mold, or yeast growth or c) they are using pre-preserved raw ingredients. 

Claims like the one above can trick you into thinking that all preservatives are bad when in reality they’re not. Some are. Some aren’t. (Kinda like people, right? JK.) And just because a company may put a “preservative-free” claim on the front of the label does not mean that there aren’t harmful ingredients in the formulation. 

I have to admit though, trying to decipher all of those hard to pronounce ingredients is kind of like trying to speak a foreign language, don’t you think?

Want to make it easy on yourself? Look up your favorite cosmetics on the EWG Skin Deep Database to see their toxicity level to human health! This will help clear things up! 

I hope this preservative chat was insightful to you! Were you surprised by any of it? Comment below and let me know!

Gina Schade

Gina Schade

Gina is a certified health coach and author of The 90/10 Life Cookbook, and director at Beatycounter. She helps her clients create a toxin-free complexion they feel 100% confident in!

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