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The Myth of Preservative-Free Skincare

With the rising trend of “Clean Beauty” some natural skincare and cosmetics brands have begun circulating claims that their products are preservative free in order to appeal to consumers seeking parred-down formulas. However, the concept of preservative-free skincare has been a topic of some controversy which we will address today.

Can Skincare really be Preservative free?

If a skincare product contains water, it is required by law to have preservatives. This is because any substance with a water content will inevitably eventually grow bacteria. This also applies to any formulas containing botanical ingredients, which are prime breeding grounds for bacteria.

The only products able to be created without preservatives are those without any water content, namely any substance that is comprised of 100% oil -- but these are exceedingly rare!

Why are Preservatives a Good Thing?

Preservatives are present in most skincare products to ensure the product is safe and hygienic to use. Without any preservatives, skincare products would become colonized by bacteria fairly quickly upon being used. This would result in a whole host of issues for your skin and overall health. The fear-mongering surrounding preservatives comes primarily from brands that are attempting to use a lack of preservatives as an appealing marketing claim for organic product seekers. In reality, natural and synthetic preservatives are safe to use as long as they are included in safe doses as determined by their Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS.)

Are Preservatives Irritating to the Skin?

As with any skincare ingredient, some people with allergies or sensitivities may experience irritation with preservatives that are not suitable for their skin. However, on the whole, preservatives are not only safe to use in skincare but are also necessary for products’ safety and efficacy.

When brands or influencers cite research papers claiming the dangers of preservatives, they often take the study results out of context and neglect to mention that the preservatives in question were applied at 100% concentration. This is well above the safe threshold for everyday skincare products, wherein preservative concentrations are often less than 1% of a formula. With proper use, preservatives are safe and do not cause cumulative harmful effects on the skin.

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