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Preservatives: Parabens and
Alternatives



Let’s start with a
plain simple fact. There can be no safe
cosmetic or skin care product without an effective preservative
system. Without preservatives, your everyday cleanser, cream, lotion, or toner
would be loaded with bacteria, mold, and fungus, making them unsafe for your
skin. A product with “preservative free” claim is either potentially harmful or
blatantly mislabeled.

The most commonly used
preservatives in skin care products are the parabens,
as they offer significant protection at very low doses while
at the same time being affordable. They come in a
variety of forms, such as the methyl, propyl, and butyl paraben. The past
decade, however, there has been media frenzy on the “risks associated with estrogenic
effects of parabens, with potential to induce tumor in breasts.” The stories on
their potential harmful effects have found wide circulation that the public has
lately been avoiding products with parabens. 
   

Are parabens really that bad? In a word, no. Despite the demonization of parabens, the
government regulatory agencies around the world have taken the position that in the small amounts used in personal-care
products, parabens do not pose a significant health risk.
 There is
no legitimate scientific reason for consumers to avoid cosmetic products that
contain parabens.

If for your peace of mind you would rather avoid anything
suspect, the good news is that there are safe and effective alternatives to
parabens.
However, for the natural
purists, the bad news is that there are no available 100% natural broad
spectrum ingredients that can adequately provide the required product preservation.
 

Following
the paraben scare, these are a few of the ingredients that have emerged as the most
commonly used, including products with natural and organic claims:
Phenoxyethanol
– The most widely used paraben alternative, phenoxyethanol is an effective
and very stable antimicrobial. It isn’t as good at preventing growth of fungus
and mould, so it is often combined with an anti-fungal preservative such as
potassium sorbate or diazolidinyl urea.

Potassium Sorbate – Approved
by Australian Certified Organic (AOC) for use in organic skincare products, potassium
sorbate inhibits moulds and fungus, but only kills a few bacteria, so it is
often combined with phenoxyethanol. It is non-toxic and non-sensitizing.

Airless containers help increase shelf life.
Natural Preservatives –
There are natural alternatives that offer limited antibacterial protection. Grapefruit
seed extract, essential oils of thyme, oregano and tea tree, as well as
rosemary and neem extracts are protective against some strains of bacteria and
rancidity. Unfortunately though, on their own, they don’t protect from all
forms of bacteria and fungi.

Although most products
have an indicated expiry date of 2 to 3 years from manufacturing date, once
opened, their shelf life can be as short as 30 days, at most 6 months. So many people contaminate their creams by not following
simple hygiene rules, like washing hands before applying skin cream.
Some
of the bacteria that can infect cosmetics can cause allergic reactions
resulting in irritation and itching of skin. When this happens, the usual assumption
is that the allergic reaction was caused by any one of the ingredients. The possibility
of microbial contamination is rarely considered.



Packaging design can also
play a role in extending product shelf life. The new advanced airless
containers prevent product degradation from air exposure, and have hygienic
design that helps protect the product against contamination.

___________________________________________________________________
This was published in the August 21, 2012 issue of Manila Bulletin Lifestyle Section. The author is the CEO of SkinStation. He received the 2011 Outstanding Chemist Award from Professional Regulations Commission for his achievements in the field of cosmetic chemistry. He can be reached at fred.reyes@skinstation.ph.

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