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7 reasons there aren’t more preservative free cosmetics

Here at the Beauty Brains, we get asked about preservatives in cosmetics all the time. People wonder why compounds with potential safety issues like formaldehyde or parabens are used. Should they use self-preserving cosmetics? They also ask why cosmetic companies don’t get rid of preservatives.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could? Cosmetic chemists, cosmetic manufacturers and certainly cosmetic marketers would love to get rid of preservatives. Unfortunately, the disease-causing microbes would love it too. There are some companies that offer preservative free products but not many. Here are the top reasons why more companies aren’t making preservative-free cosmetics.

7 Reasons Preservative Free Cosmetics are Rare

1. Preservative free cosmetics don’t last as long.

A standard cosmetic can have a shelf life of 1 or even 2 years or more. This is great for those products you have stuffed in your medicine cabinet or bathroom drawers. You can feel confident that if you open them up tomorrow you won’t get Tetanus or Gangrene. A preservative-free cosmetic won’t last more than a couple of weeks. It’ll spoil just about as fast as milk and become dangerous.

2. Because they need to be refrigerated

Unless it is put in some special packaging, preservative free cosmetics need to be refrigerated to keep them safe. You wouldn’t eat fish you left out on the counter overnight so you shouldn’t use unpreserved cosmetics that haven’t been refrigerated either. This refrigeration step is a huge inconvenience for people so manufacturers just don’t think people will want to do it. Consumer research has proven them right.

3. Because they can easily get contaminated

You know how there is the common, good advice that you shouldn’t share your cosmetics with anyone? Do you know why? Because each time you use cosmetics, you expose yourself to microbial contamination. Even when there are preservatives the microbes can live in small numbers. Your body is used to your bacteria but other people may not be. Preservative free cosmetics are even more prone to contamination and can pick up any sinister microbe that happens to be floating in the air. When people get sick using cosmetics, it’s bad for product’s manufacturer.

4. Because they are more expensive to make

It is possible to make preservative free cosmetics. You can use special packaging or make them anhydrous (water-free). Unfortunately, both of these options can double, triple, or quadruple the cost for manufacturing. And while most people don’t mind spending $5 on a lip balm, spending $20 for the same thing that is merely preservative free is harder to get them to accept. The other problem is that these cosmetics typically don’t work as well. They are more greasy, sticky and just less appealing.

5. Because natural preservatives don’t work as well

One strategy for creating preservative free cosmetics is to use natural preservatives. Technically the products aren’t preservative free but from an advertising and legal standpoint, they are. In the EU there is a list of ingredients you can use for product preservation. If you don’t use any of those ingredients, you can call yourself “preservative free”. Unfortunately, as this article points out, natural preservatives do not work as well as the standard ones.

6. Because natural preservatives aren’t approved

The article also points out the second major problem with natural preservatives. They are too expensive to get approved. A natural preservative manufacturer would have to spend millions of dollars on their new ingredient and there is no guarantee it would get on the approved list of preservatives. No company wants to take that chance. Therefore, don’t look for natural preservatives anytime soon.

7. Because preserved cosmetics are safe

Probably the most important reason you don’t see more preservative free cosmetics is because the preserved products work great and are perfectly safe. True, some of the compounds used to preserve products can be nasty stuff but when used at low enough levels they are harmless. Cosmetic marketers just don’t find people willing enough to spend extra money for a benefit that is imperceptible. And if people aren’t going to buy the product, cosmetic companies aren’t going to make it.

Are you concerned about preservatives in your cosmetics? Leave a comment and let the Beauty Brains community know.

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  • Diana December 23, 2018, 1:03 pm

    I have an allergic reaction to most preservatives, so I have had to rethink my definition of safe. Safe for you is not safe for me – unless I want to deal with rashes, red eyes, breakouts, and a chronically stuffy nose.