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Why products need preservatives

December 14, 2008 Reviewed by Marta 11 Comments
Regular readers know that I'm not wild about many preservatives. They might keep bugs at bay, but at the cost of side effects such as skin irritation and even cancer or cell death. So I was pleased to find Dr Hauschka's Jojoba and Marshmallow Conditioner. The only thing that could be construed to be a preservative amongst the ingredients is citric acid. Although I have also read that rosemary can play an anti-bacterial role.

Whatever Dr H thought would do the preservative trick, did not. Black mold developed under the lid of my bottle within less than six months. There is also a layer of fur on the surface of the stopper that is less visible as it is only just turning black.

Cosmetic formulators are always saying that preservatives may not be perfect, but are preferential to the alternative. The alternative that formed on my Dr Hauschka is a testament to that. I'm not going to give up crusading for preservatives that are perfectly safe, but until we get them I shall probably have to put up with a few parabens and a smattering of phenoxyethanol.

Water/Aqua, Betaine, Alcohol, Sorbitol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Jojoba (Buxus Chinensis) Oil, Glyceryl Laurate, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Milk Protein, Althaea Officinalis (Marsh Mallow) Extract, English Oak (Quercus Robur) Extract, Nettle (Urtica Urens) Extract, Burdock (Arctium Lappa) Extract, Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis) Extract, Neem (Melia Azadirachta) Leaf Extract, Macadamia Ternifolia Nut Oil, Fragrance/Parfum (Essential Oil), Limonene*, Citral*, Linalool*, Apple (Pyrus Malus) Cider Vinegar, Tricaprylin, Lecithin, Galactoarabinan, Sodium Cetearyl Sulfate, Citric Acid, Xanthan Gum
  • December 28, 2016

    by Carol

    I would rather refrigerate all natural products to preserve them then have manufacturers adding chemicals to their products to protect their investment in their products.
    We should all be questioning why we have refrigerated our foods all thru history but never given this option for skincare products. Maybe skincare products a just unnecessary in the first place, just another marketing scheme????

  • June 24, 2011

    by Darrell

    Hi Maeve,
    Consumers are often presented a myth that organic products do not include preservatives.

    Just because a product is "certified organic" and the manufacturer does not use/add preservatives does not mean the formula is preservative-free. This information is not often disclosed.

    I would like to see the actual (to FDA-standards) ingredient list of Miessence products. Could you point me to information about the products you mentioned that include an actual ingredient list to review?

    I've looked at your site and the main site and after some digging, only see a "photo" list of ingredients contained -- this is far from the actual ingredient list as required by the FDA (with ingredients listed in the order in which they occur in the formula).

    Also, I would like to highlight/question that just because an ingredient uses a certified organic natural extract, does not mean that it is preservative-free. Many natural extracts used in the personal care industry are actually pre-preserved by their manufacturer.

    For example here are a few "certified organic" ingredients I've pulled from a popular supplier site -- see that they are preserved:

    Chamomile Extract - Certified Organic
    Preservative: Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate

    Green Tea Extract- ECOCert Certified Organic
    Preservative: Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate

    Helichrysum Extract - Certified Organic
    Preservative: Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate

    Thank you,

  • June 24, 2011

    by Maeve

    Hi I only use Miessence products. 100% natural, synthetic chemical free
    Extensive range.. Certified organic to international FOOD standards
    I have never grown mould in any of my products?!
    I am so passionate about this company I have become a rep
    Visit my shop for lots of info about ingredients to avoid and ones
    To look for :)
    I think that anyone who believes a company who says "as natural as
    It can be" is just copping out. There are amazing
    Products available that don't need to lie to consumers about their

  • February 20, 2009

    by nhan

    Thanks for your advice Tracy. You've mention a lot of things that I did not know before. It is scary to know that there are very harmful bacteria growing without being seen. I hope to find better products out there that is safe for long term use.

  • February 20, 2009

    by Regina

    I have to disagree with the comments made about not trusting products without chemical preservatives. Aubrey, just as one example, is one of the largest manufacturers of organic skin- and hair-care products. Don't you think that if their products (and all of the products made by other organic companies) were causing scarring and mold, there would have been some publicity about that? People would be complaining, not to mention filing lawsuits. All of Aubrey's products use natural preservatives such as grapefruit seed extract, which is a natural antibacterial agent and it does work. I use it all the time (in capsule form) when I think I've eaten something bad because it will zap microbes. I've been using products with natural preservatives for six or seven years now, and I've never had mold in any of them, nor have I ever had any reactions. I used to use products with chemicals, and I've found that the organic ones last just as long, with rare exception. Besides Aubrey, I love Burt's Bees products.

  • January 25, 2009

    by Tracy

    I would like to add a word of caution here regarding using products that DONT contain a proper preservative and that DO contain a liquid such as water, milk, aloe vera etc etc. ie: lotions, creams, shampoos etc. A lotion or cream that is being preserved with essential oils or some other so called natural preservative does have a very real risk of growing very harmful molds, yeasts, bacteria, fungi etc. Just because you cant see it doesnt mean it isnt there! People think just because you cant see mold growing on the product that it is ok. I know of people that have contracted SERIOUS and skin scarring conditions and bacteria from using improperly or unpreserved products. I would also be very leary of any lotion or cream that says it is 100% natural and contains nothing that has a preservative action or only contains natural essential oils as a preservative or Vit E etc etc. Not everyone is honest about their ingredients and some jump thru loop holes to avoid putting them on the label. We have tested MANY natural preservative systems that contain essential oils and natural ingredients over the years and have yet to find one that worked effectively enough to be able to put it on the shelf for sale. And just because it is natural doesnt mean it is always safe. Many essential oils have very harmful and life threatening effects. Instead, choose responsible "as natural as possible" products that dont contain the hot ingredients. On another note last I checked polysorbate 20 is NOT all natural. It is DERIVED from natural ingredients but has been chemically modified. Tinosan has no KNOWN adverse effects on human health but should be thoroughly tested before using it exclusively as your preservative. As far as Lush goes have you looked at the ingredients in there shampoo bars? Yikes, alot of them are certainly not natural and are on the "avoid" list. I would do some research on Lush products.

  • January 22, 2009

    by Nhan

    I currently use Lush shampoo bars which does not form any molds because it is solid. But you have put it on a wooden plate to allow it to dry.

  • January 13, 2009

    by admin

    I can't edit comments - only approve them. My guess is that you wrote this in word and then cut and pasted. If you save the word file as plain text and then paste, the formatting should be fine.
    Anyway, thanks for a thoughtful and informative post.

  • January 13, 2009

    by Isa

    Hi Marta,

    Could you take out the extra space between the paragraphs I wrote. I don't know how I accidentally put those there but it is a long enough post without that making it even longer!


  • January 13, 2009

    by Isa

    Microbial growth is usually the result of the way we use our products and unwittingly contaminate them. Any container that we have to dip our fingers into to get out the product or shower products with a flip-top lid (such as the one shown) will become grossly contaminated if care is not taken to prevent it. In the shower especially, water is running over us and splashing into everything that is open. This water is contaminated with dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells.

    People often leave these kinds of caps open during some portion of their bathing because the opening is small, but shower water splashes off of the bather (and shower walls) and into everything, even the smallest of openings. Contamination can be greatly minimized by moving out of the stream of water when getting product out of your bottles and holding your hand up to the level of your chin when pouring the product into your palm. This minimizes splash and the potential for water running down your arm and over the tops of your open containers. Then, pop those caps closed, even if you think you are going to need some more product in a moment.

    I, too, am constantly searching for preservative-free products, but as long as we keep running dirty, soapy water into them, there will be no way to prevent colonization and the manufacturers know this. Of course, they could print on the bottles, "To extend freshness of product...(then state intructions I gave above for minimizing contamination), but I doubt if that would considered worthy of label space.

    We consumers kind of inadvertently contribute to the problem by buying into the "more quantity=more value" mentality. To save some money, we will buy the 16oz. bottle instead of the 8oz. bottle which will take us a year to use instead of six months. Most of us haven't been aware of the danger of chemicals absorbed through the skin for very long, and having grown up with preservatives in our products, we have come to expect things to last for years without going bad.

    I have tons of old partially full bottles of shampoos, conditioners, and other skin products that I just can't make myself throw away because I spent a lot of money on them and imagine that I might still use them one day. Even though most of those products are several years old and have ingredients that I object to these days, a lot of them were so pricey that the irrational part of me just can't bear the loss.

    The fact is, natural things degrade over time (as they are supposed to, it's how the world renews itself). So, I think that if we really want preservatives out of our products, we are going to need to forsake "value quantities" for smaller amounts we can use up in six months instead of twelve, get fresh product more often, really recycle those bottles, and clamour to manufacturers that this is what we want. Of course, we can keep searching for healthy preservatives at the same time. Like almost everything, if you don't insist on what's best for you, someone will give you what's best for them.

  • December 18, 2008

    by jennifer

    have you considered that the mold may not come from the product, but from water collecting in one place during your showers? i get mold issues when bottles in the shower are in a place where water pools - preservative free or not. i usually find that wiping it off from time to time does the trick ;)

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