“I want to create a product with no chemicals or preservatives.” We’ve heard this so often from entrepreneurs and companies we’ve lost count. Perhaps you’ve aspired to do this with your product line. The problem with this statement is that all cosmetics have chemicals, for example water is a chemical. Of course, when we say this statement it often means, we don’t want to use harmful chemicals. Then we have to ask ourselves how to we avoid harmful chemicals and at what levels do certain chemicals become harmful?
Going back to the water example, if we drink too much water we can cause the level of salt, or sodium, in our blood to drop too low creating a condition called hyponatremia. So how do we create a product that is safe for our customers? Take a look at the our most frequently asked questions about the topic before you make a decision how you’d like to create your product.
Why you need to use preservative in your cosmetics?
No company wants to use preservatives in their cosmetics. Not only do consumers not like it, but it adds extra costs and rarely provide any benefits to the product. However preservatives are the best way to ensure against microbial contamination and you never want to compromise product safety by selling products that can cause sickness.
Do all beauty products need a preservative?
You should always add a preservative when there is enough water for microbes to live and enough food for the microbes to grow. Shampoos, lotions, gels, conditioners and most other liquid cosmetics should have some type of preservative.
Can’t we make preservative-free cosmetics?
Yes, it is possible to make a preservative-free beauty product. There are several exceptions that could automatically make it much safer for you to not use preservative in your cosmetics.
You might not need a preservative if:
- there is no water or very low water content (microbes can’t grow without water)
- no microbe food in the formula (i.e. bottled water, because there is no microbe food in water alone)
- the PH is extreme very high (above PH 10) or very high (below PH4) (most microbes grow between PH 6.5-7.5). However, these extremes can cause skin damage.
- use a lot of alcohol (i.e. vodka, gin and rum, hairspray and perfumes. Microbes can’t grow in alcohol) 20% or more alcohol you probably don’t need a preservative. However alcohol is expensive, interferes with many ingredients, is flammable and has environmental restrictions.
- sterile manufacturing: non-contaminated raw materials, make your formulas under antiseptic conditions and use single use air tight package. (Microbes have a tough times living under these conditions (downside: is it is often too expensive to make)
However, it is recommended to always use a preservative because it’s much better to have a safe product than to make one of your customers sick.
How big beauty companies are changing their products to be safer?
Pressured by consumers, the beauty industry is cleaning up their act to provide safe options and more transparency about their formulas.
Stacy Malkan, the co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, says
“We need to update the 1938 law that gives the FDA almost no authority to regulate cosmetics. Right now, companies are allowed to put nearly any chemical into personal care products sold in the US—even known carcinogens—without any safety testing, and without disclosing all the chemicals on labels. We’ve learned a lot in the past 70 years! Each day, the average American woman uses about a dozen personal care products containing more than 100 chemicals that we ingest, inhale, and absorb through our skin, so they end up inside us.
The good news is, companies have already figured out how to make safer personal care products without using hazardous chemicals—products that work just as well and often better than the old formulas. Yet many of the leading brands continue to use old, outdated, toxic chemistry, because it’s easier than changing. We need to shift across the board to green chemistry, which is the science of designing chemicals in ways that avoid hazardous substances. Scientists already know how to do this. But large investments from the big beauty corporations are necessary to take this new science to scale.”
For more on this interview with Stacy, check out Goop.
Don’t skip preservatives in your product unless it is actually safe for the consumer. What we want to avoid is hazardous chemicals or preservatives in our products. Creating a product without chemicals is not possible and not using preservatives can harmful to your customers and the integrity of your brand. For more details on formulating your cosmetics and what preservatives are better for your than others check out the resources at Chemists Corner & Safe Cosmetics.