What you need to know about preservatives in skincareFebruary 22, 2017
Even if you go out of your way to ensure everything that comes into contact with your skin is labelled “preservative-free”, chances are you are using some kind of cosmetic preservative every day. Soaps, shower gels, perfumes, lotions all contain preservatives to ensure they get to the consumer uncontaminated by mould, yeast and bacteria.
“Preservatives are added to maintain the stability (and therefore efficacy) of the product and reduce/eliminate degeneration. Truly preservative-free products are virtually non-existent,” says dermatology specialist Dr Derrick Aw, Senior Consultant at Sengkang Health. “Products with low levels of preservatives often need special care, certain storage conditions, and have shorter lifespans.”
Dr Aw adds that preservatives used in commercial skincare products are generally safe for use at their present dosages. If there is suspected reaction to any ingredients in a skincare product, Dr Aw recommends that you stop usage immediately and seek treatment to prevent worsening of the reaction. A dermatologist will be able to clinically confirm the exact cause by performing a patch test.
“The commonest ingredients that can cause reactions are the parabens, formaldehydes and isothiazolinones (including methylisothiazolinone, also known as MIT or MI),” says Dr Aw.
So, the question isn’t whether brands should be using preservatives but rather the packaging methods used. Some points to remember the next time you go shopping for skincare and personal care products:
If a product contains water or is water-based, it needs a preservative
Water provides the moisture needed for bacteria growth. If a product is water-heavy and “preservative-free”, look for hermetically sealed bottles, vacuum pumps, or small tubes designed for one-time use. This limits the product’s exposure to air, reducing its risk of contamination.
There IS such a thing as non-toxic preservatives
Even if a brand says it’s preservative-free, it could contain ingredients with preservative properties such as vegetable glycerin, neem oil, antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E, and essential oils such as rosemary, oregano, turmeric, thyme, or tea tree.
At the very least, avoid products containing parabens
The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has listed parabens as Category 1 priority substances, based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function. Parabens can mimic estrogen, the female sex hormone, and have been detected in human breast cancer tissues. In addition, studies indicate that methylparaben applied on skin reacts with UVB rays, causing increased skin ageing and DNA damage.
And, you don’t have to go out of your way to hunt down products that fall into the abovementioned criteria, places like pharmacies, personal care stores, and even supermarkets are now stocking more of such skincare products and toiletries. So, have fun making over your beauty regime today!