What are preservatives? Preservatives are compounds that when added to a skincare product, prevent the growth of microorganisms like bacteria, mold and fungus within that product.
Why are preservatives necessary? Microorganisms are ubiquitous and grow whenever conditions are optimal. These opportunists grow in the presence of water, at any pH between 3 and 10, and in temperate environments. Almost all skincare products sold on skincare aisles today contain water, have a pH of approximately 5 - 6 and are stored at room temperature. Perfect conditions for organism growth. Since most of us prefer our creams and lotions without contaminates, in addition to the fact that the Food Drug & Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) prohibits the sale of adulterated skincare products (including contaminated ones) most skincare products require preservatives to be deemed safe for use.
What is the best preservative? Unfortunately, there is no perfect preservative. Nor is there one preservative that can prevent the growth of all organisms in all formulations. Some preservatives are only effective at a certain pH, while others may not be ideal because they change the pH of the formulation. Due to the chemistry of the preservative or the charge, some are not compatible with certain ingredients that may be found in the formulation. Some preservatives can prevent growth of organisms but cannot kill microorganisms that are introduced into the product. Hence the need for many preservatives, and often, more than one is found in any given product.
Why is there so much controversy regarding preservatives? Consumers are misinformed. Sensationalism sells, and all too often, health and beauty magazines, media outlets, and erroneous do-gooders take full advantage. Preservatives in skincare products are used in tiny doses to prevent the growth of and kill microorganisms. Preservatives disrupt cell membranes and protein structure; they interfere with metabolic systems and enzyme function of microorganisms. That's how they function. That's why we use them! Misleading fear campaigns imply that the activity of these preservatives have the same effect on us. The tiny concentrations of preservatives used in skincare products that have these favorable for us, untoward effects on microorganisms, cannot and do not have the same effects on 170 pound adults (or even on 10 pound infants.)
Preservatives are used in concentrations that are well within the safety limits determined by government regulatory authorities and science in the United States, Australia, Japan, and in the European Union. Appropriate use of these preservatives assures the safety of the finished skincare product.
Related information: Paraben Story
ANTIPERSPIRANT VS DEODORANT
Deoderants are cosmetics formulated to mask body odor, to make the skin smell better. They commonly contain odor-masking fragrance. They can be formulated as aerosols and sprays, pumps, roll-ons, solid sticks, gels and creams. Deoderants do not prevent sweating. Antiperspirants are over-the-counter drugs, regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are usually formulated with aluminum-based compounds with the intent on preventing sweat from reaching the skin surface by creating a temporary plug within the sweat duct. All sweat is odorless until it combines with bacteria found on the skin surface. By preventing perspiration, antiperspirants are also deoderants.
DO I NEED A TONER?
Toner, the skincare product that is as varied in formulation as is the list of their alleged benefits. The benefits touted by health and beauty magazines for toners are endless. They supposedly cleanse, shrink pores (note: like the length of your arms, pore size does not change), remove dirt, pollen, and pollution, hydrate, soothe and calm, repair, balance the skin's pH, nourish, stimulate blood circulation, function as an antibacterial, clear blemishes, and more.
Toners can be sprayed on, dabbed on with a cotton ball, applied with guaze or a washcloth, or with the fingers. Some are used with water, some without.
Toners come without alcohol, these claim to "refresh." They come with little alcohol (up to 20%), also known as tonics, not to be confused with the traditional quinine containing carbonated beverage. And they can be formulated with a high percentage of alcohol (20-60%), also called an astringent or drying agent, which may cause redness, irritation, or burning in individuals with sensitive or normal skin.
Want to cleanse the skin? Use a mild soap-free cleanser. Want to hydrate the skin? Apply a well-formulated moisturizer. Have oily or acne-prone skin, see a dermatologist. Skip the toner!
WHY FINGERTIPS WRINKLE
Did you ever wonder why the tips of the fingers wrinkle like a prune when exposed to water for a long period of time? People often think that osmosis causes water to enter the outer layer of skin making the fingertips swell. But since the 1930's, scientists have known that fingertips don't swell or wrinkle when there is nerve damage to the fingers, even with prolonged submersion in water.
So if it's not osmosis, what causes this phenomenon? A recent study may give us an answer. Mark Changizi, an evolutionary neurobiologist at 2AI Labs in Boise, Idaho, and his colleagues, propose that wrinkling of the fingertips has an evolutionary function. That our nervous system, by causing vasoconstriction of blood vessels below the skin, is responsible for this involuntary reaction that offers an advantage in gripping wet objects.
The study demonstrated that wrinkled fingertips make it easier to grasp objects underwater. Participants in the study had to move dry and wet objects with both dry fingertips, and again, with wrinkled fingertips. The results showed that participants were able to move wet objects 12% faster with wrinkled fingertips than with dry ones. But wrinkled fingertips made no difference when it came to moving dry objects. Basically, when the pads of the fingers are wrinkled, they provide a better grip in wet conditions, like treads on a car tire that increase the surface area of tire on the road.
So why do our fingertips wrinkle when in water? Our brain causes this evolutionary trait to enhance the gripping ability of the fingers underwater! Perhaps this was beneficial to our ancestors who might have had to gather food from wetlands and streams.
And if it happens to you, don't worry, it goes away all on its own. Skin is truly an amazing organ!
"NATURAL" ISN'T BETTER
A growing number of consumers are opting for "natural" skincare products. The media loudly and aggressively sends the message the "natural skincare products are good and synthetic products are bad". They imply that standard facial moisturizers and cleansers are filled with poisonous cancer-causing chemicals. As a result, many people understandably opt for "natural" skincare items that seem "better". In truth, the term "natural" found on skincare product labels is simply an example of brilliant marketing.
The term "natural" on personal care products has no specific definition. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has not defined the term nor has it established any standards or regulatory guidelines for its use on skincare product labels. In addition, cosmetic companies are not required to prove these "natural" products live up to their claims. In fact, the FDA warns, "There is no basis in fact or scientific legitamcy to the notion that products containing natural ingredients are good for the skin."
"Natural" ingredients may imply where the ingredients come from but discloses nothing about the safety of the ingredient. A plant-based product is not necessarily healthy. While most consumers can apply personal care products that claim to be "all natural" without any ill effects, some plant-derived ingredients can cause severe reactions in those with allergies. Tea tree oil, lavender, chamomile and its related family plants, including daisies and ragweed, are commonly used in "natural" skincare products and may cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. Additionally, exposure to natural oils like bergamot, lavender, musk, and citrus compounds from lemons and limes also frequently used in natural products may cause an increased sensitivity to the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
As for the claims that synthetic ingredients, those "bad" chemicals, cause cancer: poor scientific studies and the need to sell beauty magazines that rely on sensationalism consistently find cancer links that simply don't exist. Whether a chemical, "natural" or synthetic, causes cancer or any other toxic reaction depends on the dose of the chemical, not the chemical itself. Almost every chemical has a dose below which no adverse effect or harm can occur. (See DOSE VS TOXICITY)
Still, plant-based products remain popular. Whether just folklore, or the influence of the beauty industry and advertising media, many consumers definitely prefer to purchase "natural" skincare products formulated with plant-based ingredients. It's true, plants are a huge reservoir of potentially beneficial compounds. However, few studies, if any, demonstrate they are beneficial to humans. A plant-derived ingredient isn't necessarily good for you, nor is a synthetic ingredient necessarily toxic.
Search Our Blog!
Welcome to Fully Exposed
Hello, and welcome to FryFace!
I've been a New York based dermatologist for over 25 years. I love music. I love triathlons. I love chemistry. (I love Petrolatum jelly.) I study skincare ingredients and product formulation. I listen to skincare "advice" from self-proclaimed ......Read More