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