Do you avoid cosmetics and skin care products that contain preservatives? Do your alarms go off if a product doesn’t claim to be “preservative-free”?
Well, we are here to tell you that these products can actually do you more harm than skin care products that actually DO contain preservatives. It is concerning when a product claims to be “preservative-free” - especially if it is a water-based product. Preservatives are essential in keeping the product safe by preventing bacteria growth and mold.
What are preservatives?
Preservatives in cosmetics, just like in food, are chemical or natural substances to prevent items from spoiling. They prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms such as molds, yeasts and bacteria - it also prevents the product from smelling bad and protects the product’s colour and consistency.
But why is a “preservative-free” product dangerous? Because water breeds life. And unfortunately, with that grows dangerous microbiomes. And using products with no preservatives or poorly preserved products can make you seriously ill causing infections and other health issues.This is sped up by our consistent usage of the product - dipping our fingers into the product, applying lipstick and mascara to our lips and mouth and more. Without preservatives, these products can spoil easily - and unlike food, the effects may not be immediate. It can manifest over a period of days and even months to cause rashes, skin infections, swelling and more adverse effects.
What about anhydrous products then? Do they need a preservative? Even though anhydrous products generally do not provide conditions under which bacteria, yeast and fungus can breed, products can still get contaminated when used in a wet environment like near a shower. And hence even a waterless product can become a breeding ground for microbes.
If you are careful with an anhydrous product and keep it out of a wet environment, it may be okay. Also, some products with high percentage of alcohol (more than 20% to 25%) may be okay without preservatives. However, an anhydrous product such as mascara, eyeliner, lipstick will still need a preservative as we use these products on our eyes and lips, which are moist and can trap bacteria.
Are chemical preservatives bad for you? Some chemical preservatives can be harmful, especially in large doses. However, be rest assured that all products imported into Singapore has been vetted by the Health Science Authority (HSA) and is considered safe for human usage with no adverse effects. This is especially true for products that are applied to sensitive areas such as the lips, underarms and eyes.Some preservatives to look out for include:
Phenolic acid (Phenol): In large amounts, it can cause respiratory issues, coma, fainting, and even paralysis.
Petroleum-based compounds (propylene glycol, polyethylene glycols, or polyoxyethylene): Can possibly have contamination of “1,4-dioxane,” a chemical that the FDA says may cause cancer.
Phthalates: Can be absorbed through the skin and accumulated in the body. It may be responsible for the following: breast cancer, asthma, ADHA, obesity, type 2 diabetes, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism, spectrum disorders, and fertility issues.
Formaldehyde: A carcinogen. May also cause harm to the brain, allergies, irritation, asthma, and development in children.
Are natural preservatives better than chemical preservatives? There has been much hype over ‘natural’ products because people assume them to be better. However, just because a cosmetic or skin care product is labelled natural - it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better or safer to use. There are no clear guidelines on what defines a ‘natural’ product - it can range from using ‘organic’ ingredients grown in someone’s garden to not containing chemicals (but we are surrounded by chemicals!), so we recommend taking ‘natural’ with a pinch of salt.
There are plenty of natural substances that are bad for you - and in using natural preservatives, higher concentrations may be required for the same efficacy as chemical preservatives. This can cause a skin irritation that does not occur with chemical preservatives that are used in much smaller doses.Natural preservatives are also not cost-efficient and can cause allergies in clients. They also might change the feel or fragrance of the product. In general, it doesn't make sense for both the manufacturer and consumer to rely on just natural preservatives from a financial standpoint and safety standpoint.
What about parabens? Parabens is the most talked about ingredient to avoid in skin care products - this stems from a small study done in 2004 that found parabens in breast cancer tutors. However, there was no correlation between breast tumour growth and the usage of parabens. Additionally, parabens have extremely weak oestrogen-like properties, which could have contributed to the results of the study. The American Cancer Society has since concluded that natural oestrogen or hormone replacements are more likely the culprit for breast cancer development, as opposed to parabens.
The fact that parabens are chemicals also worsen its reputation as a skin care ingredient. However, as mentioned previously, all ingredients are made up of chemicals. Even water is classified as a chemical in skin care products! What people don’t realise, however, is the fact that parabens are naturally found in blackberries and raspberries ;) Parabens can be found listed under ingredient names such as methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben - and the FDA has concluded that parabens are safe in low amounts and poses no clear health risks when used in cosmetics and skincare products.
Preservatives are an integral part of keeping your skin care products and cosmetics safe for use. There are many steps from manufacturing, to storage, shipping, buying the product, using it and storing at home - these conditions can vary drastically and good skin care products should contain safe preservatives that can ensure the integrity and safety of your product. This ensures that the product not only works for your skin, but keeps it safe and healthy.
There are now many options that are both cost-efficient and effective - it is possible to avoid parabens if you still choose to do so. However, products that can be bought in Singapore is related by the Health Science Authority with rigorous checks and safety standards - so it is definitely one less concern. We cannot say the same if you buy products off the Internet that come from other countries without the same rigorous standards ;)