i’ve had this draft saved for months, but now with a major green beauty company pulling a beloved product from the shelves, it’s high time we talk about it.
preservatives in green beauty.
there’s a lot of fear-mongering around preservatives in general. i’m pretty sure that when i started this blog 7 years ago, i likely contributed to it. i’m not proud.
the ‘fear’ is not completely unfounded – there are preservatives that are irritating to skin (like methylisothiazolinone) and possibly carcinogenic (like hormone-disrupting parabens).
but that doesn’t mean ALL are. and it doesn’t mean you are excused from using them.
broad-spectrum preservatives should be used*. they need to be used for safety. it doesn’t matter where on the “purity” scale you fall, preservatives are necessary. period. i consider myself closer to the purist end of the scale and i formulate with them, i’m just careful with which ones i use.
if you’re an absolute “purist,” you probably are a 100% crunchy lucky unicorn and only formulate anhydrous products or dry products for personal and quick use, sans preservatives. if that works for you, honestly HIGH FIVE. BUT – know that there are “natural” (there’s that word that gets people all riled up) preservatives that pass challenge tests, like aspen bark extract powder (water-soluble) and elderberry extract (oil-soluble).
BOTTOM LINE: if you have anything with an aqueous ingredient, you need a broad-spectrum preservative. no exceptions.
for example, you can’t make a “tea” hydrating mist and keep it out on your counter for weeks with no preservatives. it will grow bacteria rapidly and pose a health risk. no bueno my friends.
as another example, if you make a clay face mask with raw honey and witch hazel, you need a preservative. why? at the very least, because witch hazel is aqueous. if you don’t use a broad-spectrum preservative, all kinds of bacteria are going to be feasting and growing in your precious mask.
and this is PRECISELY what happened with a big green beauty brand. they sold a clay and honey mask with witch hazel and NO preservatives. they pulled it from the shelves saying they had a “theory” that undetected clay bacteria fed off the raw honey. ……… NO. that’s not a theory. it’s science. it’s formulating consumer products 101. they’ve just been selling an unsafe product for years without any reported mishaps. and this isn’t to demean them, it’s heartbreaking for the whole community to see this. i can’t imagine how the company feels.
but the reality stands that they took a huge risk with people’s health, and are now being praised for their “integrity” by pulling it out of circulation.
it’s time we really research and discuss with clear heads.
preservatives in green beauty need to be accepted, at whatever level on the “green beauty purity scale” people fall. there’s a range of them that can used, and people need to decide for themselves what they’re comfortable with. if you’re truly not comfortable with any of them, only formulate for yourself and use anhydrous products that aren’t in risk of coming into contact with water… and use them fast.
preservatives in green beauty are not evil. they won’t come in the night and steal your children. they WILL protect you from bad bacteria growth.
as always, be an educated consumer.
*antioxidants are not preservatives. rosemary and vitamin e are antioxidants and can be used in anhydrous formulations, but they are not preservatives.