why do you need preservative in cosmetics

Who wants to see mold or nasty bacterial growth on their food or in their cosmetics? No one! Our daily food like jams have preservatives like sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate is used to keep mold, yeast, and bacteria at bay in some jams and condiments.  Foods like cheese, packaged foods, jams, store bought baked goods are some of the foods we cannot have without preservatives.

What if we do not have preservative in a strawberry jam? You will see mold growth like the picture below.


Preservatives protect us from health threatening growth of these nasties in our food, skin care, makeup, drugs, hair products and even in our toothpaste.

The right preservative – natural or synthetic- is critical to a product’s efficacy and safety as well as our health. It keeps us safe not only from bad bacteria or mold but also personal and environmental contamination.

Why are preservatives important in cosmetics?

Any personal care or make up products that contain water or water like ingredients have a free for all breeding ground for nasty bacteria, fungi, mold to flourish if they are not preserved correctly. This growth can be harmful to your health.

Products with microbial growth look quite unappealing to the eyes and smell bad. They can also lead to skin inflammation, infection or allergies, especially when applied to dry, damaged or cracked skin.

That’s why, the use of an efficient preservative in cosmetic products and using the product in the defined time after opening are very important. Just FYI, the period after opening symbol PAO on any personal care products shows the usage lifetime of the product after opening the first time. If the product is over its PAO, please do NOT use it.

How do preservatives work?

Preservatives can work in 3 possible ways:

1. They prevent growth of microbes by creating an unsuitable environment for them to thrive.
2. They can stop the oxidation process.
3. They can inhibit the enzymatic process especially in food, which will stop the spoilage.

What can grow in cosmetics that are not preserved correctly or not preserved at all?

Incorrectly preserved or not preserved personal care or makeup products can cause skin irritation, infections, disturb skin barriers and skin microbiome and even serious illnesses. In 2006, five critically ill patients at intensive care unit in a hospital in Spain contracted life-threatening infections from bacteria Burkholderia cepacia found in unopened containers of moisturizing body milk they used [1].

Here are some examples of contaminated personal care products with inadequate or no preservative in them. These pictures alone prove the importance of using adequate and right preservative to protect our health.

This is especially important for pregnant women or people with compromised immune systems as they are more prone to infections and inflammations.

Diagram highlighting the importance of preservatives in skincare, showing how they prevent mold growth and maintain product safety and efficacy

“Preservative-free” or “no preservatives” may not necessarily be a healthy alternative.  Imagine a fruit in a container – it does not last very long and it would look quite bad with all the growth. Preservatives in cosmetics or personal care products are important to reduce the growth of microorganisms like bacteria and mold. Can you imagine a product without a preservative now?  Scary!

What can grow in cosmetics and personal care products that are out of date?

Scientists at London Metropolitan University performed microbial tests on a blush, foundation, mascara, lipstick and lipgloss that were past their due date (PAO). The researchers found that these out of date cosmetics contain unsafe levels of potentially lethal bacteria and mold.

Here is a list of bacteria the researchers found in these products:

  1. Enterococcus faecalis – a strain of bacteria known to cause meningitis and septicaemia. Potential diseases it can cause are neonatal meningitis, septicaemia (a potentially life-threatening infection caused by large amounts of bacteria entering the bloodstream), urinary tract infections. [2,3,4]
  2. Staphylococcus epidermidis – bacteria known to be resistant to antibiotics and can avoid the immune system [5]
  3. Eubacterium – which can cause bacterial vaginosis [6]
  4. Aeromonas – known to cause gastroenteritis, eye and wound infections [7]
  5. Propionibacterium avidum – a bacteria with a role in acne development and breast abscess [8,9]

expired cosmetics microbesPicture source: cosmeticsbusiness.com

Most consumers never imagine there could be anything bad lurking in inadequately preserved products, products without any preservatives or expired beauty products, which are potential breeding grounds for disease-inducing bacteria, yeast and mold.

You wouldn’t eat or use food made badly, spoiled or waited for months! So why would this be acceptable for skincare or cosmetics?  Why would anyone risk their health? Your skin, your body, you deserve the best clean product for a healthier life.

What to do?

I would strongly recommend everyone, especially pregnant women, mothers with small babies or people with weak immune systems to take extra care with products with no or inadequate preservatives and out of date skincare and cosmetic products.

We follow the highest standards of international cosmetic regulations to offer you clean,cruelty free, free from harmful ingredients and innovative beauty products.

All our products and even Honeyactive Beauty Mask (even though there is no water in it, we went the extra mile to protect you) – went through rigorous microbial testing and their preservatives were scientifically selected for utmost protection of the products, you and also us – because we use the same products with you!

Safety, science and attention to detail are not buzzwords to us, they are in the absolute core of every formula we design and what we do.

Wishing you a glowing healthier skin,

Dr. Ebru Karpuzoglu MSc., PhD

Some more information?

Want more? Please check out the Preservative Fact Info Sheet here.

Please find the infographic from EU below

preservatives in cosmetics


Scientific References
1. Moisturizing body milk as a reservoir of Burkholderia cepacia: outbreak of nosocomial infection in a multidisciplinary intensive care unit.Alvarez-Lerma F, Maull E, Terradas R, Segura C, Planells I, Coll P, Knobel H, Vázquez A.Crit Care. 2008;12(1):R10.
2.Enterococcal meningitis: a clinical study of 39 cases and review of the literature.Pintado V, Cabellos C, Moreno S, Meseguer MA, Ayats J, Viladrich PF.Medicine (Baltimore). 2003 Sep;82(5):346-64.3.Enterococcus faecalis Septicemia and Vertebral Osteomyelitis after Transrectal Ultrasound Guided Biopsy of the Prostate.
Virji A, Minces LR, Abbass Z.Case Rep Infect Dis. 2015;2015:159387.
4. What’s to know about enterococcus faecalis? Jayne Leonard, 2017 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318337.php
5. Staphylococcus epidermidis infections.Vuong C, Otto M. Microbes Infect. 2002 Apr;4(4):481-9. Review.
6. Bacterial vaginosis: Etiology and modalities of treatment-A brief note. Kumar N, Behera B, Sagiri SS, Pal K, Ray SS, Roy S.J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2011 Oct;3(4):496-503.
7.Bacteriological, Clinical and Virulence Aspects of Aeromonas-associated Diseases in Humans.Bhowmick UD, Bhattacharjee S. Pol J Microbiol. 2018 Jun 30;67(2):137-149. doi: 10.21307/pjm-2018-020.
8. Propionibacterium species and follicular keratinocyte activation in acneic and normal skin.Jahns AC, Eilers H, Ganceviciene R, Alexeyev OA. Br J Dermatol. 2015 Apr;172(4):981-7.
9. Identification of Propionibacterium avidum from a breast abscess: an overlooked etiology of clinically significant infections.Kritikos A, Pagin M, Borens O, Voide C, Orasch C.New Microbes New Infect. 2014 Dec 19;4:9-10.



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