A Quick Look at Preservatives

What are preservatives?

Preservatives are substances used in food and skincare products to prevent bacteria and fungi from growing. Most preservative ingredients are naturally occurring in food and plants. For example, parabens are found in things such as strawberries and soy. The most effective preservatives are normally a combination of different ingredients with different properties.


Some of the common ingredients in preservatives used for natural and organic skincare products include:

  •  Honey-undiluted, natural honey has antibacterial properties. It is also a humectant, meaning it draws moisture to the skin. Honey is not effective in lower concentrations. 
  • Benzyl Alcohol-an organic alcohol that can naturally occur in fruits, teas and is also found in lots of essential oils. It is used for its anti microbial properties
  • Glycerin/ Glycerol- an alcohol that occurs naturally in plant and animal fats. It has antibacterial properties and similarly to honey, it draw moisture into the skin
  • Sorbic Acid- a natural, organic compound  used to preserve many foods. It can be found in many plants and fruits. However, it can be made in a lab too. It is used to slow the growth of microorganisms like yeast and bacteria
  • Salicylic Acid- commonly used in acne fighting products. It is a great exfoliating agent and is used for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties

Antioxidants vs Preservatives:


Ingredients such as Vitamin E oil and rosemary essential oils are all commonly mislabelled as preservatives. However, they do not preserve cosmetics.


Vitamin E oil and rosemary essential oils are in fact antioxidants. They prevent oxidation in oils. Oxidation is a process that results in ‘free radicals’ forming. Free radicals are molecules that can cause things such as ageing and lots of diseases too. The use of antioxidants in the right quantities can prevent oxidation.


How can I avoid preservatives?

You can never truly avoid preservatives as almost all of the ingredients in preservatives are naturally occurring in foods and cosmetic ingredients. A lot of natural ingredients will contain one or more of the substances that make up preservatives.


In cosmetics, preservatives are generally used in any products that contain water (like lotions)  or, will come into contact with water (like body scrubs). So if you would like to try to avoid preservatives in cosmetics, for whatever reason, you should avoid any products that contain water.


 Preservatives normally make up only 1% of your products. So I’m a 100 ml cream, 1 millilitre will normally be the preservative. That one percent is normally made up of 2 or more ingredients, meaning that each ingredient in the preservative will make up less than 1% of your product. They only make up a small amount of the product so unless you have a specific sensitivity to an ingredient in the preservative, it is best not to worry about preservatives at all.