Preservatives are a necessary component of most commercially available cosmetic and skincare products. Products containing water are particularly susceptible to invasion by microbes such as bacteria and fungus. These microbes may not only spoil the product itself but also are potentially dangerous to human health. There are many cases of bacteria such as Pseudomonas growing in cosmetic products and causing skin and eye infections. Numerous other more serious health conditions may result from microbes in cosmetics. Therefore, preservatives are quite necessary in products which will not be refrigerated or used within a very limited period of time.
Preservatives are usually classified in the cosmetics industry as either broad spectrum or limited.
Broad spectrum preservatives are able to address most of the common sources of microbial growth in water-based products including bacteria and fungus. Limited spectrum preservatives are utilized to address specific microbes whose growth cannot be eliminated by other preservatives. Of the available broad spectrum preservatives, Parabens and Formaldehyde-derivatives are the most commonly used in commercial cosmetics and skincare products.
Parabens are derived from p-hydroxybenzoic acid. Major parabens in use within the personal care industry are Methylparaben, Propylparaben and Butylparaben. These products have found wide acceptance and usage because their ease of use (high water solubility) and low cost.
Formaldehyde derivatives are the second most commonly used preservatives. Formaldeyhyde derivative compounds have replaced the direct use of Formaldehyde itself in cosmetics. Instead chemical analogues that transform into formaldehyde like substances are utilized. These compounds include DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea and Imidazolidinyl Urea. These substances is synthesized by a reaction of formaldehyde with allantoin and sodium hydroxide solution.
So what are the health concerns associated with these widely used cosmetic preservatives?
Paraben use in particular has been found to have serious negative human health implications. Parabens mimic the activities of estrogen within the body and destroy the delicate balance of the endocrine system. Estrogen mimicking compounds have been shown as a causal link to health concerns such as early onset of puberty in young girls, etc. Furthermore, parabens have been found to be carcinogens and accumulate chemically intact within the body. This means that the liver cannot successfully breakdown parabens to avoid long-term buildup. A study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology demonstrated the specific concentration of methylparaben within human breast tumor tissue. Could the estrogenic effects and accumulation of these toxins be contributing to the growing prevalence and incidence of breast cancer?
What about the Formaldehyde derivative preservative compounds? Are they safe to utilize on our skin or should we avoid them? The research undertaken thus far by experts such as the Cosmetic Ingredient Review indicates that while these chemicals may not be directly carcinogenic, they should be avoided by those with sensitive skin.
In addition to parabens and formaldehyde derivatives there are many other preservatives of questionable human health impact such as Isothiazolones which have been shown to be skin irritants and organic acids such as Triclosan.
Cosmetic preservation is vitally important for the long-term safety of the products that we all use. However it must be balanced by an awareness of the potential long-term health impacts that pose an even greater threat. So when you buy your skin care products be aware of the ingredients list. If you are unsure about an ingredient research it carefully. But remember, just because an ingredient has a long difficult to pronounce name, doesn’t mean that it is unnatural or bad for you! There are numerous resources available online that provide a database of ingredient research including Cosmetic Ingredient Review and Environmental Working Group.
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To your healthy skin!