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Cosmetics Ingredients
The material selection platform
Cosmetics Ingredients

Why Go for Alternative Preservatives in Today’s Cosmetics?

Dr. Barbara Olioso – Aug 24, 2017

Need for Alternative Preservatives in Cosmetic FormulationsLike all other preservatives, a cosmetic preservative is a substance or a chemical that is added to a cosmetic formulation to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes. Hence, a preservative have to have good compatibility with the formulation for prolong benefits.

Also, it should be noted that apart from being safe to use; the antimicrobial system needs to be:

  • Compliant with the regulatory authorities, and
  • Environmentally sustainable

However, the major dilemma that cosmetic formulators face today is whether to use:

  • Conventional preservatives: That consumers do not like and do not trust, and that might be banned sooner or later in any case, or
  • Multi-functional ingredients: That have additional antimicrobial properties, in line with a product’s green positioning and message for the consumer

The second option is certainly more complicated. Thus, many formulators probably wonder why they should bother making their work more complicated than it already is.

Why is cosmetic preservation, a complicated task? Let’s find out by understanding the challenges that cosmetic preservation face today.

Challenges to Cosmetic Preservation

Gaining Consumer's Trust is Not that Easy

Gaining Consumer's Trust isn't Easy Consumers are concerned about their own health as well as the planet and the animal world, for example the survival of Dolphins1. They are also becoming increasingly informed and knowledgeable with the ingredients found on the label. Despite their lack of technical knowledge they know where to find detailed information. They use platforms such as the EWG site to decide if they can trust a certain ingredient - and therefore product that contains it - or not. The claim that a product complies with the current legislation is not enough for them.

Shrinking List of Available Approved Preservatives

It is really unfortunate that, after the parabens restriction, the exposure to some preservatives (such as MI and MIT) went sky high. This caused a lot of dermal outbreaks and subsequent mistrust in the industry. The industry is now switching to Phenoxyethanol as another cost effective approved preservative. However this is causing instability problems in some formulations and potentially another dermal outbreak.2

Hence, another source of current pressure is the shrinking list of available approved preservatives. At the end of 2017, the European Union is planning to ban three preservatives that have been classified as CMR:

  1. Quaternium-15
  2. Chloroacetamide
  3. Formaldehyde and Paraformaldehyde
CMR Preservative Ban by EU

Also, Polyaminopropyl biguanide will be restricted to 0.1%3. This will decrease further the range of preservatives left to use. As consumers enjoy using cosmetics as part of their wellbeing routine, the amount of cosmetics exposure they endure keeps on increasing, making safety assessment more complicated and less predictable. Given the longer and longer yards of red tape, it is very unlikely that raw materials manufacturers will invest in the registration process of new preservatives, making future cosmetic preservation a real challenge.
Having learnt about challenges in cosmetic preservation, need for alternative antimicrobial system becomes much clearer now. So, let’s turn our attention towards the green trend prevailing in the industry.

The 'Green' Macro Trend

The Green Macro Trend The influential factor in current formulation is the trend towards sustainability.4 In my opinion, this is the Green macro trend that will increasingly influence the cosmetic industry in a big way. Many Green values will come together, like:

  • Fair trade
  • Sustainable sourcing
  • Natural ingredients
  • Organic raw materials
  • Vegan sourced raw materials
  • And more
Also, there is a need in response to give a meaningful and honest message to the consumers

The industry as a whole, still keep missing the point and responding to the consumer's concerns with the usual explanation: Claiming naturals are made of chemicals, and chemicals can be safe or unsafe, either natural or synthetic.

In my opinion, this is not an effective way to gain consumers trust. What is needed is a clear and evidenced intention to safeguard the environment, by including an environmental impact evaluation of cosmetics. This is something which we have recently witnessed with the ban of plastic micro-beads, which was brought in by the US first, followed by Canada and Europe.

Thus it could be concluded that, sustainability is a driver of innovation in cosmetic industry and in the final analysis it is an increasingly savvy consumer who is buying, or boycotting, the product.

Green Alternatives to Cosmetic Preservation


  1. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b03601
  2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ics.12340/full
  3. https://members.wto.org/crnattachments/2017/TBT/EEC/17_2984_00_e.pdf
  4. Euromonitor at Cosmetics Europe week

1 Comments on "Why Go for Alternative Preservatives in Today’s Cosmetics?"
Steven T Dec 22, 2017
It's all pretty obvious. I doubt anyone interested in this topic would learn much. The article is presumably a teaser for the course.

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