Why are there preservatives in skin care products? In this post, learn why preservatives can be essential.
A preservative is an ingredient that’s added to packaged foods or personal hygiene products in order to prevent the growth of germs, which can include yeast, bacterial and mold. Due to the wide range of organisms that exist, preservative needs to be "broad spectrum". You might have heard this term before describing certain antibiotics. When referring to antibiotics, “broad spectrum” means a certain drug will be useful in treating a wide array of bacteria. Not all antibiotics are broad spectrum. Some are only effective against certain bacteria.
Preservatives are the same. Some may halt the reproduction of yeast but do little to thwart bacteria. Others may disrupt bacterial growth but are ineffective in the prevention of mold. As a result, products that are sold commercially for public use typically contain more than one preservative in order to ensure "broad spectrum" preservation.
All skin care lotions and creams are a combination of oil (natural or synthetic) and water. This is called an emulsion. The water component of the formula provides a nourishing environment for germs to grow. Unseen to the naked eye, this is what happens unless the product has been preserved appropriately. In products that have been properly preserved, this happens after the product has expired.
As germs begin to grow in your skin care products, the consistency may or may not change, so there's a good chance you won't even notice that it is happening. As the population of germs increases, it can cause irritation of the skin and even infections.
When skin care products are made at home for personal use, as long as those products are used within 1-2 weeks, they don't need a preservative at all. When preserved using a simple plant-based system, they will last a few months and ideally should be stored in the refrigerator. Otherwise, my experience has shown that a more complex preservative combination is needed to ensure product safety.
Savy Guthrie has been a PA working in dermatology for 17 years and has worked in medicine for 20 years overall. She has treated tens of thousands of patients, helping them achieve healthy, beautiful skin.
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