Understanding Preservatives In Skincare

It can be a bit of a jungle out there when it comes to understanding preservatives in skincare. Some formulations contain toxic or naturally derived preservatives to fight mould, bacteria, and microbial growth. Then there are other totally natural skincare formulations that are completely preservative free.   

Let’s take a look at some of the toxic and non-toxic preservatives commonly used in skincare and why only formations without water can truly be called preservative free.

Toxic preservatives

The common toxic preservatives on this list are commonly known to cause irritation, allergies and skin sensitivities.Understanding Preservatives In Skincare

Even more concerning, some have been associated with endocrine disruption, which means they can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems in certain doses. In some cases, this can lead to cause cancerous tumours, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.

If you’re continually slathering products onto your skin, they build up in your body over time. In fact, research has shown that women put a staggering 515 individual chemicals on their skin each day and it’s estimated around 60% of what we rub into our skin is absorbed into the bloodstream. Bottom line, know exactly what you are putting on your skin and into your body.


If you’re already on board the natural skincare wagon, you’ve probably heard of parabens and avoid them like the plague!

Parabens are synthetically produced preservatives widely used in many common household products including skincare, cosmetics and even foods. Parabens are used to extend the shelf-life of products and prevent bacteria growing in creams and lotions.

They might do a stellar job at keeping bacteria away but the massive downside is they’ve been linked to health issues including reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, skin irritation and even cancer.

Keep an eye out on the ingredients list for any of these tongue twister paraben names:

methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben.


Also known as MIT, benzisothiazolinone is a super potent biocide. Biocides are chemical or biological agents that kill harmful microorganisms. You’ll find MIT in a number of antibacterial products, like hand wash, for this reason.

MIT is also used as a preservative in a range of common household and personal care items. The EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database has flagged ingredient this as highly irritating to skin, eyes and lungs.

You’ll know if a product contains MIT if you spot any of these on the ingredients list: 1,2-benzisothiazol-3 (2h) -one; 1,2benzisothiazol3 (2h) one; 1,2-benzisothiazolin-3-one; benzisothiazolin-3-one; proxel pl and proxel xl 2.

Diazolidinyl urea and Imidazolidinyl urea

These preservative ingredients release formaldehyde, which is known to be a human carcinogen. A carcinogen is defined as an ingredient agent directly involved in causing cancer. Doesn’t sound like something we’d want to be rubbing into our skin on a daily basis?

These preservative ingredients are commonly found in moisturisers, cleansers, body creams, foundations, shampoo and conditioner to name just a few.

Non-toxic preservatives

These guys work a little different from their toxic counterparts. Non-toxic preservatives don’t actually kill bacteria, they prevent them from forming. They do this by creating an environment that isn’t conducive for bacteria to thrive.

These are 3 common non-toxic preservatives:


A vegetable derived preservative is a vegetable extract that smells like vanilla and almonds. It’s included in formulations for its activity against bacteria, moulds and yeast, however, can appear as ‘parfum’ on a label. This is not to be confused with Perfume, ‘parfum’ is simply a labelling term for a trademarked product. You will most often see the words ‘natural preservative’ after the word parfum, so you will know that this is natural preservative naticide.

Glyceryl Caprylate

Glyceryl Caprylate is a naturally derived, multi-functional ingredient system for preservative-free and self-preserving cosmetics protecting against bacteria and yeast. It is produced through the esterification (the chemical reaction) of glycerin from vegetable oils and medium chain fatty acids from sources such as coconut oil.

Benzyl Alcohol (and) Dehydroacetic Acid

This blend of an organic acid and alcohol is a multi-use, non-paraben, non-formaldehyde, non-isothiazolone broad spectrum preservative system. Both Dehydroacetic acid & benzyl alcohol are organic compounds.

Preservative-free skincare

The only skincare that can be totally preservative free is anhydrous products. These are products that are made of vegetable oils, butters and waxes and contain no water.

Some type of preservative - be it naturally derived or synthetic - needs to be present in any product that contains water.

Why? Because bacteria thrive in water and when it’s part of a product formulation, bacteria can make its happy home there; which is why preservatives are needed.

While there are some non-toxic preservative options we pointed out earlier, if you want to go totally preservative free, stick with facial and body oils and oil-free balms and butters.

That said, always double check the label as even oil, butter or balm formulations can still contain water.

Looking for a preservative-free cleanser?

We recommend our new Lemongrass & Calendula Balance Cleanser.

With advanced Gel-to-Milk technology, our Balance. Face Wash is an oil based face cleanser which is incredibly gentle and nourishing.

Once in contact with water, the oil gel will instantly turn into a hydrating and clarifying milk cleanser which will cleanse away dirt and impurities.

As this cleanser is an oil only gel, it is  perfect for people with dry and sensitive skin as it contains no irritating preservative and doesn’t dry out the skin with harsh soaps.  

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