I’ve written about preservatives in skincare before. But I had a query this week about which preservatives are okay, so I thought I’d write you a quick guide.
EcoCert, the international organic inspection and certification body, approves a number of preservatives:
- Benzoic acid and its salts
- Benzyl alcohol
- Salicylic acid and its salts
- Sorbic acid/potassium sorbate
- Sodium benzoate
- Potassium sorbate
- Phenethyl alcohol
- glyceryl caprylate
- sodium levulinate
- Benzoic acid
- Ethyl lactate
So if you see any of these preservatives on your skincare label, you’ll know that these are okay.
Cosmos (Cosmetic Organic Standard) is the standard that is used by a number of European organic labels. All these organic labels use ingredients that are approved by Cosmos:
- BDIH from Germany
- Cosmebio from France
- EcoCert from France
- ICEA from Italy
- Soil Association from the UK
- ACO (Australian Certified Organic)
If you’re wondering whether a preservative is certified organic, you can have a look at the Cosmos database, here. Enter ‘preservative’ in the function field, and you’ll be able to see a list of approved preservatives.
NaTrue is another European certified organic and natural skincare label. You can also search on NaTrue’s database, but they don’t list the function of the ingredient, only the name. It’s a little trickier to navigate, but still very useful.
Preservatives with commercial names
You may also see commercial names like:
All three of these are approved by EcoCert. Strictly speaking, you shouldn’t see these in an ingredients list. All ingredients names should conform to the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI). Naticide’s INCI name is fragrance, so that’s what manufacturers should list on their ingredients.
But as fragrance isn’t always well received by consumers, sometimes manufacturers will use the commercial name.
Other ingredients you may see
You may also see these ingredients in natural or organic products:
- grapefruit seed oil
- honeysuckle extract
- Rosemary extract
- Vitamin E
These are not preservatives, but antioxidants. They’ll stop the product oxidising, like when your apple goes brown. However, they’re little to no help when it comes to inhibiting mould and bacteria.
Grapefruit seed extract and honeysuckle extract can be problematic ingredients. Because of the way that they’re processed, they can become contaminated with chemicals like formaldehyde, and benzethonium chloride.
You may also come across other preservatives in ‘natural’ skincare:
- sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
Ecocert doesn’t approve these two. Phenoxyethanol scores a 4 in the EWG database.
Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate scores a 6 in the EWG database, because it may release formaldehyde. Although it is derived from a natural source, but it’s synthetic, not natural. Neither of these are ingredients that I would choose to use.
The preservatives you don’t want in your skincare
Here’s a quick list of preservatives to avoid in your skincare:
- 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol)
- BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
- C12-15 alkyl benzoate
- diazolidinyl urea
- disodium EDTA
- DMDM hydantoin
- imidazolidinyl urea
- methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT)
- methylisothiazolinone (MIT)
- Parabens: propylparaben, methyparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben
- polyoxymethylene urea
- quaternium 15
- tetrasodium EDTA
Some ingredients listed as ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ can also be hiding preservatives. If you choose certified organic skincare, you’ll know that the fragrance used is okay.