The market is divided on this one, but the science is not.
To preserve or not to preserve? That is the question.
Though I’m not sure why.
Spoiler alert if you’re a part of the “green beauty” environmentalist campaign groups, God bless your heart, I admire your candor but you’re probably not going to like what I have to say.
While I don’t support parabens (though, I can’t ignore the science…they work), phthalates, and other endocrine disruptors that we are unnecessarily surrounded by in our day to day lives, I also don’t make claims that are entirely against the use of preservative systems in cosmetics either. This is especially true where water-based products are concerned because as we all (should) know, water is a breeding ground for mold & bacteria. As the creator of this brand and its formulations, I take my formulation process very seriously because I don’t want to bring about harm to my customers nor to myself because these are the only products that I use personally. This is more than just throwing some ingredients into a bowl and mixing them together, taking pretty pictures and hoping you guys buy it, this is science! And in science, there are steps – things are precise, they are measured, they are exact, they are documented, the results are recorded, tested, and the steps, when followed, allows the results to be duplicated.
There is no room for error or guesswork when you’ve already hit the market, the trial and error is in the formulation phase which is why it took me 3 years to launch this brand [ cue heavy sigh ].
A message to customers who love body products
Preservatives are usually the last ingredient on any product ingredient list that you may or may not have a hard time pronouncing. The product that comes last on an ingredient list is the one ingredient that the product itself contains the least amount of. The bottom line is that preservatives often only account for 0.5-4% of a formulation depending on which is used. Here at Glow by Mo, only we use 0.5% preservatives in our water-based formulations) meaning the amount of preservative needed to preserve the product in its entirety is very small compared to the ingredients that make up the other 99.5% of the product.
If you see a product boasting about being “preservative-free” and somewhere on their ingredient list, they have water as an ingredient (or a hydrosol, or aloe vera juice, etc) please run for the hills. I assure you they are either lying (unethical, thereby creating unrealistic standards/expectations of the industry) or worse, selling you bacteria in a bottle (unknowledgeable) – both reasons are unacceptable. For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, even for the scientifically complex formulations that could possibly be formulated without a preservative, the process and the science is highly involved, and the reality is most small companies that you see online do not have the resources to have their products made in a truly sterile environment. Even big brands sometimes get it wrong and are subjected to recalls. Preservatives are an absolute necessity.
I assure you the dangers that arise from the use of unpreserved water-based cosmetics (or oil-based cosmetics where the formulators used water-based additives due to lack of knowledge or due to consuming misleading information/research) far exceed the risks associated with the miniscule amount of preservatives required to ensure that your product is safe to use. In fact, dare I go as far as saying if you maintain a healthy diet and stick to your herbs & detox regimens (we have plenty available on our site), one need not worry about the risk factors of using products that contain preservatives because you are consistently flushing and detoxing your body. I invite you to peruse this eye opening article and this one as well if you are still not convinced as to why preservatives are so important. These articles are just a few examples that highlight the reality that there are opportunistic microbes waiting to use you as a host the moment the opportunity presents itself, some strains can live dormant inside healthy bodies for years until we inevitably age & become weaker and attack at the first sign of our immunities being compromised. if that sounds scary it’s because it is.
Bet you’d rather trade a little paraben for an invasive colony of pathogens, then.
These pathogens would not have access to you otherwise without the perfect breeding ground to form and then direct access to your bloodstream via product application to broken skin or mucous membranes. Use of contaminated products can also cause allergic reactions and irritation. This becomes even more life threatening for those with underlying health and auto-immune conditions. It’s a scary thing to consider which is why cosmetic manufacturers and consumers alike have a duty to do their research and stay abreast of the changes in the industry and not just loosely base our decisions off of what everyone else is doing or what’s trending on social media.
As formulators we do not want your experience with our products to be any less than amazing and we certainly are not in the business of creating products that send people to the hospital (yikes). We strive hard to create formulas that are both stable and able to boast skin loving ingredients, extracts, and additives creating outcomes that exceed expectations. It is to be noted that we do more than create products, we also educate in the process because we don’t want you to just buy our products because they’re pretty and they smell good, no. I want you to know how to use them and why. I want you to know the ingredients you’re putting on your body, I want you to understand why those ingredients were chosen to work together to achieve both your desired and the product’s intended outcome.
We ask that you have an open mind when reading product labels, not just for the sake of our products but for other ethical brands out there that are taking the necessary steps and precautions to bring quality products to the market. Please do your due diligence when shopping around. Be wary of companies that make preservative free claims on products that contain water, it’s not scientifically possible & not worth the health risk.
We have a saying in Jamaica, “You jump out of a frying pan, and jump in the fire” meaning where you thought you were avoiding toxins in your quest for green beauty products but instead you end up in a worse position because you have traded preservatives for aggressive microbes and bacteria, some not visible to the naked eye. It is important that you know that the only way to truly use preservative free water-based products with active ingredients that you see on the market is to handmake small batches yourself that will be used up all at once or stored in the fridge for 3-4 days before being all used up. While I can’t speak for anyone else, even I, Mo, the formulator here at Glow by Mo who does this for a living…even I do not have the patience, time, nor season to be concocting small new batches of product every day of my life to avoid preservatives.
No. Not happening.
You see, the fear mongering has zero control over you once you understand the science – and that I do…
Preserve me please lol.
Sometimes that which we think we want is not always what’s best for us.
A message to formulators who love to make body products
I want you to consider the fact that most people have been using cosmetic products in some shape or form all their lives, mostly commercial based products. None of us, myself included are accustomed to opening any of our products and seeing it grow mold like that food that went bad in the refrigerator or those fruits that molded on the counter. We’ve all seen moldy cultures on food products and other things but never have we ever been standing in our towels after having just finished taking a shower, and then we open up our favorite (or what we thought was our favorite) moisturizer just for it to be growing green spores when it is supposed to be a white cream…we’re not used to that! Nor will we ever be, making the shock value that much greater – that moment of disgust and betrayal is not one your brand is likely to recover from.
Not to mention the fact that people can (and will) get sick being exposed to these microbes that they would not have otherwise been exposed to if not for using your product. This is even more so an issue if people apply it to broken skin, these pathogens can get into their bloodstream and wreak all kinds of havoc, it’s a very scary reality that you must remain cognizant of. So, with that in mind I want you to then consider that we also live in a world where people say they want something without actually understanding how said thing works. Or they say they want a thing but the reality of said thing is not what they thought and now your once loyal customers want your head on a stick. Hopefully this scenario doesn’t have to play out this far before you realize that one of your many (and arguably, most important) hats as a formulator is that of an educator as well. You see, people want to make better choices where their health, bodies and the environment are concerned but they are at best case scenario, not always informed and at worst case scenario, misinformed. People say they want “natural” products but the reality is that you cannot safely create products that contain water and water-based ingredients and maintain the shelf life without preservatives. It is not scientifically possible, there are no loopholes around this unless your customer commits to protecting their product from water at all costs which require extra steps that most people are not conditioned to doing and will naturally forget leading to contamination of products that will still inevitably be your company’s fault.
Moral of the story, use preservatives in your water-based products, no exceptions. It is important that you preserve your water-based formulations and ensure that your formulations are PH balanced within the range that is best for the skin and also within a range where your preservative remains effective.
Products that require a preservative :
- Body Washes & Scrubs (it is to be noted that there are several ways to make body scrubs, however even if your formulation does not contain water, it will still be coming into contact with water when your customer uses it in the shower, so it still needs a preservative. I tend to only make emulsified scrubs that already contain water so that I am able to use a broad-spectrum preservative so that I know for sure that my product is safe)
- Body Creams & Lotions
- Face Washes, Toners, & Creams
- Any other formulation that contains water and/or water-based & water-soluble ingredients
Things that are NOT a preservative…but for some reason people think they are :
- Vitamin E – Vitamin E is NOT a preservative, I can’t stress this enough. It’s an antioxidant that prevents the oils in your formulation from going rancid and it is beneficial for the skin. That is its sole purpose in formulations, it does not prevent nor inhibit the growth of mold or bacteria.
- Rosemary Oleoresin – This too, is not a preservative. It serves the same purpose as Vitamin E and is mostly beneficial for the oils./butters. The two can be used interchangeably. (Using both is not necessary, one or the other will suffice to help delay rancidity)
- Essential Oils – EOs are not preservatives. I often see in various discussion boards & comment sections across the internet people saying that EOs such as tea tree, rosemary or thyme & oregano, for example, can be used to preserve cosmetics. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. In fact, EOs should be used with caution as they can be unsafe at high concentrations and cause skin sensitivity & irritation.
Glow by Mo Naturals is a proud supporter of preserving water-based cosmetic products. We go green where we can and where it makes sense & we pride ourselves on using organic herbs, sustainably sourced unrefined plant oils, & plant butters, but we will not under any circumstances compromise on the safety of our products. We never want to be in a predicament where our brand is at the forefront of a headline that details how our products have caused harm to our consumers. There are far too many consumers whose lives have taken a turn for the worst because of exposure to pathogens at the hands of unpreserved or under preserved products from their favorite beauty brands. And in an age where companies feel pressured to change their formulations to accommodate this green beauty movement, Glow by Mo Naturals will not be making such concessions. We will stick to the safety of what works and instead choose to inform & educate our customer base & being super transparent with our processes so that you have the utmost faith in our products the way we do. We look forward to serving you and your personal care and wellness needs. If you’ve made it to the end of this article, you are a special human.
– Monique (Mo)