Better Understanding Preservatives


There is a lot of science that goes into formulating skin care products and cosmetics.  Soaps, lotions, makeup, body creams, and other items are applied and absorbed into our skin.  It's important that these products are safe and bacteria-free. 

We think understanding preservatives in skin care is important.  While scrub me™ products do have antimicrobial and antioxidant ingredients, we do not use preservatives in our products.  Some preservatives can cause skin reactions or sensitivity and are also known to be unhealthy.  There is a wide range of preservatives so it can get a little confusing figuring out what is okay to use and what is not.

scrub me secret: while some essential oils and other ingredients like witch hazel, rosemary oil extract, & grapefruit seed extract have preserving properties, they do not put up a good fight against mold & bacteria in water-based skin care.  scrub me™ products are oil-based, leaving no water for pathogens to breed in. 



So why exactly do most skin, makeup and hair care products contain preservatives?  When a product contains water it creates an environment where bacteria, mold, and fungi can breed easily.  If you have a product containing water, for example a body lotion, that does not have some type of preservative expect it to start breeding bacteria in less than a week.  Companies also like to use preservatives to prolong the shelf life of the products.

scrub me secret: cosmetic and skin care products can be formulated without water.  these are called oil-based items.  liquid and solid oils are used instead of water to provide the desired consistency and moisturizing properties.  

Bacteria cannot live or breed in an oil.

Bacteria cannot live or breed in an oil.


Let's break it down a little.  There are different types of preservatives in skin care.  Common ones include parabens, formaldehyde releasing preservatives, and organic acids, to name just a few.  There are other forms of these bacteria-inhibiting additives but these three are very commonly seen in our everyday personal care items.

scrub me secret: preservatives inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungus.  some are called "broad spectrum" and can protect against both.  others need to be combined with other ingredients because they cannot fight against both fungus and bacteria.


Parabens are very popular in skin care products because they protect greatly against the growth of bacteria and fungus and can be easily added to products during formulation.  They have been used in the making of cosmetics and skin care for decades; recently they have become a big buzz word in the skin care world.  Studies have shown that parabens may be harmful to women when absorbed in large amounts.  Parabens have also been found in breast tissue and cancerous breast tissue, though it has not been proven that they were the cause of cancer.  Companies typically create items with 0.01%-0.03% paraben content.  Studies have shown that parabens are harmful in percentages over 25%.  Since we aren't 100% certain that parabens (even in low percentages) are safe we avoid them as much as possible.  Don't stress if you can't fully avoid these types of preservatives.  Like we said, parabens have only shown to be dangerous in high levels, much higher than most products contain. 

Check your ingredient list. Most commercial personal care products contain parabens.

Check your ingredient list. Most commercial personal care products contain parabens.

scrub me secret: you won't ever see the word "paraben" on your ingredient list. a couple common names you'll see on labels include: Methylparben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben.



Formaldehyde releasing preservative doesn't sound like something we want on or absorbing into our skin.  Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and is also known to cause dermatitis and skin irritation.  These formaldehyde releasing preservatives work by slowly  releasing formaldehyde over a long period of time.  This keeps bacteria and fungus from growing.  A problem with these types of preservatives is that the FDA does not state or police the amount of formaldehyde that can be in cosmetics, skin, and hair care.  Also, even small amounts of formaldehyde can cause health concerns or skin irritation. 

scrub me secret: since parabens have been getting a lot of negative media attention in the past few years companies have started to go "paraben free" and market their products as such.  beware that these products can still contain formaldehyde releasing preservatives, which in turn could be just as, if not more, harmful to your skin & body.  


Formaldehyde releasing preservatives are commonly found in lotions, makeup, hair care, nail polish, and facial creams.  In the U.S., the FDA does not require any label information stating that formaldehyde is in a product when one of these preservatives is used.  Common names used for these preservatives are: Diazolidinyl Urea, DMDM-hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, and Metheneamine.


Organic acids seem like a very appealing way to keep your water-based products safe.  Why wouldn't everyone just use organic and natural ingredients to preserve instead of harmful chemicals?  Organic acids have their share of pros and cons.  These ingredients are not broad spectrum, which means they do not fight against both bacteria and fungi.  Organic acids are best used to battle against fungi and keep mold away.  This means products will still need to be stored in a cool, dark place, or even refrigerated to keep bacteria from breeding.  This could also mean a shorter shelf life for water-based products containing only these preservatives.  Since organic acids aren't as stable as unnatural preservatives, they are a little bit more finicky when it comes to adding them to items during production.  They only work well when a certain Ph is maintained.  Even though this option of fungal protection is not the most effective it is safe for skin absorption unlike its competitors, which is a big plus!

Keeping our organic & natural water-based skin care items that do not contain preservatives in the fridge is a good idea.

Keeping our organic & natural water-based skin care items that do not contain preservatives in the fridge is a good idea.

While you may be trying to avoid any kind of preservative it's also important to remember that water-based products and products containing any water need to have a preservative included for bacteria protection.  If the product contains water or a hydrosol and no preservatives at all, you should refrigerate the product and toss it after about a week.  Absorbing bacteria, mold, or fungus through personal care items can cause major health concerns.


scrub me secret:  like we said, oil-based items that are not formulated with any water in the ingredients will not breed pathogens.  however, when water is introduced into a product, for example a sea salt body scrub being used in the shower, then that leaves room for bacteria to start breeding.  we suggest not leaving your salt scrub in your shower and always closing it tightly after using.  if you seem to always get a good amount of water in your scrub while using it in the shower we suggest portioning yourself out some in a small cup or dish so the rest of your product can stay pristine and clean!




At scrub me™ we like to keep things really simple.  Thats our motto.  "Everything you need and nothing you don't".   We are proud to be able to provide you with safe, non irritating skin care.  Even though we don't use any of these ingredients we talked about today in our products we think it's great to be well versed in skin care ingredient knowledge.  We feel the same about you!  We want all our scrub me™ customers to have the most knowledge possible about all skin care.  Today we have just scratched the surface of preservatives in skin care and cosmetics.  Use this as a guide to start being your own product detective.  Make sure you feel comfortable, happy and confident with all the ingredients your personal care contain.