Preservatives in Skin Care: Are They Safe?

Preservatives in Skin Care: Are They Safe?

The answer to the question about whether or not preservatives in skin care are safe is “Absolutely, yes!” as long as you’re talking about the right preservatives! Although there are preservatives that are thought to be irritants and carcinogens, there are also preservatives that have no such serious side effects and are just as effective at preserving skin care products. Whether you’re talking about chemical preservatives or natural ones, the important thing is to know which ones are safe for your skin.

For that reason, in this article we’ll talk about what preservatives in skin care do, whether or not preservatives are safe, preservatives you should avoid, natural preservatives for skin care, and why we use preservatives at Fleur & Bee.


Main Takeaways: Preservatives in skin care are necessary as they prevent mold and bacteria from growing on your products. However, there are some preservatives that are safe, and some that should be avoided.

Good to Know: Parabens are preservatives that are best avoided as they can potentially mimic estrogen and increase the risk of breast cancer.

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What Do Preservatives in Skin Care Do?

In a nutshell, skin care preservatives prevent the formation of yeast, bacteria, and mold. (You may know preservatives as antimicrobials or antibacterials, which is what that basically means.)

Just like food, skin care products must have preservatives, otherwise, most of them would last just a matter of weeks, if not days. We’d all have to use entire bottles of cleanser, moisturizer, etc., in just a week or two before they’d end up covered in mold, or worse--bacteria or yeast that could cause infection. There may be a lot of crazy skin care treatments out there, but as far as we know, none of them include putting bacteria on your face!

Skin care products are particularly susceptible to the growth of bacteria, etc., because they contain so much water and water is where those icky little organisms love to grow! Natural skin care products are unusually susceptible because they contain even more water than those made with a lot of chemicals.

skincare preservatives safe

Are Preservatives in Skin Care Safe?

Yes, but it depends on which ones. Preservatives in skin care make your skin care products safer by keeping your products free of bacteria, yeast, and mold that could potentially harm your skin and even cause infection.

However, there are a number of skin care preservatives that are not safe for skin care and should be avoided, not just because they can cause irritation, but because they can cause serious health issues.

Here are some common preservatives you should avoid:

  1. Formaldehyde. We know what you’re thinking and yes, it’s the exact same formaldehyde that’s used to embalm dead bodies and keep high school cadaver frogs intact. While formaldehyde may be just great for the no-longer-living, it can be a potential disaster for everyone else. Aside from the fact that formaldehyde in skin care can cause irritation, formaldehyde in general is thought to cause illnesses that range from leukemia to brain cancer.
  2. Parabens. Also on our short list of common preservatives to avoid are parabens. Like formaldehyde, parabens are thought to be carcinogenic. They can mimic estrogen which could increase the risk of breast cancer.
  3. Ureas. Aside from the fact that urea is also a potential irritant, this preservative is also a formaldehyde releaser, which is why we stay away from it.
  4. DMDM hydantoin. Like ureas, DMDM hydantoin is a formaldehyde releaser, and although it’s often used in skin care, it is not included in any Fleur & Bee products!
  5. Quaternium-15. Yup, another formaldehyde releasing preservative and therefore, a non-starter for us!
  6. Butylated Hydroxyanisole. If you live in or have been to certain states, you may have seen signs in stores about how butylated hydroxyanisole is a potential cancer risk. If that doesn’t scare you off, consider this: butylated hydroxyanisole (or BHA as it’s sometimes known), is banned as a food preservative everywhere from Japan to the EU. One note: BHA has nothing to do with BHAs or Beta Hydroxy Acids. They just happen to have the same initials.

Thankfully, there are plenty of alternative, preservatives for skin care that are safe for most people to use:

  1. Phenoxyethanol. Formed due to a reaction between phenol (EU) and ethylene oxide (EU), this naturally occurring preservative is safe to use as long as it’s used in concentrations of 1% or less. Found in green tea and chicory, it’s been approved as a preservative by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Although it’s a natural ingredient, it can also be made synthetically. Phenoxyethanol is not considered safe for infants and young children to digest, so it shouldn’t be put on skin where an infant might suckle.
  2. Benzyl Alcohol. Like phenoxyethanol, benzyl alcohol is found in nature but can be created in synthetic form. Found in plants, teas, and some fruits, it’s also found in the glands of beavers, although, much to the delight of beavers, the kind used in skin care is generally synthetic!
  3. Sodium Benzoate. This natural ingredient is safe to use as a preservative in skin care, which is why we use it in our products! A salt that’s found in everything from prunes to plums, it’s a great antifungal agent.
  4. Potassium Sorbate. Like its salty cousin, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate is a salt that makes a great natural preservative. Although found in nature (specifically in berries), it’s also produced synthetically.
  5. Ethylhexylglycerin. Derived from coconut or palm oil, this clear liquid is often used as an alternative to parabens.

Why Fleur & Bee Includes Preservatives in Our Skin Care

Although the word “preservatives” conjures up thoughts of harsh, artificial chemicals for some, the truth is, that without preservatives, most skin care would last mere days. Not only would we need to constantly replace our cleansers, toners, and moisturizers, but without preservatives, skin care would develop bacteria and mold (which isn’t always visible to the naked eye) that could easily lead to infection if put on the face.

Luckily, there are highly effective, gentle preservatives for skin care that will keep the gunk out of your products and won’t harm your face or cause permanent health issues like infection or disease.

For that reason, Fleur & Bee has decided to include safe preservatives in our skin care products.