What are preservatives? Are they bad?
Are preservatives bad? With so many additives in everything we consume these days, it can be tough to understand what preservatives are and whether or not you need to avoid them. Don’t worry, we’re gonna break it all down.
When you hear the word “preservatives” what do you think? Stuff in processed junk food? Chemicals and other weird ingredients with long, unpronounceable names? Necessary ingredients we have to get used to in order to have things last a long time? With so many additives in everything we consume these days, it can be tough to understand what preservatives are and whether or not you need to avoid them. To help you understand the ins and outs of preservatives and why they matter, we’re going to run through some basics and look at whether or not they are necessary.
What are preservatives and what do they do?
Product labels can be really confusing, and generally “preservatives” are a term used to describe a range of different ingredients, all with one purpose. If you guessed “preserving stuff” as that purpose, high five to you, you’re correct. Put simply, preservatives are ingredients added to make sure products are stable and to make them last longer. They can be natural but most often, especially in personal care products like soap, deodorant and shampoo, they are chemicals added to make sure the products are stable throughout their effective shelf life. More specifically, they are added to prevent things like oxidation and contamination.
As we mentioned, preservatives can serve several functions, depending on what type of product they are in. Let’s break down two of the most common types of preservatives you’ll find in personal care goods and what functions they serve:
- Ingredient Preservatives (Antioxidants): Delays or stops the process of oxidation – where an ingredient or compound is affected by oxygen, resulting in the loss of electrons at a molecular level. Oxidation diminishes an ingredient’s potency and can potentially cause it to change into an entirely different compound.
- Antimicrobials: Inhibits the growth of microorganisms like bacteria and fungus. These microorganisms can be dangerous and cause a product to lose its potency.
Why do we need preservatives in personal care products?
As you can imagine, preservatives are there to accomplish some good, and not all preservatives are bad. You want the products you use to be safe, have a good shelf life, and perform as they were intended, and preservatives are in there to make sure that’s the case. But, because preservatives can be both naturally-derived or synthetic, the key is to know and understand what types of preservatives are being used in the products you consume. Plus, synthetic preservatives, while effective, can also have a range of negative side effects.
What type of products use preservatives?
Personal care products like shampoo and conditioners, moisturizing lotions, and sunscreens are some common examples of products that might use preservatives. Bacteria and microbes thrive in environments with high water content and these types of products are typically made up of enough water to cause them to be susceptible to microbial contamination. Plus, because many of the effects of oxidation and microbial contamination don’t cause any obvious physical change or bad odors, it’s important to have the right preservatives in these products to ensure they are safe for use.
Products like beard oil and deodorants are formulated without added water content, so these types of products are unlikely to need added antimicrobial preservatives because microbes have a hard time living in this environment. However, since these products typically have high oil content they usually incorporate antioxidant preservatives to keep them from going rancid over time.
Are preservatives good or bad?
Well, it’s not a simple question. As you can see, preservatives play an important role in helping to keep your products safe and contaminate free. But there are things to watch out for when looking at commonly-used preservatives in personal care products.
Many common personal care brands use a range of categories of synthetic preservatives in their products. The most common ones include: Parabens (seen on labels as: Methylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben), CIT/MIT (seen on labels as Methylisothiazolinone), and DMDM Hydantoin. These preservatives have been linked to irritation, sensitization, and other potential health issues when used for long periods of time. Outside of the US, health regulatory bodies abroad in the EU have actually banned the usage of some of these commonly utilized preservatives.
There’s good news though! Naturally-derived preservatives can provide both the safety and shelf life needed while also helping you avoid some of the potential risks associated with using products that are filled with harsh chemicals and synthetic preservatives.
What are natural preservatives and how do they work?
At Dr. Squatch we’re dedicated to using only the best Mother Nature has to offer in all of our personal care products. So, when it comes to products that require preservatives, we’re committed to using naturally-derived or food-grade preservatives that are not linked to any serious health issues. Here are a few common naturally-derived preservatives we use in our products and how they function.
Citric Acid: A naturally-occurring acid found in a variety of fruits and vegetables that acts as an excellent pH regulator and a buffering agent for personal care products like our hair care formulas.
Potassium Sorbate: A natural, food-grade preservative that has been effectively used for decades and can prevent the formation of yeasts, molds, and some bacteria in consumer and food products. Potassium sorbate is a salt of sorbic acid and can be found naturally in berries.
Sodium Benzoate: Another natural food preservative, it’s a sodium salt of benzoic acid, which is found naturally in many plants, including cinnamon, cloves, tomatoes, berries, plums, apples, and cranberries. It’s primarily used to help inhibit the growth of molds and bacteria in food and personal care products.
Gluconolactone: This natural preservative is derived from gluconic acid, which is a substance found in corn and is also within our own skin. You’ll see this very common preservative used in a range of personal care products, including moisturizers, facial cleansers, sunscreen, and conditioners. Despite being really hard to pronounce, it’s actually an extremely versatile and beneficial product. It not only has antimicrobial properties but it also aids in hydration with its ability to draw in and hold water on the skin barrier. Additionally, gluconolactone has antioxidant properties that help fight the free radicals responsible for aging cells (like your skin) and has some exfoliation properties.
Tocopherol: Tocopherols are a form of vitamin E that is naturally derived from vegetable oils. Tocopherols are a highly effective, naturally-sourced antioxidant that extends the shelf life of a diverse range of personal care, consumer, and food products. It keeps the ingredients stable and prevents oxidation so that the product doesn’t degrade and lose potency over time. It’s also shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits as well.
Preservatives play an important role in keeping you and your product safe and effective throughout the entirety of their shelf life. With a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of preservatives, it becomes much clearer how natural products can be both safe and effective without the need for harsh chemicals and synthetic preservatives.