Preservatives get a bad rap in the clean and natural beauty space. However, they are a very much needed component to formulas, as they inhibit pathogenic bacteria from growing in aqueous-based emulsions. Sure, there may be some preservatives out there that you may choose to avoid (triclosan, parabens, and aldehydes), but trust us: Mold in your mascara is worse.
“[People want to avoid preservatives,] but in modern conventions, products are shelf stable for over a year. And keeping something shelf stable for years, especially natural ingredients and botanicals, is actually not natural,” says cosmetic chemist Javon Ford. “So what people have to understand is to have a preservative-free product, that means it essentially becomes perishable, that you have to refrigerate, use up within two weeks, and at that point it just becomes food.”
The good news is that there are a plethora of less irritating and problematic preservatives out there. These tend to include preservatives and co-preservative systems to bolster their powers—and can include things like benzyl alcohol, salicylic acid, sorbic acid, benzyl alcohol, dehydroacetic acid, sodium benzoate, and more. Some of these preservative systems are even ECO-CERTIFIED.
But please just know: When you see preservatives on your INCI list, it’s a good thing.