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Which preservatives in skin care formulations should you avoid?
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Which preservatives in products should you avoid?
They play a key role by enhancing the safety of cosmetic formulations, enabling them to remain free of bacteria for approximately 2-3 years. They inhibit the development of microorganisms that would make the product harmful to skin and unusable. Effective preservatives must be nontoxic, nonirritating and have a broad spectrum antimicrobial effect. The controversy about the use of preservatives stems from the fact that anything that kills microorganisms can potentially be toxic. Another issue to be aware of is that many preservatives are allergens and may cause contact dermatitis.

These are the preservatives your should avoid:

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen as well as an allergen that can cause allergic skin reactions and rashes. Although formaldehyde has been banned in skin care formulations, formaldehyde-releasing ingredients are still used by companies. These ingredients, although gentler on the skin, can generate formaldehyde when they come into contact with water. They include, but are not limited to diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15.


The most common parabens used in skin care products are methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben. Typically, more than one paraben is used in a product, and they are often used in combination with other types of preservatives to provide preservation against a broad spectrum of microorganisms. These widely used preservatives have been linked to cancer. It has been found that parabens can mimic the hormone estrogen, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancers. Researchers have found parabens in breast tumors and believe there is a relationship between parabens and tumors. More and more skin care product manufacturers are moving away from parabens and replacing them with other, safer preservatives.

Packaging also plays an important role in the preservation of skin care products. Increasingly, more manufacturers of skin care products are moving away from packaging, such as jars, which consistently expose the product to air and high levels of hands-on contamination. They are replacing them with tubes or pumps that minimize the air exposure and hand-to-product contact. This type of packaging allows for the use of less potent preservatives, because microorganism and air exposure is reduced.