What Happens to Your Skin When You Use Preservatives?
You may have recently heard of some products, such as eyedrops and concealer, being contaminated or growing mold. Preservatives are used in the beauty industry for the stability and safety of skincare products, especially those that contain water, to prevent contamination during manufacturing and the consumer use period. Cosmetics and personal care brands that rely on retail distribution have little choice but to use preservatives to prevent the growth of mold, fungus, bacteria, and yeast in their products while they are shipped, stored, and being used by consumers.
However, using preservatives comes at a price. Some commonly used preservatives have been shown to cause hormone disruption and even skin diseases. And while preservatives that are natural, food-grade, or used in low concentration are touted as perfectly safe, even they can cause harm to the skin’s microbiome, especially with repeated use. The latest skin microbiome research indicates that preservatives disrupt the balance of a healthy skin microbiome, which over time leads to skin irritation and sensitivities. At LightWater, we choose not to extend the life of our products by using preservatives for two main reasons: (1) their link to skin irritation and sensitivities and (2) because skincare products get stale with every passing day, thereby losing their efficacy. In fact, LightWater was born with this simple question: “Why bother using long-lasting products that diminish in efficacy?” This led us down a path of creating skincare that’s as fresh and efficacious as possible and that has and requires zero preservatives for product integrity.
What makes preservatives in cosmetics particularly troublesome is that we use many of these products every day for most of our lives. Most of us also use more than one product. In fact, women use on average 12 different personal care and beauty products daily and do so on a long-term basis – think cleansers, scented lotions, serums, creams, fragrances, conditioners, and makeup. Each and every one of the products we use contains its own preservatives. This means we end up exposing ourselves to a high concentration of various preservatives daily because we layer multiple products on the skin.
Preservatives’ main purpose is to preserve products to enable a long product shelf-life and a long use cycle through repeated use out of the same package. They do so by killing the bacteria that comes in contact with it every time you open the package and touch the product. However, those preservatives end up on your skin. It makes sense that substances designed to kill microbial proteins could have adverse effects on human skin proteins, the skin microbiome, and other tissues. It’s important to recognize the primary culprits that are known or suspected to contribute to skin irritation, reproductive issues, respiratory issues, and even cancer, so let’s cover them.
Parabens - Some of the most prevalent and problematic preservatives found in cosmetics are a group of parabens. They are effective in fighting off the growth of mold and bacteria to extend the shelf life of many personal care products. However, they may also be effective in disrupting human endocrine and reproductive systems.
Since parabens mimic estrogen, they may impact the reproductive systems of both men and women by affecting the production and regulation of hormones. Parabens have been linked to decreased fertility and even breast cancer. Certain types of long-chain parabens are also prone to causing skin irritation.
These issues are compounded by the fact that parabens are commonly found in thousands of personal care and beauty products people tend to use on a daily basis for most of their lives: shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, skin cleansers, sunscreen, makeup, and many others.
The potential negative effects of parabens have led some major retailers to ban products that contain them. This has also given rise to a wealth of “paraben-free” products.
Phenoxyethanol - Frequently used as an alternative to parabens to provide antibacterial or preservative qualities in cosmetics, phenoxyethanol also works as a stabilizer in perfumes, fragrances, soaps, and cleansers. This preservative can be natural or synthetic and has been linked to skin irritation, rashes, eczema, hives, and even severe allergic reactions.
Use of phenoxyethanol is approved by most countries at low concentrations, typically 1% or less. However, this comes with two important caveats. The first is that using several products with phenoxyethanol could push your cumulative exposure well above this threshold. The second is that there is a risk of central nervous system impacts in infants who have been exposed to it orally.
MIT / MCIT - These acronyms stand for hard-to-pronounce 21- and 27-letter names, respectively. So, you can imagine that they are complex chemicals. What you may see on labels are Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone. They are often mixed together to maximize their antibacterial properties, but that is also when they are most likely to trigger an allergic reaction and irritate the skin.
BHT / BHA - Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are synthetic preservatives typically used in very small amounts of 0.02% or less in personal care products. International animal tests have indicated that these preservatives may interfere with hormone function, damage organ tissue cells, and break down essential vitamins in the body. Various studies have suggested that it is a possible human carcinogen.
Triclosan / Triclocarban - A chemical that got its start in pesticides hardly seems like a prime candidate for a skin-friendly preservative. Potential effects of triclosan include compromising your immune system, causing hormonal imbalances, and impacting thyroid function. Another troubling indication is that it may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is a public health concern whether we are directly exposed to this chemical or not.
Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Releasers - Best known as a preservative for non-living things (like in taxidermy or mummification), formaldehyde and its various vehicles do a good job of restricting the growth of bacteria and mold, but also offer carcinogenic properties, irritate the skin, cause damage to the brain, and exacerbate asthma and allergies.
It may be more helpful to think of formaldehyde releasers as “formaldehyde concealers” since they have names like quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin and diazolydinal urea, making them tough to spot on ingredient labels, but still manage to sneak in the harmful substance.
There are also other so-called natural or food-grade preservatives, such as, sodium benzoate, benzyl alcohol, potassium sorbate, resorcinol, and boric acid. Just because something is natural, it does not make it safer. Studies on these ingredients have shown toxic or allergenic affects, and classified them as irritants, even in low doses1. In some cases, EU and Japan have found them unsafe for use in cosmetics and banned them.
Our Clean Act
It is important to stay informed about the known and suspected harm each ingredient can do to the health of your skin — and everything within it.
Given the shelf-life, multi-use packaging, and water content of most skin care products, it’s not possible for most brands to be preservative-free. However, at LightWater, our team of skincare experts and dermatologists developed patent-pending, preservative-free, fresh, and truly clean formulations. In fact, scientific tests show our products are microbiome-safe, meaning they do not disturb the delicate balance of the skin microbiome, unlike preserved skincare products. Our breakthrough, patent-pending innovation means we make the only skincare that doesn’t need to rely on preservatives for safe and hygienic products. We use ultra-pure sterile water and package our formulas in individual doses, so they don’t need preservatives. The concept is similar to individual preservative-free eye drops. Our sourcing, processing, and manufacturing criteria go beyond common industry practices to ensure we maintain our high quality standards with every batch we make. Additionally, our products are carefully tested by independent laboratories along the way – from the manufacturing stage to the finished product and even during an extended use period – to ensure they are consistently clean, hygienic, and free of all germs.
LightWater believes in healthy ingredients for healthy skin. The negative health effect of the above preservatives and cumulative, chronic exposure to even seemingly safe ones are the reasons LightWater insists on being 100% preservative-free and on the freshness and purity of our products and ingredients. From our formulations to our single-dose packaging and direct-to-consumer delivery structure, LightWater’s entire model is built around avoiding all preservatives completely, as well as avoiding any other concerning chemicals. From the start, we made the decision not to use any ingredients that are even suspected of having harmful effects. We categorically exclude all such chemicals, and we carefully examine our ingredients for impurities or residual contamination. When it comes to your health, we do not take any risks.
LightWater Multivitamin Moisturizer and Replenishing Cream come in individual packages so that each application is like using brand-new, freshly formulated skincare. This means you’re getting not only preservative-free and pure skincare, but that each skin-beneficial ingredient is still fresh and functioning at its peak performance, for the best possible skin results.
Live clean. Be healthy.