We’re not sure if we’re getting a bit more cynical over here, more educated, or perhaps a little bit of both. We talk about the skin care industry as this giant ever-changing force of good, trusting that each year our dedication to clean beauty will force the big players to change their ways, and we can finally put on a moisturizer that doesn’t have Urea in it (yeah, we’ll get to that later). As we trickle into the New Year, skin care remains at the forefront of the personal care industry and - is projected to reach USD 200.25 billion by 2026; that’s a lot of super yachts. You might be wondering where I’m going with this, and if this rant was semi brought on at 3 AM after packing Black Friday orders last week, which might be partially accurate. The truth is, I had strolled into my local beauty outlet a few days ago and received a few samples of skin care from a rather large brand – who doesn’t love free samples?! So a face cream, a cleanser, and an acne treatment walk into a bar… every single one of these products contained formaldehyde releasers, silicones, and artificial colours numbered with “dye no.7” …etc. This all got me thinking:
Why on earth are the same companies designed to better the health of our skin using ingredients that do the opposite?
The short answer- cost effective preservation and aesthetics. But before we go any further, we should come up with some ground rules.
1. Preservatives ARE needed in skin care
Preservatives in cosmetics prevent bacteria from growing. They do this by killing microbe cells and/or creating an environment where it’s difficult for bacteria to spread. If you don’t want bacteria, fungi, mold, and other microbes in your moisturizer, you may want to rethink your stance on carefully selected preservatives.
While preservative-free or “all-natural” skin care products are on the rise, almost all skin care products need preservatives because of the water content. The presence of water makes it possible for waterborne bacteria to contaminate the whole product. Since water is typically the first ingredient in hydrating skin care products, a preserving agent is necessary to protect the product from bacteria.
2. Antioxidants are NOT preservatives
Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and other antioxidants are commonly marketed as natural preservatives, but this isn’t the truth. Their function is to combat oxidative stress, which occurs when there are more free radicals than antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants in skin care fight against oxidation, but antioxidants don’t prevent bacteria from spoiling cosmetics.
Keep antioxidants in your skin care routine, but don’t rely on them as natural preservatives in your cosmetics.
Alright soldier – now that we’ve got those down pact, it’s important to understand the problem, and why this is still happening. There are 1,328 chemicals banned in the EU attributed to cancers, birth defects, genetic mutation, and more. In comparison, Canada has banned just 500 chemicals with the same potential risks, leaving a nice 828 questionable ingredients for a consumer to try and decipher on their own, oh the joy.
Many of these ingredients are simply more accessible, easier to mass produce and cheaper to incorporate than preservatives that fall within the EU’s top standards of preserved products. Something else to consider is shelf life. Massive companies aren’t making face creams on their coffee tables and rely on massive vats in enormous warehouses to fulfill minimum order quantities in the millions. Between splitting shipments for retailers, their own consumers and large-scale marketing ventures, quantities of this level require a whole lot of $$ to safely preserve and keep stable for a long time. That’s a lot of precious cargo that would be a huge financial loss should the product succumb to its environment. The “in between the lines” comment here is that safer preservatives don’t always have the same shelf life as those produced more synthetically, and large companies don’t want to spend more money on smaller batch sizing to accommodate this.
Alternatively, many companies don’t want to drop more of their budget into things deemed not profit conducing (so they think) and are keen to splurge on “hero ingredients” for their products which can be successfully marketed to increase margins. In fairness, you probably wouldn’t be keen to purchase a product with a marketing campaign focussed solely on natural preservatives, but there is a balance.
The means to create natural products and successfully market them is there, it
has been for a while, and it is now, more than ever. Hell, we see it every day in our small business world, regular people wanting more for their skin and sacrificing profits to be pillars for the good fight. The reluctancy of the big guys to follow suit stems from the fact many of these questionable ingredients are technically deemed safe in smaller percentages, and companies are quick to jump on these cheaper alternatives. We also must understand that legislation is probably not spending their Sunday nights painting on face masks and doing their weekly chemical peel, and there is a disconnect between the importance of a crackdown on these ingredients in the industry they represent. Seems we might need more skin care lobbyists ;)
While the world slowly gets this sorted, I’ve put together your preservative survival guide to ensure you’re doing right by your skin. P.S – All Truly Lifestyle Products use only ingredients suggested on this list, and none of the bad stuff. We’re fighting the good fight, too.