Why “Preservative-Free” Skincare is Total B.S.

At No B.S., we’re all about clean, non-toxic ingredients. But, we’re NOT about the scare tactics that a lot of “natural” skincare companies use to get you to buy their products. Unfortunately, many clean beauty brands fatten their bank accounts by convincing women to be terrified of entire categories of ingredientslike preservatives.

The truth is that preservatives are a necessary part of almost all skincare products, even ones that claim to be “preservative-free.” Here’s everything you need to know about the anti-preservative scare tactic and what you should really look for on skincare labels.

Why You Need Preservatives In Your Skincare

We have one word for you, fam: MOLD. Just like your leftovers will get moldy after you forget them in the fridge for a week, without preservatives your skincare would be hairier than your dad’s back. Skincare formulas are damp and kept at a relatively warm temperature in your bathroom. That’s the perfect environment for all kinds of bacteria to make a happy home. Preservatives prevent bacteria from growing inside your face cream, and that’s a good thing.

It should go without saying that you don’t want to use products crawling with bacterial contamination because they could cause all sorts of health problems and skin reactions. Skincare companies don’t want you to use contaminated products either, because that would open them up to liability. Which brings us to our next point...

Why Most “Preservative-Free” Skincare Is Total B.S.

First, a little science lesson. Bacteria loves water more than Michael Phelps on a hot day. Very few microbes can live in water-free environments, which is why pure beauty oils usually don’t need to have preservatives added. But, if your product contains even a little bit of water, it needs a preservative to keep bacteria from throwing a party.

Unless you’re using completely oil-based products, there’s probably more than one preservative in your beauty regimen. Many natural skincare products claim to be “preservative-free.” And yet, their products aren’t crawling with microbes. How you ask? Because they DO use preservatives, they just use preservatives that aren’t commonly thought of as preservatives.

Many rely on ingredients like vitamin C (a personal fave of ours) to inhibit bacterial growth. Vitamin C is an amazing ingredient, but if it’s being used to keep bacteria down, it’s technically a preservative. Same with grapefruit seed extract; great natural ingredient, but also a preservative. Claiming that these products are 100% preservative-free is 100% B.S.

Misleading marketing tactics like this are a problem because they make us scared of our skincare instead of empowered to figure out what’s right for us.

Preservatives You Should Avoid

While some natural skincare companies have taken the whole preservative-free thing a little too far, preservatives got a bad rap in the first place because there are some toxic preservatives that you should avoid. The #1 nasty culprits are parabens, a class of bacteria-busting ingredients associated with endocrine disruption, carcinogenic concerns, and other shady side effects. Steer clear of products that list butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben on their ingredients lists.

Another no-no preservative family is formaldehyde-releasers. These ingredients, when combined with the water inside your product, release small amounts of formaldehyde (AKA embalming fluid) over time. Formaldehyde, while super effective at preventing bacterial growth, is also super carcinogenic. Two of the most common formaldehyde-releasers are DMDM hydantoin and imidazolidinyl urea. For a full list of ingredients to avoid, check out this article from the Environmental Working Group.

Preservatives To Look For Instead

Preservatives are generally listed at the end of an ingredient list, so look there first to get an idea of what’s keeping your skincare free of bacterial buggies. Here at No B.S., we use a combination of natural preservatives and safe, synthetic preservatives to stop bacteria.

We use vitamin C as a natural preservative (shoutout to our Vitamin C & E Serum which is packed with the good stuff), plus two other main preservatives that we think are the best: phenoxyethanol and ethylhexylglycerin. These ingredients are two of the most effective preservatives next to parabens, but a lot safer for you. Both are non-irritating when used at low levels. Plus, both ingredients play nice with other skincare ingredients and don’t act weird when exposed to air or light. This helps our products stay stable, even after you open the jar or bottle a million times. You can check out more about phenoxyethanol’s safety rating on the EWG’s site here, and ethylhexylglycerin’s safety rating here. 

If you take one thing away from the post, let it be this: preservatives are not all bad. They have a purpose- mainly, to keep your skincare free from some serious nastiness. Do your research, learn about ingredients and leave the bullshit behind. Ain’t nobody got time to be scared of their skincare.

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