Developing paraben-free preservative systems

Every cosmetic scientist knows that antimicrobial substances are inherently “unfriendly” chemicals. They are necessary to destroy or limit growth of micro-organisms but such properties mean a potential for harmful effects on human skin cells or other less well understood consequences. Thus, there is always a risk vs. benefit debate, as there is for every chemical class used in cosmetic formulations.

Many of the 57 approved preservatives on EU Annex V fall into one of the categories of anti-microbials where there are concerns. MIT is the latest preservative to be restricted to rinse off use only in the EU. Parabens and formaldehyde donors have come under fire from the regulatory authorities and the media, with some of the longer chain parabens facing a potential ban in Europe.

Whilst some major multi-nationals and smaller companies alike, face reformulating large numbers of products to milder systems, this becomes an even more complex issue when sustainability and a drive towards more natural formulations are factored in to the equation.

When developing natural cosmetics, preservation is still a major technical hurdle for formulators. They need materials that provide cost-effective, preservative systems with reliable activity for a wide range of formulation types. Although various alternative preservatives exist, they are sometimes lacking in performance, certainly over a wide pH range. Furthermore, at necessary dosage levels, prices of alternative materials are typically multiples of that e.g. for parabens or other conventional options. The major issue thus holding back the development of natural-based preservatives is the one of affordable cost. Plant derived materials will also always be limited by availability of sufficient crops to satisfy demand. The added complexity of achieving natural / organic certification, where required, is another hurdle to overcome for natural brands.

The question is – will the future be any safer if cosmetics are preservative-free, paraben-free, naturally preserved or self-preserving? Hopefully, products will simply be optimally preserved but how?

The workshop leader, Judi Beerling, Organic Monitor’s Technical Research Manager has many years’ experience in product formulation. She provides technical research, consulting and training on natural & organic / green raw material selection and product formulation techniques, to a variety of clients worldwide.
Judi Beerling will be presenting a workshop entitled ‘Developing paraben-free preservative systems’ at in-cosmetics in Hamburg on Tuesday 1 April 2014 from 13:00. Book your place now!

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