With every news cycle, it seems there's a new warning in the world of harmful ingredients in personal care products. Last month, The New York Times reported on methylisothiazolinone (MI), a preservative you might find in everything from baby care wipes to lotions to sunscreen to mouthwash. This ingredient has been known to cause highly allergic reactions among children and adults — so much so that manufacturers are scrambling to reformulate their products that contain it.
Until I began making my own products, I was quite ignorant in the variety, importance and range of preservatives in body care products. When I made my own soaps and lotions, I'd use them immediately so there was no need for preservatives. But once I began making products for companies that needed a longer shelf life, I learned about the importance, range and safety of preservatives.
So, what is a preservative and why are they so important in beauty products?
A preservative deters the growth of bacteria, yeast and mold, and prevents chemical change in the product over time. There are more chemical preservatives (like MI) than natural ones because natural ones tend to expire sooner. Preservatives are essential in skin and hair care products for stability, odor, appearance, texture and most importantly, safety. Companies are always looking for a way to extend the shelf life of their products and without preservatives, cosmetic products can become contaminated, leading to product spoilage and possibly irritation or infections.
The top five most popular preservatives in personal care products are: