Preservatives are one of the controversial ingredients used in wellness products. For most people, its synonymous with Parabens. For others, presence of a nature-derived/synthetic preservative in natural formulations is confusing. And ultimately there is also some fear-mongering marketing by brands that sell only anhydrous formula, or use a specific blend for preservation that can be claimed as 'preservative -free'.
Are preservatives needed? YES.
- A preservative protects the formula, the consumer and the business.
- Preservation in natural formulations is even more necessary. These natural ingredients provide microorganisms with nutritious food, water and a conducive environment to thrive.
- Any formula that contains water, needs to be preserved.
What is not a preservative
- Glycerin : Glycerin makes a self preserving formula, ONLY IF its more than 50% in it.
- Vitamin E : Its an antioxidant. It can save your oil based(anhydrous) formula from going rancid by inhibiting the oxidative damage. But, it can't protect a water based product.
- Rosemary Extract : Again, an antioxidant.
In personal care products, we make use of Hurdle Technology to preserve a formula.
To colonise, a micro-organism needs: Water, Source of energy (food), Source of nitrogen, Vitamins & related growth factors, Minerals/trace metals.
With hurdle technology, a number of challenges are provided that microbes cant overcome. These are:
- Good manufacturing practices
- pH- Microbes cant survive at alkaline pH. A soap, that has a pH of ~10, doesn't need any preservation, even though it comes in contact with water. Correct pH range can also boost a preservative's efficiency.
- Reducing available water - a reason why brands sell their face masks etc in dry powder form
- Packaging - Airless pumps, squeezey tubes reduce chances of contamination.
- Using Anti-microbial ingredients - commonly known as preservatives. These are synergistic blend that have broad-spectrum Anti-microbial activities.
Basically, preservative compounds are just one of many aspect of a preservation system.