Preservative Alternatives

People used natural preservatives for centuries before the invention of synthetic alternatives. But now, after years of parabens, phalthates and sulfates, many consumers are turning back to these natural options. Driven by a growing consumer demand for a lessening of the chemical load on the body, natural beauty brands are continually on the hunt for alternatives to synthetic preservatives.

“You don’t need all the stuff that’s in there,” says Richard Eyre, co-founder of the Versante beauty product line. Versante uses grapefruit seed extract as a natural antimicrobial to destroy bacteria, which helps preserve a product by keeping it free of unwanted microorganisms. Other popular natural options include antioxidants as found in ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and tocopherol (vitamin E) to reduce oxidation—a major factor in decomposition. Citric acid, salt, sugar, rosemary extract and neem oil are a few more options, although there are many more.

In fact, many naturally occurring substances have antimicrobial properties. “These materials tend to be more organism-specific and have color and odor issues that are not found in synthetically produced preservatives,” says Schülke Inc.’s Linda Sedlewicz. Also, because they are natural, growing cycles and other environmental variations can have a significant effect on natural preservatives’ activity level. So not all ingredients are possible or practical in natural form.

An alternative that is finding increasing acceptance, however, is the use of nature-identical substances. “These synthetic materials are chemically identical to materials found in nature,” explains Sedlewicz. But the activity level, color and odor can often be more easily standardized. For example, Schülke’s Sensiva PA 20 contains nature-identical phenethyl alcohol, a fragrance component found in many essential oils. The antimicrobial activity of this material is boosted by the addition of ethylhexylglycerin, similar to a class of substances found naturally in the liver of certain sea creatures. Being biodegradable and sustainably manufactured, Sensiva PA 20 provides effective preservation to products without harming any living creature.

However, diehards may contend that natural means the ingredient is found in nature and not subjected to synthetic processing. Currently, the natural preservatives that work well are citrus-based, and not much progress has been made in this arena during the past decade. Natural substances that show antimicrobial activity often are not adequate, or they have undesirable qualities for beauty products. Others, such as essential oils, require very high concentrations to be effective, and many can become inactivated by manufacturing procedures and other factors. “The bottom line is they don’t work as well as synthetic preservatives, but you really can’t have a natural product and still have synthetic preservatives,” says Darrin Duber-Smith, president of Green Marketing, Inc. “At least not with a straight face.”

Another issue is that materials must be listed on the European Cosmetic Directive Annex VI in order to be considered a preservative, according to Lonza’s Juliana Rumbaugh. Lonza is an international ingredient supplier that offers next-generation preservatives, such as its nature-based Geogard product line, and ones that meet the criteria for many organizations such as EcoCert, Cosmos, NaTrue and the Soil Association. Lonza also offers natural protection systems. Biovert and Black Willow Extract, for example, provide a function in beauty products as well as offer a subsidiary antimicrobial effect. These natural options are not listed on the Annex VI, however, and therefore are not considered to be preservatives.

“The answer to preservation lies not in the ingredients but in the packaging,” says Duber-Smith. An example of this is Taiki Group’s EcoG+, an antimicrobial resin that was recently used to develop packaging for an antimicrobial mascara product. The use of this packaging material helped eliminate preservatives from the mascara’s formula.

Ultimately, the enemies of organic material are oxygen and light, and while most packaging systems address the light issue, many are now looking at a more vacuum-type design that can help to negate the destabilizing effects of oxygen. “Thus, no need for fancy preservatives,” Duber-Smith explains.

Raw material suppliers continue to focus R&D effort on innovations, however. SabiLize New is Sabinsa’s proprietary blend of natural ingredients, comprising essential oil fractions and extracts with potential antimicrobial and antioxidant activities with proven preservative efficacy for stabilizing cosmetic product formulations. “SabiLize New has a proven preservative efficacy and is comparable to parabens at concentrations of 0.5% in cream formulations,” says Sabinsa’s Shaheen Majeed.

Larger R&D budgets naturally will result in more innovation on both the ingredient and the packaging fronts. “Preservation will remain a key issue in natural personal care for years to come,” concludes Duber-Smith.