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Shelf Life: The Future of Preservatives

By: Nancy Jeffries
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the August 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

The industry may be in for further evaluation, as well as increased costs, as the new Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) protocol is having repercussions throughout the industry.

Personal care products must be functional, aesthetically pleasing and safe. Particularly when it comes to formulations to be used directly on skin, consumers don’t want to be faced with products that have separated, have broken down, or possibly could contain bacteria or mold. While consumers consistently find a wide variety of choices, with a tantalizing array of descriptive marketing terminology, they increasingly are looking for products that are functional, not frivolous. To protect the integrity of cosmetics and toiletries, and ensure consumer safety, products must be supported by an effective preservative system. Formulators know they need to preserve products to ensure product safety and be in compliance with the U.S. FDA, EU and other international regulations.

“There are several new mixtures of existing preservatives on the market today, but no new preservatives per se,” said David Steinberg, president, Steinberg & Associates, Inc., and the author of Preservatives for Cosmetics, copyright 2006, Allured Publishing. Steinberg notes, however, that there is a bigger issue at the root of the discussion. He says one critical aspect surrounding the question of preservatives for skin care and beyond is the consumer perception of preservatives in general. “There have been repeated attacks on preservatives by environmental groups and non-governmental organizations that, for a variety of reasons, have caused some controversy in this area,” says Steinberg.

All too often, according to Steinberg, the press gets hold of “bad science,” and this causes companies to reformulate. How often do consumers see “paraben-free” or “chemical-free” listed on the labels of their skin care products?

“The terminology alone suggests that the absence of parabens is something positive,” says Steinberg. That begs the question—are parabens dangerous? The answer, according to Steinberg, is parabens are safe. “They have been used since the 1920s, and their injury incidence is almost nil.” The industry is trying to unite to emphasize the safety of parabens and counter the impression that something is wrong with them.