When I began to create my own skincare products, I wanted to keep the ingredients really simple–mostly because back then I didn’t really know what I was doing! I knew how to melt butters and waxes, add oils, add essential oils, and call it a day. Later on, when I learned?more complex formulations like gels and emulsions, I still strived to keep ingredients as simple as possible.
Even though I knew my products were amazing (I had countless students and private clients tell me they were the best they’d ever used), I always wondered if I was missing something in keeping the formulas so simple. After all, weren’t the higher-end?natural skincare products full of magical blends of botanical extracts and antioxidants and even?ingredients like plant stem cells? I had access to these ingredients, but?I was cautious–and I also figured that since the products already worked so well, why complicate matters?
My curiosity eventually got the best of me though and I began to research different natural active ingredients, vitamins, and extracts. While I was grateful to find that many were certified organic, I found that many weren’t. I was also reminded about something I’d learned back in aesthetics school that I had forgotten:
Just because a natural skincare product claims to be preservative-free doesn’t mean that the ingredients in the product are preservative-free.
This is really important information for anyone who buys skincare products under the assumption that they’re all-natural, organic, or preservative-free.?Though a company might not add extra preservatives to the formulation of the product, the individual natural ingredients themselves likely already contain a preservative of some kind–and that’s something that doesn’t always have to be disclosed on a product label, since cosmetics aren’t closely regulated in the United States.
Think about it–if you bought a preservative-free berry masque, wouldn’t you wonder why the supposed “berries” in the product remain intact?
I’ve been to countless spa trade shows?where “organic” skincare companies have a gorgeous assortment of colorful gels and masques out on a table that smell like the fruits or vegetables that they claim to be made from–with no added preservatives (or at least no “chemical” preservatives) on the labels. How is this possible? If you were to puree some berries in your blender at home, put them in a jar and leave them out for a few days, they’d start to ferment and it’s likely that pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and fungi would grow in that jar.
Fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other natural and botanical ingredients are perishable.
To be usable in a shelf-stable skincare product, they either need to be dehydrated and powdered, have their nutrients isolated in a lab, or made into an oil or water-soluble extract, infusion, or tincture. These liquid mixtures often consist of a carrier oil, vegetable glycerin, and some sort of preservative–often phenoxyethanol, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, ethanol, ethylhexylglycerin, or something from the paraben family. They might also contain glycols and other types of additives. However since these ingredients are used in such small percentages (usually 1-5% of the total product), the preservatives, vehicles, and other functional ingredients of the extract are left off the finished product’s label.
This isn’t always the case–some companies label their products according to INCI guidelines and most ingredient suppliers provide the correct labeling verbiage–but an everyday consumer would likely never know this information.
Why does it matter?
I think it matters for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I believe consumers have a right to know what’s in the products they purchase for themselves and their families. This includes tiny amounts of functional ingredients as well as what’s in synthetic fragrances (though that’s nothing a consumer ever will know). Just like with cooking, the only way to know for sure what’s in your skincare products is to make them yourself.?That way you get to choose the type and source of your ingredients. If an ingredient is preserved with a safer preservative, you can choose that over one that contains something with a higher risk factor. And just like with GMOs, I believe we should get to choose whether we want to use certain ingredients or not.
Secondly, while not all preservatives and functional ingredients are harmful, some (like parabens and glycols) definitely have been liked to allergic and irritant reactions as well as more serious health risks. These ingredients have the potential to accumulate in the body and cause damage to various?organs and systems of the body.
Third, even if it’s not intentional on the company’s part, it’s false advertising.?If you’re purchasing a product because you don’t see an ingredient like phenoxyethanol on the label, but have no way of knowing that an extract in the product contains phenoxyethanol, I think that’s a bit of an issue.
After several years of formulating my own products, I can tell you that honestly?not all of these “magic” extracts are all that they’re cracked up to be. Like I said at the top of this article, my products are very effective without the extracts. Most of the ingredients I use naturally contain high concentrations of antioxidants, healthy fats, essential oils, and other beneficial and therapeutic ingredients that don’t contain or require any preservatives. While there are some extracts and powder actives I do like and use regularly now (like the organic cucumber extract in the photo) I can tell you for certain that I believe many?are optional.
To be clear, some natural skincare companies–especially small artisan skincare makers like my friend Jennifer Devlin-Waller of Celtic Complexion do a beautiful job and really care that their customers know exactly what’s in their products. But I have to tell you, these are rare finds.
I have a solution to this problem–my new online course, Create Your Skincare?!
This course has been a long time coming, but it’s HERE and it’s enrolling right now! Watch the video below or at http://youtu.be/J3BfYloGoG0 to learn a bit more about why I make my own products and how I can teach you to design your own custom products for luminous skin.
Then jump on over to www.createyourskincare.com and enroll today!
*The extracts in images 3 and 4 are from MakingCosmetics.com.