If you use all-natural or mainstream skin care products I can guarantee that at least one of the following ingredients are included in the formulation. Some are included because they are good for your skin (Vitamin E) but some are included to act under the false pretence of a preservative and also have hidden and dangerous ingredients (Grapefruit Seed Extract). Here is a run-down of the most popular 'natural' preservatives in skin care today.
Vitamin E is a great addition to skincare products. It is a natural antioxidant with a full spectrum of tocopherols, which will extend the shelf-life of oils. It has high vitamin A content and works great as a skin emollient, and although it can help to extend the shelf life of products it is not a preservative.
Grapefruit Seed Extract was once thought to have broad spectrum coverage, and has become increasingly popular as a 'natural' preservative in skin care. However, it has been found to be laced with preservatives (including parabens) by manufacturers. Knowing that GSE could potentially include parabens is terrifying to me, and I will never use this ingredient in any of my products. Scarily, I have found this ingredient in multiple 'all-natural' and 'organic' skin care products so keep your eyes peeled when reading ingredient lists. So the claim that GSE is a natural preservative is not only false, but it could contain the very preservatives that you are trying most to avoid.
Rosemary Anti-Oxidant is another ingredient added to natural products, and is composed of caprylic/caprict triglycerides. This ingredient is used in various oils to prolong their shelf lives, so although it is a good stabilizing ingredient, it is not a preservative either.
Alcohol is the only all-natural product that has the potential to perform as a preservative, but the jury is still out on how effective it may be. Some studies suggest the product would need to contain up to 60% alcohol for proper preservation. Because alcohol is incredibly astringent, adding it to a leave-on skin product, at any percentage, would create a high potential for causing skin irritation. This is obviously counter-intuitive, as you want your skin care to help your skin, not harm it. Also Benzyl Alcohol, which is a product used in many 'all-natural' products as a preservative and fragrance enhancer, ranks a 5 out of 10 on the EWG website as it has been linked to contact allergies and even neonatal death when used intravascularly. So alcohol is another product that is not safe as a natural preservative or an ingredient in skin care products.
Now there are preservatives approved by Ecocert , which is an organization that has implemented a certification process that assures ingredients are 95% organic. The preservative is called Geoguard ECT and contains 4 ingredients: benzyl alcohol, salicylic acid, glycerin and sorbic acid. I have checked these ingredients individually on the Skin Deep website and although Geoguard ECT does not include parabens or formaldehyde, some of the ingredients rank higher on the hazard list than I am comfortable with. We already know the issues with benzyl alcohol, and sorbic acid rates a 3 out of 10, with the main concern being potential organ system toxicity. So is this a natural preservative? I would technically say no, because most of the ingredients are synthetic and developed in a lab. But it is a preservative, and the only preservative that offers full-spectrum coverage that is also approved for use in natural and organic skin care products. This product is indicated to be effective at 1% of the final product formulation, but if it is effective at such a low percentage amount it makes me wonder how potent, and therefore potentially dangerous, these ingredients actually are.
Although it is disappointing to discover that there are no safe, natural preservatives for skin care products, the great news is that anhydrous lines do exist and, when formulated properly, can do everything (and more) than any product that needs preservatives. Any product with water, or Aloe Vera Gel or Juice in it, requires a full-spectrum preservative which is why you need to embrace oils if you want the cleanest line of skin care available.
I feel that a lot of skin issues are caused by the needless amount of ingredients added to skincare products, and as a consumer you need to be aware of the ingredients in your skin care. Shockingly the government does not protect us against harmful skin care ingredients (future blog post on that coming soon) so what you buy at the drugstore, high-end department store or from a multi-level marketing company are not necessarily safe.
There are a lot of people who have tried products in my line that have seen improvements in dryness, adult acne and overall health of their skin. Perhaps this is due to Juji Skin's limited ingredient profile or use of high quality ingredients. Or it could be because none of my products include preservatives, fillers, or other toxic chemicals. So although I don't have studies to prove that my products can help with various skin issues, the testimonials I get from my customers is enough for me to believe that less is more, especially when it comes to skin care.