Learn about Skincare's Bad Guys!

Not all beauty products are good for your skin but there are some that are better than others! Face creams normally have water to provide skin hydration, which is great, however, water is also a good media for bacteria growth. This bacteria presence is not detectable by visual or olfactory senses, especially at the early stages.

So, how do we know what face creams are prone to accumulate bacteria and mold?

I love natural, handcrafted products and always avoid chemicals as synthetic preservatives, particularly the ones containing parabens or other risky chemicals. Parabens are believed to disrupt hormone function by mimicking oestrogen, which can trigger an increase in breast cell division and growth of tumours, which is why paraben use has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues. Butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben aka are the most commonly found parabens in skincare products.

On the other hand, it is also risky relying only on sight or smell to know if a handcrafted, preservative-free cream or lotion is safe. If it is made with water, it’s a matter of WHEN bacteria will accumulate there. The picture below shows a face cream with moderate quantity of water and no preservative. This is how it looks 10 days after it was made. Normally it takes days or a few weeks to develop mold and bacteria like this, depending on a combination of some variables including water content, the conditions under it was made (cleanness), and the amount/type of bacteria introduced during regular use.

Handcrafted creams with very low water content tend to last more but they are normally highly greasy, similar to a salve in terms of consistency. They are initially softer when you buy them but they become thicker and harder overtime. 

"Only a lab test can tell you if there is bacteria accumulated or not. One can put 100,000 bacteria into a milliliter of water and the water will appear to the naked eye to be crystal clear and usually won't smell bad. Most cosmetics tested have counts ranging into the tens of thousands or millions of cells per milliliter and have subtle or no aesthetic differences from sterile samples." I would not want to put that on any skin, especially in the presence of cuts or something bacteria can attack easier. Each person is different, what may barely affect some may be riskier for others.

So, how do we choose safe skincare?

There are several misconceptions about  natural "preservatives", some examples are vitamin E, grapefruit seed extract, and rosemary extract which are really antioxidants and not formal preservatives. Some essential oils that can be preservatives but  require high (risky) concentrations to be effective...unfortunately, there is a lot of wishful thinking with lack of science background out there. 

Creams and lotions need a preservative to minimize the risk of bacteria and mold accumulation overtime. Period. Using a broad spectrum, low risk preservative is a better alternative to stay away from parabens AND to prevent rapid bacteria accumulation in your cream or lotion. There are many decent preservatives available now so it's no longer necessary to use parabens!

If you want to know more about this subject, read a detailed article with specific preservative examples at  http://makingskincare.com/preservatives

Patricia Marquis
Chemical Engineer
Owner at Elderflower Botanicals, LLC