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What Are Preservatives and Why Are They Used in Cosmetic Products?

by wedo_act


Different sized bottles labelled as 'preservatives'

As the ingredients and origins of products become more widely discussed in the consumer space, it can be tricky to navigate which personal care and cosmetic products to choose. This no doubt leads to questions…

You might possibly be wondering if silicone-free products are the right route for you? Maybe you want to know more about the impact of microplastics before purchasing your essential care products? Or perhaps you’ve heard the phrase ‘free-from preservatives’ and wish to know more?

If that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place.

Here, we explore preservatives and why they are used in cosmetic products like haircare. You’ll gain an understanding of the products that need preservatives to function safely, as well as the ones that don’t. Let’s get started.

Back of model's head. She has long, straight blonde hair

What Are Preservatives?

Preservatives are put into numerous items we use daily including food, cosmetics, and personal care products, like shampoos, conditioners, and skincare.

They are an important safety measure, that prevents the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mould. Since cosmetic products often contain water and are stored in warm, humid conditions, it would be easy for products to get contaminated and cause irritations or infections – preservatives stop this outcome and allow for safe usage.

weDo/ Professional hair care product being poured onto a clean white surface

What Are Some Common Preservatives Used in Cosmetics?

The number and concentration of preservatives used in haircare products are limited and strictly regulated by regional cosmetics directives.

weDo/ products contain between 86% to 99.7% of natural origin ingredients. The remainder is made up of synthetic ingredients, the majority of which are necessary for preservation. The concentration of preservatives we use is carefully chosen to ensure the right level of microbiological protection of the product past its life span.

Three small bottles pictured next to the phenoxyethanol chemical compound

One very common preservative family used in cosmetic products is parabens. Parabens are highly effective preservatives that have been safely used in numerous foods, drugs and cosmetics for many years. Parabens and their breakdown products are naturally found in plants, fruits and vegetables. 

Parabens are some of the most thoroughly tested cosmetic and food ingredients in the world. Their general safety has been confirmed by independent experts and regulatory authorities around the world, including the EU Commission, Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), the US Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, some studies claim that using a high quantity of parabens might be harmful and due to the prevalence of parabens, many ingredient-conscious clients prefer to avoid them.   

Parabens have alternatives that help to preserve formulas. One of these is phenoxyethanol, another common preservative used in cosmetic products. Phenoxyethanol is scientifically proven to be a safe and highly effective preservative by authoritative scientific experts in the United States and Europe, particularly in mild formulations. It is usually synthesized for commercial use, but it can also be found naturally in materials such as green tea or chicory.

We use phenoxyethanol, alongside other widely used preservatives, to maintain the high quality of weDo/ products and ensure consumer safety – which should never be compromised. 

Open pot of weDo/ Professional Moisture & Shine Hair Mask for normal or damaged hair

Do All Cosmetics Require Preservatives?

While it is commonplace for cosmetics like haircare to contain preservatives, there are some product exceptions. The reason for this is simply due to the stability of product formulas – mainly ones that do not contain a high water content and have a high alcohol or oil content.

A selection of weDo/ products, including our No Plastic Shampoo Bars, Detangler Spray and Natural Hair Oil, are free-from preservatives because their formulation is stable enough without the need for extra preservative measures.

weDo/ Professional Natural Hair Oil bottle pictured next to green foliage

In products with high water content, such as shampoos, conditioners and hair masks, preservatives are crucial to guarantee good, stable, and safe product performance for the whole of a product’s shelf life.

Preservatives might be the most efficient way to prevent bacteria from growing. Still, it’s always important to refer to your product labels to check how long the contents are good to use after opening. Look out for the open tub displaying a number – like 6 M or 12 M - to find out how many months your cosmetic product will perform at its best.

weDo/ Professional Moisture & Shine Hair Mask pictured next to the Rich & Repair and Light & Soft Hair Masks

Looking to practice more sustainable shopping habits? View all weDo/’s naturally derived, vegan hair care products – including our luscious Hair Oil, must-have Detangler Spray and plastic-free Shampoo Bars. Not sure which products are right for you? Take our hair quiz to find out!

Model holds the weDo/ Professional Moisture & Shine No Plastic Shampoo Bar behind her head

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