Preservative Ingredients

What Is It?

Preservatives are natural or man-made ingredients designed to help ensure the safety and quality of products by protecting them against the growth of microorganisms during storage and, most importantly, during use by consumers. Any product that contains water is susceptible to being spoiled by the growth of fungi, yeast or bacteria, which could cause problems such as mold, discoloration, unpleasant smell or breakdown of the product.

DID YOU KNOW:  That some plants and fruits naturally contain preservatives identical to those used in cosmetics and personal care products?

Why Is It Used?

Bacteria, yeasts and fungi are naturally present on our skin, in the air around us and even in the water we drink. Without preservatives, cosmetic and personal care products, just like food, could spoil. As cosmetic products are used, they come in contact with the skin and applicators that contact the skin, thus potentially exposing the product to bacteria and fungi.  Microbial growth in products, especially those used around the eyes and on the skin, can cause significant health problems such as irritation or infection. Preservatives help to prevent such problems.

Are Preservatives Important?

Safety Information

For nearly 100 years, preservatives have been safely used in cosmetic and personal care products to prevent the growth of fungi, bacteria and yeast that could cause products to spoil or cause adverse health effects such as skin or eye infections.  It is the responsibility of product manufacturers to ensure that the preservatives used, like any cosmetic ingredient, are safe prior to being placed in a marketed product.  This is a responsibility that cosmetic and personal care product companies take very seriously.

How is preservative safety ensured?

The safety of individual preservatives may be established in several ways.  One way is to have them evaluated by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel.  The CIR Expert Panel is an independent, non-profit scientific body that was initiated by the Personal Care Products Council (the Council) at the suggestion and with the support of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) to assess the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics in the U.S. The CIR thoroughly reviews and assesses the safety of ingredients used in cosmetic and personal care products in an open, unbiased, and expert manner and publishes the results of its work in peer-reviewed scientific literature.  FDA, CFA and the Council provide non-voting liaisons to the Expert Panel and actively contribute to the comment and discussion process.  Members of the Expert Panel must meet the same conflict of interest requirements regarding financial interests as special non-government advisory experts to FDA.

The CIR Expert Panel has reviewed the safety of the preservatives that are most commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products.  Their reviews considered all of the scientific data available, including data that is published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature as well as unpublished information provided from other sources, such as preservative manufacturers.  The CIR Expert Panel final reports are published in the scientific literature and posted on the CIR website.

The CIR conclusions provide guidance for formulation of safe cosmetics and personal care products.  Over time, if new data becomes available that could potentially impact the safe use of a previously reviewed preservative, the CIR will determine if it is necessary to re-open their review to consider new data.

In addition to the CIR, the safety of preservatives has been considered by other authoritative bodies. The FDA has assessed the safety of  preservativeingredients that are used in foods and drugs. Many of these same preservatives are also used in cosmetics and personal care products. FDA safety assessments are included in public announcements describing the information the Agency considered, as well as its determinations on the conditions that must be met for the safe and effective use of the preservatives.

The EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety [SCCS] also reviews the safety of cosmetic preservatives.  Like the CIR, the SCCS considers all of the available data from the peer-reviewed scientific literature and information provided through other sources, such as cosmetic product and preservative manufacturers. The SCCS then issues opinions concerning the safe use of cosmetic preservatives.  The European Commission (EC) uses the SCCS opinions to establish the conditions under which these ingredients may be used, which become part of the EU Cosmetics Regulation.

You can find more about specific preservatives by searching this website using the preservative name found on the product label.

Test Your Knowledge:

How much do you really know about preservatives in cosmetics? Take this quiz from Cosmetics Europe to find out! It can also help you learn the answers to any questions you might still have.

Cosmetic Products Preservation: How Much Do You Know?