Out of the gate, we all know that preservatives found in food should be avoided, shouldn’t the same be said for the preservatives found in skincare products?

The short answer is no. Many skincare products require preservatives to keep them stable and to make them safe for use, but not all skincare preservatives are healthy, and you’ll want to avoid the nasty ones.

If a skincare product contains water or water-based ingredients, it needs a preservative (natural or synthetic) for stability and safety. The only skincare products formulated without water are anhydrous products (anhydrous means “without water”) and these are made from plant oils, butter, and waxes. A product that contains water and has no preservatives will quickly become mouldy with bacteria and microbial growth (YUK)!

There are some anhydrous products that can become contaminated if they come in contact with water during use, wet fingers can introduce water to the formulation, opening the door to microbial growth if there is no preservative added to keep it stable.


Skincare preservatives can be synthetic or natural, but a lot of synthetic preservatives are known to be irritating to skin and are considered toxic as they can cause long-term health issues.

Parabens (Butylparaben, Methylparaben and Propylparaben)

The most widely used preservatives in cosmetics, skincare and personal care products, parabens have been linked to health issues including reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and skin irritation.

Diazolidinyl urea and Imidazolidinyl urea

These antimicrobial preservatives release formaldehyde. Studies have shown both can trigger health problems including eye and skin irritation, and respiratory issues if inhaled.

Benzalkonium chloride

A known eye and skin irritant, benzalkonium chloride has also been linked to organ damage and issues with the lymphatic system.


Triclosan (TCS) is an antibacterial and antifungal agent used as a preservative in antibacterial soaps and body washes, some cosmetics, and toothpaste, they can cause health risks if used over a long period of time.


Below is a list of safer alternatives, that are “nature identical” options, but are sythesised in laboratories.

Natural phenethyl alcohol

Phenethyl alcohol is an all-natural preservative derived from corn. It has antimicrobial functions against bacteria, fungi, yeast, and mould.

Benzyl alcohol

Benzyl alcohol is an almond-scented, aromatic alcohol and is an approved preservative under the COSMOS Organic Certification criteria

Phenoxyethanol (PE)

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative naturally occurring in green tea and chicory. As a “nature identical” chemical, it’s synthetically re-created in a lab for cosmetic / commercial purposes.

Caprylyl glycol

An alcohol derived from a fatty acid caprylyl glycol offers both humectant benefits (drawing moisture to the skin) and preservative-like properties.

A safer option than traditional preservatives, such as parabens or those that release formaldehyde, caprylyl glycol is derived from the natural fatty acid found in palm and coconut oils. It also helps increase the antimicrobial activity of other preservatives.

To help you decode the good preservatives from the bad, The Environmental Working Group website allows you to run product ingredients through their database to assess where they sit on their ratings list, which is broken down into the following criteria: cancer / allergies and immunotoxicity / developmental and reproductive toxicity / use restrictions.