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Preservatives & Cosmetics: What Exactly Is In Our Makeup?

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Several of the preservatives allowed in cosmetics are now undergoing reappraisal. A significant number of them are currently being reassessed and should see new limitations. Premium Beauty News interviewed Bertrand L'Homme, CEO of the Thor Personal Care Company, a specialist in the microbiological protection of cosmetic formulations, on the consequences for the industry. Check out what he had to say about this alarming new trend:

What are preservatives? What are the alternative options?

A preservative is defined as a natural or synthetic substance, whose main function is to protect the product against the development of microorganisms. These "alternatives" consist in using substances that do not have as a primary function to protect the product, but yet also have this characteristic. From my point of view, if we only use so-called alternative substances featuring secondary preservatives effects to be able to boast preservative-free claims, we might find ourselves in an awkward legal position.

It is true that preservatives get a lot of bad press?

Indeed there are an increasing number of products claiming being "preservative-free." In some markets, like Korea, it has almost become a standard. But in practice, what is underlying behind these claims? Most often, the use of so-called "alternative" substances that are not officially listed as preservatives, but have a similar effect.

Cosmetics Europe has asked manufacturers to stop using Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) in leave-on cosmetics. For its part, the European Commission should soon limit their use. What will be the consequences of these actions?

The first consequence is that this substance will be removed from the market. Especially since other countries will follow the European example. Without prejudging the European decisions, we can legitimately anticipate that MIT will no longer be used in leave-on products. For rinse-off products, its use will probably be limited. In all cases, this will result, for manufacturers, in a reduction of their room for maneuver, in terms of protection of their formulas against microorganisms. The range of preservatives available being increasingly reduced by regulations.

Today there are more than 50 substances on the list of preservatives authorized in cosmetic products in Europe. In practice, only a dozen are commonly used, and many are in decline or will be limited. On the one hand, this focus on a limited number of substances mechanically increases the risk of allergies and, secondly, it causes a phenomenon of adaptation of microorganisms and the creation of dangerous bio-films in production.

Beyond the legal aspect, isn't there a safety issue too?

In any case we can question ourselves. We don't always have much perspective on these alternatives, which can be used without any concentration limits. We are beginning to see irritation and sensitization issues with substances like sorbic acid or sorbitol. The justification of the positive list of preservatives is the control of these substances. To place a preservative on the market, robust files must be provided. We don't always have as many guarantees with the alternatives. But we must also recognize that today, the ban on animal testing has complicated things. In this context, presenting a scientific file for a new preservative is almost impossible, legally and technically speaking. This partly explains the drift of giving another main function to an ingredient with preservative properties.

So, what are your recommendations?

First, we recommend our customers to continue using the available and legal molecules. Then to sparingly and cautiously test alternative substances. From a legal point of view and from the point of view of technical efficiency and of safety, the soundest solution is to keep on using a preservative listed in formulas and, if required, to boost it with a non-listed substance.

Finally, more generally, I think that the protection should be adapted to the real needs of the formula and diversified. The need for protection of each formula must be assessed; this is also part of the services we offer.

The market has trapped itself. I am personally convinced that parabens will make their return.

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