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What's in my cosmetic?

Preservatives - in depth 

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Preservatives are ingredients designed to protect products, and so the consumer, against contamination by microorganisms during storage and continued use.

Product safety is the number one priority for the cosmetics industry and we therefore provide products that have been formulated to prevent contamination by microorganisms. Bacteria, yeasts and moulds are always present on our skin, in the air around us and even in the water we drink. These can get into products during normal use. Contamination of products, especially those used around the eyes and on skin, can cause significant problems if the level of contamination is high. Preservatives can prevent these problems by stopping micro-organisms from multiplying in the product.

The use of preservatives is sometimes questioned because it is possible for them to cause skin irritation and allergy in some instances. It is the case that unfortunately someone, somewhere could react to an ingredient used in cosmetic products. However, the cosmetics safety legislation has ensured that cosmetic products are one of the safest classes of consumer products on the market today; and preservatives play an essential role in ensuring that safety by keeping the cosmetics safe for use during the normal life of the product.

preservative film iconView a short film clip to see why preservatives are so important.

Read commentary on the importance of preservatives in cosmetic products by Dr Joe Schwarcz, Director of McGill University's Office for Science & Society.

See also 'storage of cosmetic products'.