How can you avoid synthetics like parabens but also make sure your beauty products last? Here's what to know about natural preservatives and how you can keep natural cosmetics from spoiling.
If a product doesn't contain parabens, won't it go bad? What do manufacturers use to assure consumers that the products will not spoil after three to four days? If the products are in a box or bottle, don't they need preservatives? These were the questions I fielded immediately following Delicious Living’s CBS project green segment featuring our annual Beauty & Body Awards (so I wasn’t the only one ready and willing to talk cosmetics at 7 am on a Saturday—thanks Roger and Dee!). A big concern consumers have when it comes to personal care is: Does organic (and natural) skin care go bad before its conventional counterparts? Which translates to: If it's going to go bad, I'm not going to waste my money.
Because the inquiry specifically targeted the four Colorado-based companies included in the segment, I asked Lily Morgan, founder of Lily Organics—a Colorado-based USDA-certified organic skin care company that won our “toner” category—what gives her products shelf life in the absence of synthetic preservatives. In addition to using natural preservatives, she mentioned something that goes beyond ingredients and touches on the quality and care that goes into your personal care. “We make our products fresh every week, so they are never sitting around in warehouses or stock rooms,” she says. The result: Your retailer’s shelves house the freshest products, which are then younger when they reach your shelves. Not all beauty companies can, will, or should adhere to this small-batch policy but many are doing their jobs to ensure your products won’t expire before their time is up. And here are simple steps you can take to keep your beauty products fresh.
“Products that do not contain water usually do not need preservatives,” says Karen Benjamin, owner of Mountain Ocean, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that manufacturers natural lotions, chap sticks, and more (its Lip Trip earned top ranking in this year’s chap stick category). Still, Mountain Ocean uses vitamin E as a natural preservative in its pregnancy line and Lip Trip chap stick to keep these products completely free from synthetics. “They last forever as long as water does not get into the bottle,” she says. Natural products that do contain liquids will always need preservatives of some kind; in addition to vitamin E, others to look for include honey, lemon, neem oil, rosemary extract, and citrus seed extracts.
Have you seen the case study comparing the lifespan of “natural” French fries to that of fast-food ones? Let’s just say the ones without a bunch of scary stuff naturally deteriorate; in light of that, you should actually hope that neither your lotion nor your skin is smooth as a baby’s bottom for too long. When it comes to natural skin care, that’s often true: Natural products containing liquids tend to have a shorter shelf life than ones with harsh synthetics. (Morgan says hers last about a year; I don’t think you should keep a product longer than that, anyway.) The solution is simple: Start by testing products and then only purchase quantities you know you’ll use—also use the product regularly, which is the surest way to see results, as well.
While it seems obvious, we often forget simple maintenance that is even more critical for upkeep of natural products. Always screw caps on tightly, which is particularly important when dealing with gentler preservatives that are at greater risk for contamination by residues in your bathroom, water, and even air—all of which can hurt the quality of a natural product.
And, as always, buy from companies you trust …
If you’re curious about production or ingredients, which you should be, do your research! (Cosmeticsdatabase.com is a great place to find out about ingredients—including both synthetic and natural preservatives.) And contact companies. They’ll be happy to answer your questions, including where and how often they manufacture products.