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Do We Need Preservatives in Skincare Products? Dr. Naidu Discusses the Issues and the Science.

Dr. Nina Naidu began Anokha skincare in response to her own experience as a practicing plastic surgeon: "I noticed an increasing number of patients who developed allergies to relatively harmless products. This is likely environmental but it's one of the reasons we're seeing such a push for naturals."

"For many consumers, having sensitivities to medical grade or highly synthetic ingredients was the trigger to go natural."

Navago asked Dr. Naidu if skincare preservatives were partly responsible for these sensitivities: "Yes, certain ones have been shown to have adverse effects in animal studies, notably parabens. So many consumers get very, very worked up about preservatives."

Are they right to react this way? "Well, here's the problem: If you have a water-based product, which is not going to be refrigerated and used within a few days, it absolutely must have a preservative. Oil-based products do not need a preservative, but they benefit from an anti-oxidant to help prevent the carrier oils from going rancid too quickly."

"Non-preserved water-based products such as lotions, cleansers, toners, and activated masques (i.e., not powder) run the risk of bacterial and fungal contamination. The risk of contamination is far, far higher than the risk of a reaction to a preservative."

Are there good preservatives? "Some artificial and mostly harmless preservatives, such as phenoxyethanol in concentrations less than 1 percent, are found in many natural skin care lines. But it’s a synthetic preservative so it begs the question; Are those lines really ‘natural’? That being said, there are a number of natural preservatives on the market which cover most potential organisms."

"This is a persistent issue, however, as there is no definition of "natural". This is confusing for both consumers and brand owners!"

How did you reconcile this issue with your own Indie brand? "I actually had this issue with a former manufacturer, who kept trying to put cheap, synthetic ingredients into my natural line. They justified their actions by claiming that there was no definition of natural. I left but I would bet that every natural skin care line has had a similar skirmish with a manufacturer or chemist."

We asked Dr. Naidu what emerging trends she was seeing in the formulation of natural products: "There are absolutely trends with certain ingredients, which may or may not be based on science."

"For example, green tea was the rage a few years ago for skin care based on its antioxidant properties. However, its antioxidant effects are mainly seen with oral consumption, not topical use. Topically, it has been shown to decrease inflammation and act as an astringent, which is still a wonderful effect for skin care, but not the same as an anti-oxidant claim."

"Matcha green tea has started to show up in many lines with the same anti-oxidant statements, but again, it will likely provide more of a soothing effect than anything else."

"Blue tansy essential oil is another hot ingredient right now, partly because of its gorgeous blue color. This time, there's good science behind the claim that it helps with acne, as it has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties. The FDA would not support its claims of treatment for acne."

And how do you deal with this at Anokha? "My sandalwood masque, for example, contains neem and turmeric, both of which have been shown to have anti-bacterial activity, but I can't call my masque an acne treatment. I call it a "clarifying" masque, which is acceptable, since it implies a cosmetic effect, only. I can tell consumers that it can be used for acne in an "off-label" fashion, but I can't put that in writing on my website or packaging."

The takeaway? Be aware of package ingredients, but don’t shy away from an item because it has a potentially harmless preservative. Know your skincare! And trust your Navago Indie brands!