Consumer movements are demanding less preservatives in cosmetics. But some object: how then will one deal with microbes? Here are some solutions to this heated discussion.

It may seem paradoxical that consumers of cosmetic products – who are the main culprits of contaminating products – are also the most pugnacious opponents of preservatives. The latter are present in cosmetic formulations precisely to guarantee their integrity and safety over time, as they perform an antimicrobial action and therefore protect the products from contamination by bacteria, fungi and molds.
After opening the package, cosmetic formulas are in fact the victims of an actual microbial onslaught on behalf of the germs present in the environment and on our skin. Forbes magazine recently published a report called “Are Dangerous Microbes Hiding in Your Makeup?” A new study says so, according to data from the University of Aston published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. For this study, opened and already-used cosmetic products were collected directly from consumers and their microbial content was evaluated. In total, 467 products in five make-up categories were donated by UK users in response to social media ads, including: lipstick (96), eyeliner (92), mascara (93), lip gloss (107) and mixers/applicators (79).
Information regarding how long each product had been used was collected where possible. The researchers found that about 79-90% of all products used were contaminated with bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Citrobacter freundii. Enterobacteriaceae and fungi were also present in all product types, but in particular in mixers/applicators: 93% of them had never been thoroughly cleaned and 64% were still used after falling on the floor.
These results underline consumers’ bad hygiene practices and their failure to respect product expiry dates, despite them being clearly written by manufacturers on the product packaging (the P.A.O. or “period after opening”).
Preservatives are used precisely to protect products from microbial contamination, also and above all because of the poor hygienic conditions in which they are used. However, the effects of many of these substances, which are directly proportional to their concentration, are scientifically proven. Formaldehyde (in itself prohibited) and substances capable of releasing formaldehyde are irritant, allergenic and carcinogenic; parabens have endocrine interfering action (with reduced fertility, possible genital anomalies and increase in steroid hormone-related tumors such as thyroid, breast, uterus, ovary, testis and prostate); triclosan and other antiseptics cause antibiotic resistance and endocrine interference.
Although the scenario is worrying in both cases (on the one hand the high contamination risk and on the other the danger of preservatives) there is a way to mediate the two. The products with the greatest risk of contamination are those with the highest water content. Water is essential for the development of micro-organisms, therefore the increase in water concentration in a formula corresponds to an increased risk of contamination and a higher content of preservatives.
Products consisting entirely of lipid substances (fat) do not need preservatives, as do pure mineral pigments. For the more aqueous products and those in contact with very delicate areas (such as mascara, for example), single-dose packs can be used (which, since used only once, are not at risk of contamination after opening and can therefore be preservative-free). If we choose products with a low preservative content (less watery), always remember you must still apply them using clean spatulas, washing applicators frequently and carefully, keeping the area where we store and apply cosmetics clean and protected from light and heat.

Article of  Dr Adele Sparavigna for https://4me.styl