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Why preservatives are necessary and when to use them

Why preservatives are necessary and when to use them
by Oyéta Kokoroko

One of the most controversial ingredients used in natural skincare is the preservative. It’s been discussed many times whether or not it has a place in natural skincare formulas. This post aims to address the importance of preservatives in water containing products. Preservatives do serve a purpose which is to protect you from bacteria, fungus and yeast. In this article, we will cover:

1) Why preservatives are important
2) A list of natural preservatives that are common in our industry
3) When should we use preservatives
4) Which preservatives we use



At Okoko Cosmétiques, we understand the importance of using safe, natural preservatives, with all respect for our customers health and safety.

As a small volume manufacturer, we will not risk safety by selling water-based products that are unpreserved or that are not adequately preserved. In this article, I am debunking a popular myth and clarifying where I stand as a professionally trained, skincare formulator and respectable product designer.

I believe that it is our responsibility (us makers, formulators and manufacturers) to ensure that the products we are selling are made following Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), meet recommended dosage and are properly preserved for your health, safety and peace of mind.

This is why we stay in touch with chemists, labs and trusted suppliers and also why we stay up to date with new research/studies on the market. When you are using green beauty products, we want you to feel safe and confident about the efficacy and safety of your product by knowing that we have carefully and prudently selected high-quality, non-harmful (and non-controversial) ingredients for your precious skin.

THE PROBLEM: There is a common belief that preservatives are dangerous and must be avoided, but the problem is that…

We have seen it before many times. Brands selling unpreserved or not properly preserved cosmetics resulting in customers complaints and products recall. When water is introduced into a product (with no preservation), it can quickly grow various undesirable microorganisms such microbes, bacteria, fungus, and yeast. Do you want to take that risk? Most of us probably don’t want to. Preservatives do serve a purpose which is to protect consumers from bacteria, fungus, and yeast.

Your safety and health come first! No compromise!
At Okoko Cosmétiques, we use natural preservatives that are effective, have wide-spectrum activity and  present low toxicity/irritation/sensitization. We provided a list of some of the most popular natural preservatives available to be used by natural skincare companies (see below). Fortunately, technology is allowing us to become even more innovative and ingredient manufacturers are creating new, effective broad-spectrum preservatives that are made from natural sources.
When should/do we use a preservative?
Water containing products need a preservative. Even products with aloe vera, hydrosols, or hydro-soluble extracts need to be preserved. This includes: lotions, creams, cleansers, clay-creams, shampoo, water-based masque, etc.
What are preservative-free cosmetics?
Waterless products: oil based

This would include things like balms, oil based serums, massage oils, lip balms, etc. They don’t need preservatives because harmful microbes will not grow in them. However, if water is going to be used in a product, then a preservative is needed.

Dry clay face cleanser

Clay-based facial masques are known to be the hardest to preserve, whenever you combine clay, water, and a mild natural preservative, it will often absorb most if not all of the preservative in your formulation. In this case, the most acceptable option is to use a blend of synthetic preservatives that include phenoxyethanol. So we at Okoko, prefer to sell our clay masks in a dry, powdered form instead (i.e., no preservative needed).

Examples of natural preservatives

Here are some broad spectrum preservation systems based on a combination of ingredients that have global acceptance (this list is not exhaustive):

Leucidal® Liquid 
INCI Nomenclature: Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate
Leucidal® Liquid SF

INCI Nomenclature: Lactobacillus Ferment

AMTicide® Coconut 
INCI Nomenclature: Lactobacillus & Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract

INCI Nomenclature: Colloidal Silver 

Geogard 221 / Cosgard (eco-certified)
INCI Nomenclature: Benzyl Alcohol (and) Dehydroacetic Acid

Preservative Eco
INCI Nomenclature: Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerin, Sorbic Acid

Other ingredients used to boost efficacy are: Honeysuckle Blend, Sodium Levulinate, Sodium Anisate, Anisic Acid, Salicylic Acid (Aspen Bark Extract or Willow Bark Extract), Citric Acid, Glycerin

* Vitamin E, rosemary extract and grapefruit seed extract are not preservatives.

Examples of natural preservative boosters (for added protection):

Dermosoft® GMCY   (preservative booster)
INCI Nomenclature: Glyceryl  caprylate

Glycerin  (helps reduce bacterial growth by reducing free water activity)
INCI Nomenclature: Glycerin

Dermosoft®  anisate  eco  (fully naturally derived, has strong fungicidal activity)
INCI Nomenclature: Sodium Anisate

Chelating agents are also used in skincare to boost the preservative system

Gluconolactone  (rather a preservative booster, chelating
agent, moisturizing)
INCI Nomenclature: Gluconolactone
Dermofeel® PA-3

INCI Nomenclature: Sodium Phytate, Aqua, Alcohol

Examples of natural  preservatives found in Okoko Cosmétiques products containing water

We use a blend of preservatives (found below) to cover the range of bacteria and fungi that might be encountered to protect you and your skin. We combine them with preservatives boosters and chelating agents (when applicable) to boost efficacy.

Leucidal® Liquid 
INCI Nomenclature: Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate
Leucidal® Liquid SF

INCI Nomenclature: Lactobacillus Ferment

Geogard 221 / Cosgard
NCI Nomenclature: Benzyl Alcohol (and) Dehydroacetic Acid

Found in: Okoko Cosmétiques serums

Other ingredients we use to help boost efficacy: Salicylic Acid (Organic Willow Bark Extract), Citric Acid, AHA’s (low pH), glycerin and  Dermofeel® PA-3.

* About Dermofeel® PA-3:   It’s an Ecocert certified, globally accepted, palm-free and natural based chelating agent for natural and organic cosmetics.

For further reading, check out my post on 5 popular natural preservatives for cosmetics.

Recommended reading

Everything you wanted to know about Natural Preservatives

Certificate in Natural Cosmetic Preservation