Some natural brands think “no preservatives” is a good thing and why we don't!


Ok this is a really big topic, and one that every brand needs to address at some point. The scare tactics used by small, natural Indie brands (mostly white label brands) regarding preservatives has been causing way too much confusion and fear for customers. First of all, we, as formulators and sellers of skin care products cannot make a great product with integrity while also at the same time, claim preservative free, just because preservatives are currently getting a bad rap. It comes down to whether we are going to join the mob of fear mongers out there and remove all the ingredients that the social media mob doesn’t like because they don't understand chemistry, or do the right thing by our customers who are counting on us to make the safest, most effective product we can. We’re going to fight the good fight and explain why we lovingly add natural preservatives to everything, and why you should want us to.

By law, any cream, lotion, serum, toner, mist, or cleanser must have a preservative in it. Anything that is water based, or has aqua anywhere on the ingredient list must have a preservative in it to protect the customer. Anything that has botanicals in it must have a preservative in it to prevent bacteria.  Customers who are looking for a preservative free product really do not understand why they are looking for one. Preservatives are good, bacteria is bad. Water will ALWAYS, not sometimes, not every once in a while, but ALWAYS breed bacteria. If you’ve ever left a tea bag in a cup of water for a week you will see a scummy surface floating on top or a cloudiness. That is bacteria. You would never drink that tea!

Sometimes a customer will want to know why we use preservatives in our products when she has been doing so well with products that contain no preservatives whatsoever. My answer: the products you have been buying DO contain preservatives.  But she doesn’t realize this since so many brands claim preservative free because they either: 

1-Want to look good for uninformed label readers so they remove all info regarding the preservative, even though by law, it has to be in there..

2-Confuse customers by having a preservative masquerade as parfum, an extract or an emollient instead..

3-Flat out lie by pretending they don’t need it, though you now know from our previous blogs that anything except 100% oil must have a preservative..

4-Try to use it as a marketing claim to stand out from the crowd (as if they are the only ones who figured out how to not use a preservative, LOL, please!)

5-Are selling something that does not need a preservative like an oil. Remember water and botanical extracts need to have preservative. Oils do not, so they would be fine without a preservative. However, to choose the right oils that won’t go rancid, read this.

Whenever I order an ingredient, that ingredient comes with a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). These documents tell us all the hazards and safety risks of the ingredient. And whether or not the preservative is natural or synthetic, has no bearing on the safety profile. The warnings are always about the highest concentration of use allowed, but never about the preservative being toxic because they just aren’t. Natural preservatives also come with the same exact MSDS warnings as every other preservative. 

It is most frustrating when small natural skincare brands scare their audience by saying how bad preservatives are because 1. that would only be true if you were using a higher concentration than allowed, and 2. the natural preservative they are using have the same exact warnings and dermal limits as the “bad” synthetic preservatives, and 3. it means they don't understand their own industry. This discredits the whole natural industry if we are looked upon as those who don't understand skincare ingredients so just decide to leave them out.

Many self proclaimed "researchers" (small blogs with affiliate links), take a study out of context by talking about the skin irritating effects of an ingredient, without mentioning that the study used it at 100% concentration on the same patch of skin around the eyes of a bunny for 10 days in a row. But at less than 1% concentration, like in a product, it is protective, non-irritating, safe, non-accumulating and non-toxic. The age old adage: the dose makes the poison is also one of the basic rules of science and medicine but that isn’t ever  mentioned by the brands scaring you into buying their products.

So how can you tell the truth from the bullshit?

If a product has water in it, by law, it needs a preservative or else it is illegal.  If you see a product with water listed but no preservatives, that should be a red flag. If you see aloe vera juice, or flower water or hydrosol, or any water based ingredient, it needs a preservative. If it doesn’t have a preservative listed they are lying at best and at worst, bacteria will start breeding in it once it’s opened.

Suppliers sell ingredients already preserved. If this is how the ingredient comes, there may be a loophole not labeling it. Although if you follow the wisdom above, you won't be fooled since anything with water needs preserving, you just won't know what the preservative is unless you ask.

Some brands are using essential oils with preservative properties, to enhance preservative protection. But essential oils cannot pass a preservative efficacy test, so there needs a second preservative in there, and it has to be one that works well with the oils. Since we believe the damage to skin from using essential oils outweighs any reason to use it as a preservative, we’ll stick to tried and true non-paraben preservatives. 

One last important thing to remember if you truly want preservative-free skin care, you’ll have to stick to oils, balms and butters. Beware though, that many of the face oils actually have lots of non-oil ingredients in them. While our Caviar Oil (sold only to our email list) has only oils, some brands add vitamins, extracts, and other additives, making preservatives necessary.  So some oils do contain preservatives anyway.  Just look at the label.

Here is a list of food-grade preservatives.  Safe, non-toxic and welcome in the natural trade shows and platforms, we like some of these for our products:

Potassium sorbate

Sodium benzoate

Organic alcohol (non-drying)

Witch hazel (alcohol-free version)

Benzyl alcohol



Triiostearyl citrate


We’ll explain all the great vegetables behind each of these ingredients in a future post. 

xo, Jacci & Laura

Jacci Delaneau

Adventuress, animal activist and recovering cheese addict. Dreamer and doer. A patent holding serial entrepreneur, our founder Jacci, has traveled the world in search of bizarre beauty rituals, the planet’s most beautiful beaches, and the perfect pizza. She combines her background in Marine Biology and Organic Cosmetic Science to develop clean, high performance skin care using sustainable ocean based ingredients. Read more about Jacci.