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Paraben-free cosmetic formulations gaining popularity

New alternative preservation systems for cosmetic products are gaining popularity. In its new Technical Insights report, UK-based research company Organic Monitor finds the move to new alternative preservative systems is driven by high consumer demand for natural & organic cosmetics as well as the growing trend of formulators avoiding parabens.

Parabens are the most widely used preservatives, present in thousands of personal care products that include moisturizers, shampoos, toothpastes, lubricants, and gels. However, a growing number of formulators are avoiding them because of possible safety concerns. Although not scientifically proven, parabens are thought to mimic oestrogen and have been associated with breast cancer. The French and Danish governments are considering a ban on parabens in cosmetic products because of these possible links. Concerns over a possible ban are leading cosmetic companies to develop paraben-free formulations.

Natural & organic cosmetic products do not use conventional preservatives, such as parabens and phenoxyethanol. Natural & organic products have traditionally used natural preservatives like grapefruit seed extract, however new materials and technologies are gaining acceptance.

According to Judi Beerling at Organic Monitor, "many companies are using preservative systems that comprise multi-functional natural ingredients". By using such "synergistic blends", the material has anti-microbial properties while not having to be registered as a preservative with the respective authorities. Examples of such preservative systems include blended botanical extracts and spice extracts.

Another development is self-preservation techniques, with some methods originating from the food industry. Hurdle technology involves creating hurdles to block growth of micro-organisms in cosmetic formulations; for instance, using materials that reduce the pH of the formulation. Some companies are adding emollients with membrane disrupting properties in cosmetic formulations, while others are boosting natural preservative systems by the use of chelating agents or a glycol alternative.

A major finding from the Technical Insights study is that these new alternative preservative systems are usually not as cost-effective as parabens. Most alternative preservatives have prices in multiples of that for parabens. There are also stability and safety issues associated with natural materials. Supply could also be an issue for large-scale production of cosmetic products.

Customisation is another major development. Formulators are realising the ideal preservative system needs to be customised according to the product type, formulation and packaging. Packaging also plays an important role, with many natural & organic cosmetic companies using airless packaging to reduce contamination risks.

As will be shown in the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit during 17-19th May in New York, preservation is usually the number one technical issue associated with natural and organic cosmetics. The differing stances of certification agencies add to the complexity of the preservative conundrum. Significant differences remain between standards in terms of permitted and prohibited preservatives. Apart from the use of synthetic chemicals, differences relate to nature-identical and naturally-derived materials. Precise details of the preservative options available to formulators of certified natural and organic cosmetics will be given in a dedicated workshop at the summit.