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Does "NO PARABENS" mean no preservatives?

Updated: May 16, 2020

The answer is NO!

In most skincare products preservatives are needed to stop bacteria growth so that your products can keep for weeks after opening. Last month, I talked about how preservatives can negatively affect the skin’s microbiome because they can kill skin friendly bacteria which can lead the skin to become red and sensitive.

Parabens in skincare

The most common preservatives used in skincare are parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben and ethylparaben).

Although inconclusive, parabens have been linked to skin and breast cancer.

In April 2015, the EU ruled that manufacturers limit the use of parabens in cosmetics and banned its total use in products designed to be used on the nappy area of children under 3 years old. Since then, parabens have received some pretty bad press and “PARABEN FREE” became the buzz words.

Alternative forms of preservatives

While products claim they are “paraben free”, they still use preservatives. Some of the common ones are PTFE (Politef), chlorphenesin, BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), disodium and tetrasodium EDTA, diazolidinyl and imidazolydyl urea, phenoxyethanol, methylisothiazolinone, benzoic acid, benzyl alcohol.

The point here is although paraben free, most products will still contain some form of preservatives to stop the growth of bacteria to maintain a long shelf life.

So how do I know if my products contain preservatives?

Read the ingredients list or, here’s a simple test - if you can open your moisturizer and dip your fingers in it and it still looks good and smells delicious after several weeks, you can be sure it contains preservatives.

Key points

Preservatives are in everything we consume and they play an important role in keeping products safe. If your skincare products contain preservatives and your skin can tolerate it and is healthy then there is no need to worry. However, if preservatives are making your skin red and sensitive, look for products that are truly preservative free.

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