The Great Preservative Debate

Even if you’re only half-heartedly keeping up with the latest in the world of beauty, it’s hard to miss the indicators that the awareness and popularity of clean and green beauty and skincare products have been on the rise.  Beauty bloggers are buzzing about the latest and greatest in the clean beauty world and more and more green beauty products are making their way into bathroom cabinets everywhere.

Much of this trend stems from the fact that consumers are now more educated about an industry that has been notoriously bad in the past about disclosing what exactly goes into the products it sells.  Consequently, consumers become more concerned, and their buying decisions are becoming more considered, when it comes to the ingredients that they are willing to use in their homes and especially on their bodies.  Clean and green brands have been responding to these market pressures and in some cases, they’re even leading the charge to help  advocate for new regulations in order to keep consumers safe.

And with consumer safety at the forefront of every decision we make here at Esther & Mila, we wanted to take some time today to weigh in and explain our position on a key topic when it comes to clean and green beauty: the use of preservatives.

Why Preservatives?

On the one hand there is nothing inherently ‘good’ about preservatives.  The entire concept behind preservatives is to allow for the interruption and suspension of the natural life cycle of ingredients.  This is especially true when the majority of the ingredients being preserved come directly from plants which, when left in nature, have a natural cycle of growth, death, and decay.  For some of our products, we implement this understanding, and if they aren’t necessary, we keep them out.  Oil-based products (those containing no water) contain no preservatives.  These products are safe to use and will remain shelf stable as long as they are naturally meant to, no preservatives required.

On the flip-side, we recognize that there are certain Esther & Mila products where preservatives are absolutely necessary, and the distinction is one we know our consumers will understand…Preservatives play an absolutely vital role when the product formula is water-based.

The Difference with Water

It is well understood that water is life.  Water plays an intrinsic role in the growth of every living organism on the planet. We’re here because there is water.  But that principle also holds true for the nemeses of every great natural skincare creation…bacteria, fungus, and mold.  So, when water is present, preservatives are critical to ensure the the growth and proliferation of mold spores, fungi, and bacteria are suspended.

Since we’re not fans of mold or fungus, and we don’t play with bacteria, which can be harmful (even deadly), especially to those who may be immunocompromised, we put an enormous amount of time and consideration into which preservatives were going to be the most natural and effective for our products, and, most importantly, safe for our consumers.

Our Choice

After copious research and numerous tests, we have settled on the use of a natural preservative known as Phenoxyethanol for use in all of our water-based products.  Phenoxyethanol is derived from green tea and even laboratory manufactured versions available for commercial use are known as ‘nature identical’ to the compound naturally present in tea.  This bacteria fighting compound embodies what we’ve found to be one of the most comprehensive and unadulterated preservatives available.

It is incredibly non-reactive, making it great for maintaining shelf stable products, and the ingredient is Whole Foods Premium Body Care approved and has been included in the Handbook of Green Chemicals.  Additionally, our testing has shown that the less than 1% concentration of Phenoxyethanol that is used in certain Esther & Mila products (which is well under the stricter, industry-accepted regulations of the European Union and Japan), has been shown to have no bioaccumulation and no reproductive toxicity.  At Esther & Mila we feel very strongly that the thorough testing of Phenoxyethanol has met our high standards. This information has been at the very heart of our decision to allow Phenoxyethanol to become a limited part of our ingredient list.

Why Not Something Else?

Recently some in the industry have been touting the use of Leuconostoc as a safe, new, and effective preservative.  Currently leuconostoc does have a 1 rating on EWG’s Skin Deep Database, but the site currently has no additional data to support this rating.  In fact, we at Esther & Mila are aware of at least one independent study from the  Journal of Agriculture and Food Safety that has called into question the validity of the claims that naturally derived Leuconostoc, which is referred to as Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate (LRRFF), has any effective preservative properties.

The study stated…

“To determine the origin of the salicylic acid and didecyldimethylammonium salts we isolated from LRRFF, samples were submitted for carbon dating. On the basis of the amount of 14C present, these compounds were dated to 52 000 ± 2 900 and 21 140 ± 100 years old, respectively. This clearly indicates that the salicylic acid and the didecyldimethylammonium chloride are largely derived from petroleum-based precursors and that neither is the product of a recent fermentation of plant material.”

Essentially, this means that additional petroleum-based salicylic acid is necessary for the Leuconostoc to have any preservative properties.  The ‘preservative’ needs a preservative to in order to preserve.  Our commitment to petrolatum-free ingredients remains steadfast and we have decided not to ignore findings like this.  At Esther & Mila we will always put our customers first, and we will continue to be weary of any ingredient offering less substantiated or disproven claims of effectiveness.

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