Cosmetic preservatives: A comprehensive guide for cosmetics manufacturers (2024)

One of the most critical aspects of cosmetics manufacturing is the preservation of products to ensure they remain safe and effective for consumers during their intended shelf life.

The cosmetics industry is a global powerhouse, projected to be worth around $805.61 billion by 2023, according to a report by Allied Market Research. As a cosmetics manufacturer, you are part of a vibrant and innovative market. 

However, with great opportunity comes significant responsibility, especially when it comes to cosmetic product safety and regulatory compliance for cosmetics manufacturers

One of the most critical aspects of cosmetics manufacturing is the preservation of products to ensure they remain safe and effective for consumers during their intended shelf life.

Challenges in manufacturing cosmetics at scale

Manufacturing cosmetics at scale presents a plethora of challenges. The need to balance cost efficiency with product quality, adhering to stringent regulatory standards, and managing supply chains for raw materials are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Ensuring product safety through effective preservation is paramount as it prevents the growth of microbes, which can spoil the product and potentially harm the user.

Preservatives in the cosmetics industry and cosmetic regulation

Preservatives play a crucial role in the shelf-life and safety of cosmetic products. Cosmetic regulation, such as the EU’s Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 and the FDA’s regulations in the United States, provide a framework for the safe use of preservatives in cosmetics. 

These regulations ensure that all preservatives used are thoroughly assessed for safety and efficacy before being approved for use in cosmetic products.

What can be used as a preservative in cosmetic products?

A preservative in cosmetic products can be any substance that is added to a cosmetic to prevent the growth of microorganisms. The choice of preservative will depend on the type of product, the conditions in which it will be stored, and the shelf life required. 

Did you know cosmetics can expire?

Common preservative categories include parabens, formaldehyde releasers, isothiazolinones, phenoxyethanol, and organic acids.

Examples of cosmetic preservatives for manufacturers

When selecting a preservative, manufacturers must consider the spectrum of activity, compatibility with other ingredients, and consumer safety. Here is a list of preservatives with a brief description, properties, and warnings:

1. Parabens (e.g., methylparaben, propylparaben)

Parabens are widely used due to their efficacy against a broad spectrum of bacteria and fungi, and their stability over a wide pH range. 

However, their use has become controversial due to concerns over their potential estrogenic activity.

2. Phenoxyethanol

This preservative is favored for its low toxicity profile and effectiveness against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. 

It is commonly used in a variety of cosmetics, including skin care products, perfumes, and makeup.

3. Benzyl alcohol

Effective against bacteria and fungi, used in a wide range of cosmetics. Benzyl alcohol can cause irritation in some individuals.

4. Sodium benzoate

Sodium benzoate is used as preservative in food, medicine and cosmetics

Often used in acidic formulations such as lotions and shampoos. Sodium benzoate is safe at low concentrations but can form benzene, a known carcinogen, if mixed with ascorbic acid. Yikes!

5. Potassium sorbate 

Potassium sorbate works well against fungi, molds, and yeast. It’s less effective against bacteria and should be combined with other preservatives.

6. Ethylhexylglycerin

Ethylhexylglycerin is a multifunctional preservative that also acts as a skin conditioner. It’s often used in combination with phenoxyethanol.

7. Sorbic acid

Sorbic acid is effective at low pH and primarily active against molds and yeasts.

[insert picture of mold and yeasts]

8. Dehydroacetic acid 

Dehydroacetic acid is a fungicide and bactericide, often used in combination with other preservatives.

9. Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)

Methylisothiazolinone is effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms but associated with allergic reactions and dermatitis. Tread lightly with this one.

10. Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI)

Methylchloroisothiazolinone is often found in rinse-off products and known for causing allergic reactions in some individuals.

Natural Cosmetic Preservatives for Manufacturers

There is a growing demand for natural preservatives due to consumer preference for ‘clean’ beauty products. Some natural preservatives include:

1. Rosemary extract 

Rosemary extract is primarily an antioxidant but also offers some antimicrobial activity.

2. Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is however high in Limonene, which is a known fragrance allergen.

Tea tree oil is known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties.

3. Vitamin E (Tocopherol)

While mainly an antioxidant, tocopherol helps to extend the shelf-life of other natural oils by preventing rancidity.

Banned preservatives for cosmetics

Regulatory bodies periodically review and ban preservatives deemed unsafe. For instance, the EU has banned the use of formaldehyde, certain parabens, and other preservatives in specific use cased (e.g. triclocarban in leave-on products) due to safety concerns. It’s imperative for manufacturers to stay updated on regulatory changes to ensure compliance.

Here are a few preservatives that have been banned or restricted in certain regions:

1. Formaldehyde

Known for its preservative qualities, it’s been heavily restricted due to its carcinogenic properties.

2. Certain Parabens

These have been banned in the EU due to concerns about endocrine disruption. Examples of these banned parabens are isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, pentylparaben, phenylparaben. 

3. Triclocarban in leave-on products

 Used as antimicrobial agents but banned in some regions due to environmental toxicity and contribution to antibacterial resistance.

4. Methylchloroisothiazolinone (in leave-on products) 

This substance is heavily restricted because it is a strong sensitizer, leading to contact dermatitis. That’s why it may only be used in rinse-off products at a maximum of 0.0015% (in a 3:1 ratio with its sister-preservative, methylisothiazolinone)

Cosmetic preservatives causing contact dermatitis is something you’d want to avoid

Biggest producers of cosmetic preservatives

The production of cosmetic preservatives is dominated by a few key players who are responsible for the majority of production. These include:

1. Dow Chemical Company

Dow provides a broad portfolio of performance-driven, high-quality ingredients for personal care products, meeting the diverse needs of global consumers. 

They focus on innovative solutions that offer sustainability and exceptional benefits, catering to demands for hair products, skin creams, long-lasting makeup, sunscreens, and cleansers.

2. Ashland Inc.

Ashland offers a range of antimicrobial products for personal care, such as Sensiv SC 80, which has strong fungicidal efficacy and provides additional skin benefits like acting as a strong antioxidant. 

Their Sensidin Pure skin multifunctional inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria on the skin, providing long-lasting deodorant protection and being gentle to the skin. 

Additionally, Phyteq Raspberry multifunctional acts as a preservative potentiator to protect against spoilage, also serving as a strong antioxidant and free radical scavenger


BASF is a global industry leader in personal care, leveraging consumer insights and innovative drive to support their customers. 

They offer a wide range of personal care ingredients, including surfactants, emulsifiers, polymers, emollients, actives, pigments, and UV filters. Their global presence, technological excellence, and formulation expertise make them a valued partner in the personal care industry​.

4. Clariant

Clariant plays a crucial role in the preservation of personal care products, ensuring safety, stability, and longevity. 

Their portfolio includes a comprehensive range of cutting-edge antimicrobial agents, multifunctional preservatives, and customized preservation systems. 

Clariant’s team of experts supports formulation endeavors with technical support and formulation assistance to address unique preservation challenges across various product types​.

5. Lubrizol

Lubrizol collaborates with customers to develop, manufacture, and market a broad range of ingredients and formulations for skin care, hair care, and skin cleansing. 

They are known for their innovative solutions that enhance functional performance and deliver aesthetic benefits aimed at improving quality of life.

Each of these producers is at the forefront of developing and supplying preservatives that meet current regulatory standards and consumer expectations. 

Besides these industry giants, there are many smaller companies that also produce and supply preservatives. Which supplier works best for you depends on a number of factors including availability, speed and price.

How cosmetica manufactures make informed decisions on preservatives

As a cosmetics manufacturer, navigating the complex world of cosmetic preservatives is no small feat. Understanding the challenges of manufacturing cosmetics at scale, the intricacies of cosmetic regulations, and having a comprehensive list of preservatives – both synthetic and natural – is essential for making informed decisions about product formulation.

While the most common preservatives like parabens and phenoxyethanol have their benefits and drawbacks, exploring natural preservatives may align with growing consumer trends. 

However, natural doesn’t always mean safer or less allergenic. Moreover, staying abreast of banned substances is crucial to maintain compliance and market access.

If the process seems daunting, remember that you’re not alone. SkinConsult is here to assist. We specialize in helping manufacturers like you select the right preservatives for your products, ensuring safety, efficacy, and compliance.

Get in touch with SkinConsult today

Are you ready to ensure your cosmetic products are preserved effectively while meeting all regulatory requirements? Get in touch with SkinConsult today

Our team of experts is equipped to guide you through selecting the perfect preservative for your product line. With our comprehensive understanding of the cosmetics industry, regulations, and consumer trends, we’ll help you navigate the complexities of cosmetic preservatives, ensuring your products are safe, effective, and market-ready. 

Contact us to learn more about how we can assist you in achieving the best for your brand and customers.

Need advice on cosmetic preservatives and manufacturing?

Get in touch with SkinConsult today if you manufacture cosmetics at scale.

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