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Preservatives and The Shelf Life of your Beauty Products

Ever wondered about the shelf life of your pile of make up or products? Have your ever opened that hand cream you found in the back of the bathroom cupboard and after a few years it still smells okay to use....(but is it safe to use?). 

But why might the organic cream you bought a year ago smell rather dodgy? The answer is “preservatives and shelf life”.

Shelf Life is the length of time that food, drink, medicine, chemicals and many perishable items are given before they are considered unsuitable for sale, use or consumption.  It is the recommended time that a product can be stored, during which the defined quality of a specified proportion of the goods remains acceptable under expected (or specified) conditions of distribution, storage and display. 

Most shelf life labels or listed expiry dates are used as guidelines based on the normal handling of products.  Use prior to the expiration date does not necessarily guarantee the safety of a product and a product is not always dangerous nor ineffective after the expiration date.

Preservatives are ingredients which skin care companies put inside their products to keep them from spoiling.  Whether chemical or natural, they are meant to protect the other ingredients of the product from decaying, going discolored or bad.

Preservatives determine the shelf life of your products...

Commercial products are typically loaded with preservatives to allow them to remain fresh during the long span between the time of manufacture and the time that the consumer finishes using a cream for example. 

Chemical preservatives are typically cheaper to put into beauty products.  They also give products a longer shelf life than some organic or natural ingredients.  This is the reason why your locally bought hand cream seems to last longer than your natural or organic one.  Remember though that cheaper and more effective doesn’t always mean safer and some chemical preservatives can be very harmful to the skin. 

Chemical preservatives may extend the life span of the cream and keep them free from bacteria but often it is the preservative itself that is not healthy.  Many cause or promote skin problems and some are even reported to cause cancer.  Natural preservatives in beauty products can reduce the risk of skin irritations and allergic reactions drastically.  Individuals who are sensitive to chemical preservatives need to find preservative free products.

So even though chemical preservatives increase product shelf life, is it worth the risk?

Consumers should be aware that expiration dates on products are simply "rules of thumb," and that a product's safety may expire long before the expiration date if the product has not been properly stored. Cosmetics that have been improperly stored (for example, exposed to high temperatures or sunlight, or opened and examined by consumers prior to final sale) may deteriorate substantially before the expiration date. On the other hand, products stored under ideal conditions may be acceptable long after the expiration date has been reached.

A good idea when purchasing natural and organic products or those which are preservative free is to purchase them in small quantities that you will use up within a short period of time and before the expiry date.  This way your products will stay fresh and you eliminate the need to preserve your products with harsh chemical preservatives.

Direct sunlight and UV rays, oxygen, heat, moisture and bacteria from your fingers can all be detrimental to your products. Below are several tips for protecting and preserving your preservative free formulations:

  • Be sure your hands are clean when handling your products.  Fingers are a host to bacteria so try and avoid dipping them into jars and bottles.  Try and use a spatula, toothpick, clean spoon or ice-cream stick (new of course!)  to dip into jars, this will help to not introduce bacteria or contaminate your cream.
  • Keep your products out of direct sunlight and heat. Store them in a cool place.
  • Ensure that you close the lid of products properly when you have finished using them.  Natural products can oxidize and go rancid when exposed to air.

As a guideline when purchasing your beauty products, here are some common artificial and natural preservatives to look out for.  I am sure many of you have seen them on the ingredient listing on the back of your beauty products but never really known what they were:-

Artificial Preservatives - Imidiazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin, Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Parabens, 2-Dromo-2-Nitro-Propane-1, 3-diol, Benzalkonium Chloride, Quarternium-15, Chloromethylisothiazolinone, isothiazolinone, hydroxytoluene (BHT), and Butylated hudroxyanisole (BHA).

Natural Preservatives -  Tea tree essential oil, thyme essential oil, grapefruit seed extract, bitter orange extract and honey suckle flower extract.

Preservatives and Shelf Life apply not only to our beauty products like creams and lotions but also to make-up.  That forgotten pile of make-up in your drawer has a shelf life too! 

But please do keep in mind that the shelf life of make-up listed below is only an estimate.., no matter what anyone tells you, its unlikely that you’ll go blind from using a 2 year old mascara but it is certainly more prone to bacteria!

  • Concealer – up to 12 months
  • Powder – 2 years
  • Pencil Eye Liner – 3 years (should be sharpened regularly)
  • Eyeshadow – 3 years
  • Brushes – wash every 2-3 months in mild detergent
  • Sponges – wash weekly and discard monthly
  • Foundation – water based –  up to 12 months
  • Foundation – oil based – up to 18 months
  • Lip Liner – up to 3 years
  • Lipstick – 1 to 2 years – some say up to 4 years (Tip : if it smells rancid, throw it out its spoiled.  Lipstick stored in the refrigerator will last longer.)
  • Mascara – 4 months (Tip : if you want your mascara to last longer don’t pump the wand in and out you are only exposing the product to drying air.)
  • Nail Polish – up to 12 months depending on quality

Our aim at Beauty by Nature is to source quality products which contain natural and organic ingredients and make them available to you, as well as to increase public awareness of not only the benefits of natural and organic ingredients but also the dangers that chemicals pose to our health, that of our loved ones and the environment.