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The self-preservation society

Natural preservatives like salt, honey and clay can keep your products fresh for longer. As a result, more than 65% of our range is entirely self-preserving, across every single category from cleansers to shampoo and bath bombs.

Initially, most of these self-preserving products have been solid, as bacteria require water to grow and multiply. To keep creams, lotions and liquids fresh, minimal amounts of synthetic preservatives, namely methylparaben, propylparaben, phenoxyethanol and benzyl alcohol, give non-solid products a much longer shelf life. But, just in case you prefer to go without synthetic preservatives, your favourite formulations have been rebalanced to be naturally self-preserving with no significant changes to the look, feel, price or shelf-life of the product. This self-preserving range will be sold alongside the preserved range so you can experiment or stick to what you know or love.

Preservatives 101

Parabens were first introduced in the 1920s and are now the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetic products. They are so widely used because they are inexpensive, colourless, odourless, nontoxic and have a wide spectrum of antimicrobial activity, which means that they stop fungus, bacteria and other microbes from growing in creams and make-up.

Dr Stephanie Williams, Dermatologist at European Dermatology London, adds: “Parabens have a long history of safe use and are very commonly used in skincare. They are well established skincare preservatives and, for the vast majority of customers, won’t cause any problems. In very few people, parabens might cause contact allergies, although that’s rare compared to their widespread use.” In spite of this, parabens have become an unpopular ingredient, even though many customers aren’t entirely sure why. “There is definitely a demand for paraben-free formulas so much so that new products brought to the market are actually considered controversial if they contain parabens,” says beauty blogger Caroline Hirons, of “But I’m sure, if asked, most people wouldn’t know why parabens are considered dangerous.”

In fact, concerns about parabens can be traced back to a 2004 study which found traces of parabens in breast cancer tumours. This formed the basis of a theory that parabens, which can weakly mimic the hormone oestrogen, can disrupt hormones and increase the risk of breast cancer. However, further studies have found no evidence to support this. Rachel Rawson, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Care confirms: “There is currently no conclusive evidence to suggest that the use of products containing parabens is directly linked to the development of breast cancer.”

Indeed, parabens have been subjected to such rigorous testing that experts now believe that they are safer than other synthetic alternatives. Dr Edmund Fowles of EF Chemical Consulting, a company which specialises in cosmetic safety assessments, says: “I feel absolutely sure that parabens are safe. As a result of all the fuss about the potential risks there has been exhaustive research, which has covered all angles. ‘Paraben-free’ cosmetics simply use a different type of preservative, which will have been much less rigorously researched, so how can we say that it’s better?”

Dr Stephanie Williams agrees. She says: “Parabens rarely cause skin problems, and some newer, comparably less tried and tested preservatives might cause more frequent reactions.” For these reasons, Lush continues to use parabens at levels which are well within EU guidelines. Current EU regulations permit a total concentration of 0.4% of methylparaben in cosmetic products, and Lush uses 0.2% as standard. From 2014, revised EU guidelines will mean that propylparaben can be used at a maximum concentration of 0.14% and Lush formulas already use a concentration of only 0.1%.

Mother Nature's finest preservatives

You’ve probably noticed that, just like the food you buy at the supermarket, Lush products have a ‘use by’ date. But unlike most other cosmetic brands, you can also see when these products were made. While it's recommended to keep your fresh face masks (which are full of fresh, active ingredients) in the fridge and use them as soon as possible, the majority of products have a shelf life of 14 months from the date that they were made. In most cases this is possible without using safe synthetic preservatives, simply because of the way in which the products are formulated.

All cosmetics which contain water require some type of preservative system, simply because water enables bacteria to grow and multiply. So removing the excess water – by turning bubble bath into bubble bars, body lotions into massage bars and shampoo and conditioners into solids – means that bacterial growth is inhibited without the need to add any synthetic preservatives. The same applies to our soaps, powdered deodorants, toothy tabs and solid cleansers. Clay, calamine, talc and kaolin and salt (which is alkaline) can also be used to reduce bacterial growth, which only flourishes in acidic conditions. 

But of course, it’s not practical to sell only solid products. Investigating ways to keep the amount of ‘free water’ – which is the water that’s left over once the chemical reactions have taken place – to a minimum means that even moisturisers can become entirely self-preserving. By balancing the levels of water, butters and oils, safe cleansing agents and other beautiful natural materials, it's possible to create cosmetics made entirely of materials which are beneficial to the skin or hair. 

It's a careful, delicate process, however, which will take time and effort to apply to more and more products. The dynamics of the formula must be carefully balanced in order to produce a beautiful product that is effective, practical and long-lasting, without having to utilise a preservative system. And, of course, it has to be just as lovely for our customers.

Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics Presents: Self Preserving

Comments (8)


about 2 years ago

I just brought a lovely moisturiser and although I'm really happy with it at the same time I was disappointed to find it contained Parabens. When so many companies now are not using artificial preservatives I am very surprised that Lush still do. Especially upon reading this article which seems fairly old. When will you cease using them altogether? You've acknowledged it's possible.


about 4 years ago

about how long after the best by date can i use my fresh face masks?


about 6 years ago

p.s. Given that I am a Jasmine fiend, a SLS alternative to the Henna Fluff Eaze would make me happier than Christmas! Since it is a pre-shampoo treatment, it seems like it would definitely be possible to formulate something gentler for my picky hair...


about 6 years ago

I have always really respected Lush's transparency and integrity when it comes to the paraben issue. I personally prefer mostly waterless products for various reasons--less packaging, fewer need for emulsifiers, etc. as well as the need for fewer preservatives. It is so cool to see a company really taking the preservation issue seriously and scientifically and creating innovative solutions, not just replacing parabens with something even more questionable! I love how easy it is to understand what ingredients you use and make my own choices about products that work for me. That said, I REALLY hope you consider using a gentler surfactant than SLS in your body gels. Flying Fox is my favorite scent in the entire world and the honey in it is great for my skin, but because my hair has done so much better going sulfate free I want to see if ditching them in my body wash will help my dry, sensitive skin. Is there any hope of SLS-free body washes in the future, maybe using the alternative surfacant you've started using in shampoo bars?


about 6 years ago

Thank you for your informative article. I thoroughly agree with the view that "paraben-free" products just have different, less-tested preservatives - how is that safer indeed! It's a bit like mums who buy "sugar free" everything for their kids without noticing that the manufacturer plonks loads of chemicals, much worse than sugar, in the product instead. Buyers who want everything to be paraben free (or sugar free, or sodium free, or insert-latest-baddy-here free) just concentrate on the one ingredient that someone somewhere has told them is "bad". They don't think why it's there in the first place or even understand why it's supposedly bad, or what's in the product instead - or indeed what the product would be without the preservative. Personally I'm 100% fine with parabens in my products if it means they don't go off before I use them up - we don't all have the kind of income necessary to purchase new cosmetics, face creams and body products every single week!


about 6 years ago

I fully agree with this posting. Most people who insist on everything being 100% natural (or Organic), use all manner of things around the house (including their food), which contain chemicals, harsh and not so, as well as many preservatives. As for me, I prefer a product which is as natural as it can be, but also keeps me safe from mould, yeast and bacteria. Therefore 0.1% of parabens or 1% of another preservative is acceptable, particularly where children are concerned. 0.1% parabens of a substance which has had so much testing is nowhere near as bad as what the other 90% of household products use. Also, preservative free is ok in the UK, but not so when you live in the Tropics or in Asia where the temp is very high and very humid and mould grows in your shoes overnight.


about 6 years ago

This is the direction that ALL cosmetic companies should be going, this is fantastic for consumers who should have the choice to choose their products. I make my own skincare products, i feel inspired by LUSH ethics,as this is how I aim to be.....of course I would not compete against such an amazing ethical company with values and excellent philosophy is simple and natural....LUSH is going to do exceptionally well with these ranges...brilliant to see


about 6 years ago

Amazingly wonderful! When are these coming to the USA?!? I need Dream Cream, and Ocean Salt, and Imperalis and Ultrabland (hint hint) ;)
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