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.
Parabens were first introduced in the 1930s 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 carolinehirons.com. “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 0.19% 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.