Cosmetics are mostly made up of water, with the exception of some anhydrous cosmetics such as oils, butters and make-up products. Creams, which are technically emulsions, consist mainly of water, and water is life. Therefore, the presence of a preservative system in a water-based cosmetic preparation is essential to preserve the preservative itself from microbial contamination and to prevent these microorganisms from being transmitted to the user’s skin.
Parabens are a class of aromatic compounds that have been identified for their antimicrobial power since the early 1900s and are therefore among the most widely used as cosmetic preservatives. Among other things, they have also found use in other sectors, such as the food industry, so over time a significant consumer awareness of paraben-free cosmetics has developed.
Cosmetics companies, both own and contract manufacturers, have therefore been faced with a market need that is also a formulation need, as this has led to the modification of existing formulations to develop paraben-free but microbiologically safe cosmetics.
At the same time, consumer awareness was also directed towards the search for cosmetic products that did not contain silicones and petrolatum, the former being used as texturising agents, the latter mainly as emollients.
It should be noted that while silicones and petrolatum may be used without concentration limits, for parabens there is a ban under Cosmetic Regulation 1223:2009 both in terms of type and in terms of maximum concentration in cosmetic products.
Parabens, petrolatum and silicones in cosmetics: how to avoid them?
The main problem with the use of parabens is mainly due to the overexposure that has occurred in the past: being present in most cosmetics, and also in other contact sources such as food, the dose of exposure was considerably high. Today, on the other hand, the cosmetics industry has developed new alternative formulations that do not contain parabens and are meeting consumer demands. In addition, sensitivity to the elimination of petrolatum and silicones from cosmetic formulations has led to the development by manufacturers of cosmetics that are more eudermic, breathable and non-occlusive to the skin.
How to identify paraben-free cosmetics
How can consumers choose a cosmetic that meets their needs? First of all, the responsible person can indicate on the label the words ‘paraben-free cosmetic’ or ‘paraben-free’, but these can be identified by reading the list of ingredients, as the name according to international nomenclature is very intuitive and simple. A further piece of information could be the indication of the product’s naturalness, which would exclude the presence of synthetic elements.
Always bearing in mind that the presence of parabens, silicones or petrolati in no way indicates that the cosmetic does not comply with the legal requirements, the consumer can make his or her own informed choice by a quick observation of the INCI of the cosmetic in question. Lastly, the replacement of parabens by alternative preservatives has led cosmetics manufacturers to reduce the PAO, a further element to be evaluated before purchasing a cosmetic.