Are Preservatives Necessary in Make-up?

One would think a water-free, powder-based, mineral make-up wouldn't need any preservative. No water = no need for preservative, right?

Well, no.

Except, in some circumstances, yes.

It was Olivia's detailed question about this that inspired todays post.

She was also gracious enough to allow me to share her several-part query with you, so let's get busy with her questions.

" Loose mineral makeup can get away with not having preservatives, right? However, sometimes people will wet a sponge and apply the color. Doesn't that mean a chance for bacterial growth?  I find this dangerous – especially in eyeshadows.  Isn't it much safer to add some type of preservative in all mineral makeup?
Also, oil may not contain any water when added to mineral makeup but I am thinking – to prevent it from becoming rancid – it would be better to add preservatives.
I guess what I am asking is, shouldn't makeup – no matter what form – contain some preservative as a safety measure?"

Olivias observation that some people introduce water to 'dry' make-up is an excellent point and does indeed give cause for concern.

To answer your questions:

Dry Make-up and Preservative - Commercially Made

Commercially made make-up will have a preservative added – regardless of whether or not it is an anhydrous formula. Check the ingredients list of any powder make-up and you will find there is indeed preservative added.

However - that doesn't mean you can introduce a wet sponge to a dry powder and expect the formula to stay fresh for very long. Dry make-up is rarely preserved with a broad-spectrum preservative - which is imperative if water is introduced to the product.

Dry Make-up and Preservative - Home-Crafted

If your own home-crafted make-up is water-free and the make-up does not risk coming into contact with moisture at all (wet sponges, etc) or other users, then it is not necessary to add preservative.

However - water-free make-up without preservative should ideally be used/replaced after 6 months. If you are very meticulous about cleanliness (using clean brushes, never dipping fingers into the mixture etc), then you might use the make-up up to a year.

My own water-free make-up has no added preservative. I use predominately jojoba when choosing oil. Aside from lasting longer than most oils, it is very well tolerated and has a neutral scent. I will on occasion save a container of make-up for a period of time after use - purely for observation.

Oil in mineral make-up - How about Rancidity?

Some pressed powder make-up types (foundation, blush, eyeshadow etc) are made up of a combination of powders with oil as a binder. It is possible to retard the rancidity of the oils by adding vitamin E.

However - vitamin E is not a preservative, so if it's preservative power you want, you need to add preservative.

How About Natural Preservatives?

Olivia also asked about how 'natural' preservatives such as rosemary extract stack up against commercial preservatives.

I did a blog post on this right here in 2013 that hopefully answers this question.

Commercial Cosmetics Going Bad

Finally, Olivia made an interesting observation about store-bought make-up. Her experience was that make-up no longer seemed to last 'as long as before' – that it seemed to go bad and/or smell rancid in a shorter period of time.

My theory as to why this happens: most companies have opted to replace the paraben preservatives in their products due to the paraben paranoia scare campaign. Consumers are now paying the price and having to replace make-up more frequently.

(find links to LisaLise posts on parabens here)

Do Tell

Have you ever experienced commercial make-up go bad? Please share in a comment below.

PS: Visit Olivia at The Unknown Beauty Blog for make-up tutorials, tips and inspiration.


María said…
Interesting, no doubt.
However, when adding a preservative to a water-free product, the problem is that this preservative is only soluble in water, and it won't mix with the product.
For powdered cosmetics, they will blend in the mix as if they were essential oils, but for oil only, I've always had problems.
Maybe it occurred only to me ;)
LisaLise said…
Hi Maria- solubility does depend on the preservative used. Admittedly, I do not add preservatives to my anhydrous products, so I cannot speak from experience on this. I know of a providor of shea butter products uses citric acid as ther preservative to her anhydrous products
Olivia J said…
Thanks for this post and answering my questions thoroughly on preservatives. As a consumer I am not perfect with the handling of my cosmetics. Sure I have dipped my finger into my eyeshadows and applied them. Yes, I have used a wet brush and swirled them into a pressed foundation powder. After all, it is my cosmetics. But, after reading up on various preservatives and the efficacy to be a broad spectrum preservative, many fall short and the parabens are the best.

This made me look at all the makeup I owned and noticed many didn't contain parabens. My makeup looked fine but when I smell it, it didn't smell right! I tossed about 90% of my makeup. I didn't want to risk any infection.

The use or not the use of preservatives have opened my eyes in the way I buy cosmetics now and how I use them. If I use something wet, I will sprinkle the powder onto mixing palette so I won't contaminate the original makeup. If I see makeup on sale, I think to myself will I actually use it or will I just watch it go bad within a year?

Beauty is no longer cheap or long lasting!

Thanks again for answering my questions and thanks for mentioning my blog!

Tina Rasmussen, CPH said…
Great post Lise and great discussion ladies! I had a discussion myself on Instagram with Idun cosmetics ( when they brought out a new liquid foundation with a "new technology" which meant they did not have to use a preservative. It is packaged in a container with a pump and they didn't really tell me what they meant with new technology. I have looked at the ingredients and some seem to also be used as preservatives.
I just get so frustrated when a company insists they can make a product like a foundation without a preservative. And even more frustrated when consumers eat it all up without asking questions. When we expect our food to be fresh and jams e.g. to have preservative sand anti-fungal ingredients why would consumers accept cosmetics without them? We all know not many people throw out their products after 6-12 months of use but let them sit on their shelves for a lot longer!
This is a very interesting post. I know a lot of people already prefer cosmetics that are preservative-free. It is really important to know the ingredients that you will apply on your skin to make sure that it won't cause unwanted side effects. Thanks for sharing!
LisaLise said…
Hi Olivia - the nose test is definitely not to be dismissed! You are probably quite right in tossing the makeup that smells different.
LisaLise said…
Hi Tina - It sounds like the new technology that Idun might be using is the packaging itself. There are some packagings that are so airless that it is not necessary to add preservative. These are relatively new to the market. I must admit I've seen a few discussions as to whether or not it os good enough to trust the preservation powers of packaging, but I have also seen it used in medicines such as eye drops, so they might indeed be selling a preservative free product.
Tina Rasmussen, CPH said…
Thank you Lise I had not heard about it before! That's amazing if that's possible :-)
LisaLise said…
HI Tina - I am interested in this packaging and have been 'following' its development. If it is ever available to home-crafters and small-scale companies I will be first in line to purchase. :)
María said…
Citric acid? As far as I know that's not a preservative, just a pH regulator...
LisaLise said…
HI María, citric acid is a buffer, chelater, and is also categorised as a natural preservative, although I must admit I have never used it as such. The person I referred to above informed me she uses it for preserving the shea in her shea butter products (she makes larger batches and refines her own shea).
Mickey said…
Thanks ladies for all your insights! What preservatives would work well in dry mineral makeup, and anhydrous cream makeup? Ive been using thyme linalool EO which is supposed to be an excellent bacteria killer. But if I were going to retail, I would definitely include something else like phenoxyethanol!
Look forward to your opinions!
Thanks, Mickey
LisaLise said…
Hi Mickey, It is indeed phenoexethynol I have spotted on several commercial brand dry make-up ingredients lists.