Are preservatives harmful to scalp and health?

Are preservatives harmful

We've been preserving for centuries

Preservatives and preserving go back as far as the Roman and Egyptian times.

Everything around us contains micro-organisms, the presence or degree of these is called the “microbial load”.

Just as we need to protect our food from mould and fungi, (the presence of water provides the perfect conditions for micro-organisms to reproduce)- cosmetic products including hair care must also be protected.

All cosmetic products including hair care products contain water – hence preservatives are used in all cosmetic products.

The job of the preservatives is to stop the micro-organisms reproducing. Note: preservatives are not antibacterial.

Hair product recommended shelf life.

Shampoos; Conditioners, Masques; Styling products – Shelf life 3 years.

Hair Colour Developers, Bleaching and Straightening products – Shelf life 5 years, because these products have a stronger chemical base. 


All cosmetic products including hair care products contain water – hence preservatives are used in all cosmetic products.

There is not one singular preservative that can protect us from all micro-organisms. This varies according to the type of micro-organism – so it is normal to find more than one preservative.

It is important that these preservatives no not destroy the natural microflora which covers and protects and defends our skin. Every sq cm of our skin contains over 50million of this “good bacteria”. This is why we should avoid certain types of preservatives – there must be a balance to kill the bad but at the same time protect the good.


Some preservatives are harmful and should be avoided

Some preservatives are harmful and should be avoided.


  • Particularly irritating to the skin
  • May enter into the bloodstream via the skin.
  • Cause irritation to the respiratory system.
  • Disrupt the hormone system.
  • Carcinogenic
  • damaging to the environment.

The most well know of these is formaldehyde. it is no longer used some straightening products because it affects the respiratory system. The concern is that it is still widely used in many products in small doses, and must be completely avoided.

Formaldehyde is disguised as: Quarternum 15; DDM hydantoin; Imidazolidinyl urea; Diazolidinyl urea; polyoxyethylene urea; Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate ; 2-Bromo-2-nitropropane ; 1,3diol(bronopol) glyoxal; methenamine. These are said to slowly release cancercausing formaldehyde in small amounts.

Parabens are also well known. Studies in the past have found them in breast tumours, however, it has not been proven that it is the cause of the tumours so they can not be deemed carcinogenic. What is known is that they are high in allergens and can pass through the skin and lead to hormone and immune disruption. Parabens are easy to recognise on labels as they all end in “ben.”

Ketone is one of the most powerful allergens ever produced, and can lead to contact dermatitis and is often found in fragrance ingredients. 

Quarternum 15 is a preservative that releases formaldehyde., and is often used in shampoos, cleansers and cosmetics. It is a known skin irritant, toxicant and allergen and is not recommended. There are many other ingredients with the name “Polyquaternium” which are not preservates and perform other functions.

Triclosan is used as an antibacterial agent and is one of the most toxic preservatives. It is found in some anti-bacterial handsoaps, body washes, toothpaste, deodorant. Avoid products with triclosan  or triclocarban as an ingredient. It is considered an endocrine disruptor effecting thyroid function. Triclosan is environmentally toxic.

What are safe preservatives?

Organethic Pure Care has chosen 3 safe preservatives for their products

They are:

Benzoic Acid and its salts – from fruit especially blueberries.

Benzoic Alcohol – is plant based and found in many essential oils and is a wonderful anti-bacterial agent.

Dehydroacetic Acid and sodium salts – Also plant-based, it works well against fungi and bacteria.

All of these natural preservatives can be used in small concentrations because each one of them has a wide range of action.  Our products contain essential oils which are good preservatives and natural anti-bacterial agents.

So the combination of these 3 natural preservatives allows for the cosmetic products to be preserved in the right way, for shelf life, protection and health.

Ecocert / COSMOS Compliant Cosmetic Preservatives
PreservativeEcocert / COSMOS compliant
Benzoic acid and its saltsYes
Benzyl alcoholYes
Dehydroacetic acid and its saltsYes
Salicylic acid and its saltsYes
Sorbic acid and its saltsYes



Sandra Lamb

Sandra Lamb

Founder & CEO of Easy Hair
Hair & Beauty product ingredient interpreter,
Educator & long time hairdresser.
Easy Hair sources and distributes ethically responsible hair and beauty products to salons.

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