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Why Preservatives Make a Better Mineral Makeup

By: Sam Dhatt
Posted: November 29, 2010, from the December 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Today’s women demand more from their skin care products—and makeup—than ever before. In particular, the anti-aging boom of the past decade has brought skin function into sharp focus for discerning consumers.

Makeup and skin care products now are seen by many in a long-term context, as part of a lifelong strategy to prevent and minimize damage and wear to the skin. And thus, women have grown increasingly wary of cosmetic ingredients, including the preservatives commonly used to keep the products fresh, free of spoilage and perfectly blended for product consistency.

As part of this quest for makeup that supports skin health while still offering coverage, color and textural features, mineral makeup, especially in its dry powder form, has become the darling of many eco-advocates. (See Natural vs. Chemical.) Mineral makeup is typically more sheer and subtle than its nonmineral counterparts, giving the skin a glowing finish with translucent titanium and zinc oxide that also provide broad-spectrum sun protection. Although some of the popularity of minerals is based upon scientific accuracy, other aspects are founded upon myth and misinformation that can, in fact, be dangerous to skin health, and may also lead to consumer dissatisfaction.

Key among these misguided beliefs is the idea that mineral makeup requires no preservative component. Many consumers seek out preservative-free mineral makeup, but this choice not only diminishes the shelf life and therefore the dollar value of the product, but also poses health risks to clients.

The myth of clean skin

“Cleanliness” is a relative and subjective term. Dermatologists and skin care product manufacturers, among others, realize this, but consumers may not. This, in turn, leads to misunderstanding. The human body, and in particular human skin, is a teeming microbial zoo. It is estimated that microbes on and in the body outnumber human cells ten-to-one.1 Many researchers consider human skin, the body’s largest organ, the final frontier of unexplored science, much as the ocean depths or the reaches of space were once viewed. Experts currently recognize at least 182 species of bacteria—fondly called “normal flora” by bacteriologists—as common residents of human skin. In fact, recent research revealed that 19 species alone live in the warm, shadowy areas behind the ears.2