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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.
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It is important to understand that, because the skin is a thriving community of microbes, everything that touches it becomes their transport system. A makeup brush or applicator scoops up innumerable microorganisms with even one pass over cleansed skin. Unless the applicator or brush is discarded or disinfected each time it touches the skin—realizing that a woman typically passes the brush or sponge over the skin several times per application of bronzer, base, eye shadow and blush—entire colonies are introduced back into the pan or jar of cosmetic product each day. They proliferate exponentially, awaiting the arrival of new colleagues with the next product use.
Bacteria thrive in moisture, and this has been part of the appeal of mineral makeup: they are dry powders. It stands to reason that because mineral makeup contains no water in the formulations, no preservatives are needed to prevent the microbial proliferation that is ubiquitous. But here’s where it gets sticky—literally. Even if manufacturers ship promptly and even if the product moves briskly in the retail environment, clients are notorious for hanging on to their favorite cosmetic products long after the manufacturer’s suggested expiration date.
Also consider that makeup is often stored in steamy, warm, damp places, such as the bathroom, and the surfaces and even the air of the bathroom is often laden with an abundance of intestinal flora. These persistently find their way into any product used there.
These microbial concentrations often cause mild infections and irritations. For instance, conjunctivitis is commonly caused by one of the Staph family, which is one of the largest groups of bacteria composing normal flora. Consumers may presume that ingredients listed on a cosmetic package are causing an allergic or inflammatory response in their skin, when in fact they may be reacting to the bacterial omnipresence.
Given this knowledge, the case for preservatives—even in mineral makeup—is irrefutable. So the question becomes, what makes a great preservative? Parabens were the answer until recently. Parabens are a food-grade preservative derived from benzoic acid that operate as a broad-spectrum antimicrobial. Although links between parabens and disease are not conclusive, recent controversy and media concern has turned a large portion of public opinion against this once-common solution. (Editor’s note: See “The Truth About Parabens” by Carol and Robert Trow, which appeared in Skin Inc. magazine’s July 2010 issue.)