Home Cosmetic Science Talk Formulating Preservatives: Do Consumers Actually Care?

Tagged: 

  • Preservatives: Do Consumers Actually Care?

    Posted by Camel on February 24, 2024 at 2:01 pm

    <div>Note: I am reposting this because it seems the original was somehow deleted.</div>

    In the cosmetic and personal care industry, preservatives such as parabens, formaldehyde and its donors, isothiazolinones, and phenoxyethanol are under constant scrutiny. Despite the controversy, major brands like Pantene, TRESemme, Suave, VO5, and Old Spice continue to use isothiazolinones in some of their best-selling products, while CeraVe and Vaseline continue to use parabens. This persistent use of traditional preservatives by industry giants raises questions, especially when I notice that many formulators on here seem to be jumping through hoops to avoid these ingredients. Unsurprisingly, the alternatives presented are almost never praised or approved by the experts on this forum.

    This discrepancy between industry practice and professional discourse makes me wonder about the consumer’s role and awareness in this dynamic:

    • Is the average consumer’s choice influenced by the type of preservatives used in their personal care products? The sustained popularity of products from the aforementioned brands suggests that consumer backlash might not be as impactful as some anticipate.
    • For emerging brands, the choice of preservatives seems to be a critical decision point. Given the scrutiny over traditional preservatives, can a new brand achieve success while still using them? Or is it that the consumer base for smaller, niche brands is inherently more discerning about ingredients, necessitating alternative preservatives to cater to their preferences?

    I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this, especially given the wealth of experience and knowledge present in this forum. Do consumers truly care about the preservatives in their products, or is this concern mainly confined to industry insiders and a small segment of “well-informed” consumers?<div>

    <div>@PhilGeis @chemicalmatt @Perry44 @Microformulation @ketchito @Graillotion @Paprik

    </div></div>

    PhilGeis replied 1 month, 3 weeks ago 9 Members · 29 Replies
  • 29 Replies
  • mikethair

    Member
    February 24, 2024 at 7:10 pm

    Interesting question.

    As the co-founder of a skincare manufacturing factory in Viet Nam and Malaysia since 2006, I provide a perspective different from most.

    With my background as a scientist for many years (around 40 years) I focussed on developing product formulations that did not use preservatives.

    And how, you may ask. Simple. For our wash products (body wash, face wash, and shampoo) I perfected the process of saponifying plant oils. For example, extra virgin olive oil for our face wash base. And by their very nature, these products do not require preservatives.

    And we were manufacturing in our Certified GMP factories, so all international compliance standards were met. We were exporting to the EU, Japan, the USA, and other countries where we met all the compliance requirements.

    And sales were good, because many customers are concerned about preservatives, so the products we manufactured became their focus. And 90% of our revenue was Private Label where we were manufacturing and exporting for other brands globally.

    To answer your question. Yes, consumers are concerned about preservatives.

    • PhilGeis

      Member
      February 25, 2024 at 10:25 am

      Come on Mike -it doesn’t take a scientist to make and sell soap.

      • mikethair

        Member
        February 25, 2024 at 6:07 pm

        Your words, not mine.

        And my words “As a scientist, I focussed on developing product formulations that did not use preservatives.”

        • PhilGeis

          Member
          February 27, 2024 at 8:56 am

          My point is this - one would expect any alkaline true soap product to “Pass” as USP/ISO/ASTM/EP protocol. The bugs are weak sisters - pH alone knocks down and add fatty acids esp. C12 - the product passes..

          But the purpose of preservation is to protect in-use. With good GMP’s and manuf hygiene, one can make poorly preserved products clean. IN[-use - a pump product may protect but in a typical shampoo bottle, you will get water ingress and poorly preserved products fail. We’ve spoken before on this and i understand you have noIin-use data to this risk.

          • mikethair

            Member
            February 28, 2024 at 3:03 am

            PhilGeis, Yes, I can see where you are coming from, and it’s fair enough. And over the 20 years we manufactured soap bars we did run some in-use testing, and did not detect any issues.

            Can you point us in the direction of what other soap makers are doing?

            • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by  mikethair.
            • PhilGeis

              Member
              February 29, 2024 at 7:17 am

              Sure Mike, and risk is driven by application and culture. Hand soap product in pump less so than shampoo in a bottle. Culture - e.g. customers intentionally diluting product - some Chinese customers use sachets for months for family washing.

              This is the best one in public access https://journals.asm.org/doi/abs/10.1128/aem.53.8.1827-1832.1987

              • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by  PhilGeis.
            • mikethair

              Member
              February 29, 2024 at 6:06 pm

              @PhilGeis the literature references you have provided describe the approach taken by our QC Manager. She was young and enthusiastic and I had provided within our factory two well-equipped labs.

            • PhilGeis

              Member
              March 1, 2024 at 7:55 am

              Great! You should expect no recovery -even one is a concern as you hopefully will be selling the product for years exposing lots of folks. If you find bugs, check product for chemical and physical adulteration. Some folks like to combine products or dilute. Chemical adulteration unless frequent, is not something preservative risk assessment needs to address. Dilution is common for shampoos and less so hand soaps. For that, establish the level whose risk you accept. We used 50% as it was common globally and about the limit of what consumers would see as functional.

      • fareloz

        Member
        February 26, 2024 at 2:16 am

        Don’t ruin the moment of fame for the guy. He’s been 40 years in science and even has become a co-founder of a company just to write these titles in every message on this forum)

    • Camel

      Member
      February 25, 2024 at 6:49 pm

      @mikethair I certainly respect your position and approach to the matter. As a Palestinian, I know the cultural significance of oils and traditional soap very well, and I still order my traditional olive oil (“Nabulsi”) soap bars and liquid soap directly from Palestine, which I mostly use for washing my hands but occasionally the body as well.

      However, I don’t think we can consider this a true solution to preservatives, because there are many products that cannot be replaced with just oils and soap, or even if they could, there would still be a large segment of consumers who prefer the synthetic detergents and moisturizers over the traditional soap and face/body oils.

      For example, I have personally tried to replace my shampoo and conditioner with soap and oil, but the results were far from pleasant with my very thick, curly hair—although I do believe it works for some people. Nonetheless, I appreciate your response!

      • mikethair

        Member
        February 26, 2024 at 12:11 am

        Yes indeed, there is certainly a large segment of consumers who prefer synthetic detergents and moisturizers over traditional soap and face/body oils. And these consumers were not our focus and never will be.

        And conditioner is well outside the scope we would cater for with my formulations. However, we did produce a successful shampoo using saponified coconut oil. It worked for some hair types, but not others.

        I never aimed to formulate products for the mass market. It is a very crowded space, and dominated by very cheap products. Our focus was on artisanal products.

    • oldman20

      Member
      February 25, 2024 at 7:49 pm

      Would i know about name of skincare manufacturing factory in Vietnam & Malaysia, if it doesn’t bother you?

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 4 weeks ago by  oldman20.
      • This reply was modified 1 month, 4 weeks ago by  oldman20.
  • Perry44

    Administrator
    February 25, 2024 at 8:13 am

    Some consumers might care but the vast majority don’t. All you have to do is look at the sales of products that use traditional preservatives. The brands you mentioned are all best sellers. Clearly consumers that buy these products don’t care.

    It’s not surprising to me that @mikethair has a different perspective because his consumer group is filtered & they are looking for more natural products. Most consumers aren’t. The natural/clean market makes up about 20% at most of sales. This means 80% of product sales is not clean/natural.

    As a new brand I don’t think your preservative matters in terms of marketing. What matters is your brand story, your fragrance, your packaging & whether the product meets your claims. Wasting marketing attention by pointing out what preservative you do or do not use seems like a waste of effort to me. While some people may avoid buying your product because it has some ingredient in it they find objectionable, no one is going to buy your product because of what preservative you use. You need a better marketing story than that.

    • Camel

      Member
      February 25, 2024 at 11:28 am

      @Perry44 , I definitely agree with you! My curiosity was sparked by the number of formulators on here that I’ve noticed are particularly avoidant in using traditional preservatives, despite the significant decrease in efficacy, challenges of formulating with, and lack of robust safety data for the alternative, “natural” preservatives used instead. The first thing I did was visit my local Walmart and Target and check what preservatives are being used by the best-selling brands taking up the most retail space and what I noticed is that most of them are still using isothiazolinones and parabens. I also noticed that sulfate surfactants are still in favor in these products, too.

      I do, however, wonder how different the story would be if I went to a Sephora or Ulta Beauty store and did this. Perhaps the desire to formulate without traditional preservatives (or sulfate surfactants and the like) is in order to gain access to those retail spaces that command higher price tags than drug store brands?

      As a consumer, I never paid any attention to the preservatives used in a product, or any of the ingredients on the label for that matter. What I did look at was the packaging and message conveyed on the packaging, as well as the fragrance. So, I also agree with you in that regard.

      • Perry44

        Administrator
        February 28, 2024 at 3:00 pm

        The choice of an “alternative” preservative is similar to the choice of which worldwide regulations you follow. The EU is generally more strict that the US. So, big companies who sell products in both the US and the EU will just follow the EU regulations because they figure it will cover both the US and EU. Whereas if they just followed the US regs, they might run afoul of the EU regs.

        So, if you chose an alternative preservative, the vast number of people who don’t care will still buy your product. But the small number of people who do care will also buy your product. Ergo, if you want to appeal to the most number of consumers, then picking an alternative preservative makes some sense. That way you alienate no one.

        However, the problem is that the alternative preservatives actually cause problems because they don’t work particularly well. And no one wants to buy a microbial contaminated product!

  • Microformulation

    Member
    February 25, 2024 at 9:38 am

    I concur with @Perry44 based on my professional experience. The predominant segment of the mainstream market commonly incorporates preservatives with minimal resistance. While there is a modest inclination among consumers to opt for “paraben-free” products, this choice is often driven more by marketing strategies than a genuine awareness of associated risks.

    Although certain niche markets may exhibit heightened awareness, they currently represent a minority. Given that a substantial number of Forum members have originated from DIY and online sources, their perspectives may be influenced by an undefined natural standard, chemophobia, and occasionally, misinformation. It’s important to note that anhydrous products, such as saponified soaps, possess inherent preservative properties due to reduced free water content and pH levels.

    For Formulators and Chemists, collaboration with clients to discern their target demographic is crucial. Establishing a transparent raw material standard tailored to the specific audience is paramount. It’s a misconception that “natural” equates to being entirely preservative-free. Many effective preservatives are permissible under these standards. Failing to preserve a product could compromise customer safety and potentially expose the manufacturer to liability.

    These insights derive from anecdotal experiences across the market. For instance, one client recently completed an initial production run of 2500 units, while another is in the midst of a substantial run of 375,000 pieces.

  • PhilGeis

    Member
    February 25, 2024 at 10:22 am

    Consumers in general are, at best, vaguely aware. Pressure comes from retailers and their “priority lists” influenced by industry parasites loke EWG and EDF (e.g. https://www.newbeauty.com/how-sephora-is-doubling-down-on-their-chemical-policy/). And there are is occasional moronic legislaion (e.g. https://ecology.wa.gov/waste-toxics/reducing-toxic-chemicals/washingtons-toxics-in-products-laws/toxic-free-cosmetics-act).

    Alternatives - “natural” (that very rarely are), clean beauty, preservative-free etc. preservation is sold on ignorance and hype as are the broader product claims of biodegrable, natural, green, environmentally friendly, sustainable, etc. The number of such product claims is typically inversely proportional to micro and chemical safety. But that IS the basis of our cosmetic business, ignorance and hype - add hope and self delusion.

    • Graillotion

      Member
      February 25, 2024 at 4:23 pm

      Dang @Perry44 …. we need a ‘Like’ button. 😆

    • mikethair

      Member
      February 25, 2024 at 6:15 pm

      PhilGeis - If you are implying that our products compromised micro and chemical safety, then you are mistaken.

      Again, we complied with the toughest cosmetics compliance standards globally. From our experience, Japan tops the list, followed by the EU, and we exported to both countries.

      And the USA standards were the lowest, but currently, these are in the process of being revised.

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 4 weeks ago by  mikethair.
      • PhilGeis

        Member
        February 28, 2024 at 6:44 pm

        Mike - I do not know if consumer safety is compromised by your products. Based on our previous exchanges, I understand have no data that preservative function - protecting the consumer in use - is fulfilled with your products. So you too do not know.

        There are no “toughest standards” for functional preservation anywhere but with the major companies who preserve to address in-use risk. And that in general would not be just passing a USP/ISO/EP/BP test.

        • mikethair

          Member
          February 28, 2024 at 10:14 pm

          Hi PhilGeis,

          Yes, over the 20 years that we manufactured soap bars, for every batch we produced our QC Manager retained bars for 2-3 years, and these were tested regularly. All results were recorded. Plus, we did various tests in-use with the help of some of our customers.

          We never detected any issues, apart from fragrance loss. So, I would say that our QC Manager and myself have a fairly good idea.

          And your most insightful comment - “Mike - I do not know if consumer safety is compromised by your products.”

  • fareloz

    Member
    February 26, 2024 at 2:21 am

    Simple answers:

    1. No, most customers do not care about preservatives (and INCI in general)

    2. To compete with big brands the small ones have to come up with marketing stories, one of them is fearmongering about preservatives (and other components like SLS or silicones)

    • mikethair

      Member
      February 26, 2024 at 2:46 am

      (1) Yes indeed, most consumers do not care about preservatives. This is the mass market and not our target market.

      (2) And we weren’t into fear-mongering. We just produced products that did not use preservatives. We left the fear-mongering to other brands.

      And we were all about “trading down,” down to the local, the simple, the unrefined but raw and true.

      • fareloz

        Member
        February 26, 2024 at 2:49 am

        Hmm, not sure why you answered to this comment, but I was answering to the topic starter. No one was talking about you and your business.

  • Camel

    Member
    February 26, 2024 at 10:00 pm

    @PhilGeis @fareloz

    How do you think the industry can improve consumer education on the safety and necessity of preservatives in cosmetics? Or do you think the trend of exploiting consumer fears and misconceptions about these ingredients is too deeply embedded in their business models to shift towards a more transparent, science-based approach to communication?

    It feels like the tactics of fearmongering have become so extreme, they should require legal regulation. The situation with the EWG is particularly amusing yet concerning. Although I find it funny that none of the ingredients I own or use in my formulas are on their “acceptable” list, considering they are often the top search result for an ingredient by INCI, I can see how this could be damaging to brands that use those ingredients. This makes me wonder whether its possible for emerging brands to correct these misconceptions without compromising their brand narrative.

    • Perry44

      Administrator
      February 28, 2024 at 3:15 pm

      I don’t think this problem of misinformation and fearmongering will go away until consumers get smarter. People have to stop taking advertising seriously. If they assume that everyone in the industry is out to trick them, they will be better off financially.

      Industry is in no position to do “consumer education.” The cosmetic industry is based on selling “hope in a bottle” and that is what consumers want to buy. Nobody really wins when consumers are better educated. Instead, the real winning comes when brands are able to miseducate consumers. Drunk Elephant convinced people they need to avoid 6 types of ingredients and in less than 10 years they built an $845 million company!

      If consumers were educated and interested in buying products that worked at reasonable prices, they would be buying Suave or Equate or all the other store brands that work just as well as the super expensive products at a fraction of the price. But that is not what consumers want & that isn’t what industry wants either.

      An honest, science-based approach to communication by brands might work for some niche brand, but you’re never going to grow a billion dollar brand telling people the truth.

      • Camel

        Member
        February 28, 2024 at 3:42 pm

        @Perry44

        You make some very great points! Marketing does often revolve around selling hope through products, which, when properly formulated, essentially perform the same functions (e.g., shampoos cleanse, conditioners soften). I think the real issue is the use of fearmongering and misinformation to boost sales. Exaggerating the benefits of ingredients like Bamboo Extract or Blueberry Seed Oil in your shampoo and conditioner, even at minimal usage levels, is one thing. However, I think it becomes very problematic when brands falsely claim that ingredients like DMDM Hydantoin will make your hair fall out, or that parabens will harm your reproductive health. It is the difference between selling hope and selling fear, and the latter is what I think needs to be legally regulated. Thank you for offering your thoughts on this!

  • ketchito

    Member
    February 26, 2024 at 10:42 pm

    I think that’s the only way small brands can compete with big ones, riding every new wave of fear mongering, since they don’t have the resources (both budget and technical) that big companies have. If you check patents, they are mostly from big companies that can invest in R&D. The same happens with papers presented at big events like the IFSCC congress. Also, since small brands can’t many times afford to even have a chemist (or similar) in their team, they rely either on formulas given by a contract manufacturers or by a supplier. You’d barely see fancy ingredients in the “backbones” of big brand’s formulas, just pure science…while a small brand will have many of not really solid science-based ingredients.

    • mikethair

      Member
      February 28, 2024 at 10:22 pm

      @ketchito and another approach is to share brand philosophy and identity. And this is what consumers are buying into. The result is that your brand is not so much product-driven as purpose-driven, and therefore less bossed around by the consumer or market, and more driven by the brand’s convictions. Within this context with my brand we would often focus on “old fashion values from simpler times” and “exotic fragrances will take you away to a time and place where life moves more leisurely.”

Log in to reply.