Vitamin E is not a preservative - and other cosmetic preservation misconceptions

Somehow there developed this idea on the Internet that Vitamin E is a cosmetic preservative. It’s not.  Vitamin E is not a preservative! If you put vitamin E in your formula, you are not preserving it.  You are not protecting the formula from the most dangerous microbes that might contaminate your product.  

It’s not a preservative. It doesn’t protect you or your customers.  It just doesn’t.


Vitamin E is an antioxidant so if you are using oils in your formula, it might slow down the tendency for those ingredients to go rancid. It is commonly used in food for this reason because it “preserves taste.” However, people do not eat cosmetics so vitamin E will have no preservative benefit in your cosmetic formula.

Cosmetic Preservatives

Cosmetic preservatives are put in formulas for the specific reason to prevent the growth of disease causing microbes in your formulas. Here is a list of the microbes that could be growing in your cosmetics.

Any formula that contains water and other materials like oils or proteins or anything else, needs a preservative. To make safe products you need to add ingredients that will prevent microbial growth.  You need to add preservatives.  Vitamin E is NOT a preservative.

Anhydrous preservation

Another misconception I often hear is that you do not need to add a preservative to an anhydrous product. The idea is that if there is no water for the microbe to grow, you don’t need a preservative to stop growth.

While it is true that microbes can’t grow in a completely anhydrous system, it’s not true that you don’t need to add a preservative to these formulas.  In fact, you SHOULD add a preservative to anhydrous formulas.

Preventing microbial growth in your formula is the primary reason you add a preservative. And if your product sat on the shelf and was never touched by human hands, you wouldn’t need a preservative.  But most cosmetics are used. They are touched by human hands. They get contaminated. They pick up moisture. Over time even an anhydrous cosmetic product can pick up microbial growth.

For this reason, you should also include a preservative in your anhydrous formulas. Phenoxyethanol or propylparaben are good options.

Health scares as preservatives

There’s another misconception about cosmetic preservatives that they are somehow dangerous to your health. They aren’t.

Cosmetic preservatives have been thoroughly tested for safety and have been confirmed as safe for use in cosmetics by independent science groups. Do you think parabens are a problem?  They aren’t.  They are safe. That is the conclusion of the independent group of toxicologists from the SCCS.  As a formulator, you should not be afraid to use paraben preservatives.

But other preservatives have also been found to be safe.  Formaldehyde donors for example. They are safe for use up to 0.2% which is more than is typically used for preserving cosmetics.

When a website claims that “preservatives are very unhealthy” they are misrepresenting the facts.  Preservatives as they are used in cosmetics are healthy. They are safe.

Sure, high levels of these materials might be unsafe but high levels of nearly EVERY cosmetic ingredient can be unsafe.  The dose matters.

Cosmetic preservatives are safe.

Do you have questions about preservatives?  Leave a comment below and I’ll answer.


Related Articles

How to Become a Cosmetic Chemist

The job of a cosmetic chemist, or as they call it in the UK a cosmetic scientist, requires you to do a wide variety of things both in and out of the lab. Your main responsibility will be that of a formulator. This means you mix raw materials together to create cosmetic products like lipstick, nail polish, skin lotions, shampoos, toothpaste and any other type of personal care product.

Free Report

Sign up now to get a free report "How to Duplicate any cosmetic formula". Plus a 4-part introduction to cosmetic science mini-course.

We respect your email privacy