A Close Look at Preservatives
Preservatives are essential in any water-based product, as they prevent it from spoilage and stop the growth of bacteria, mold, fungi and other not so delightful things. Preservatives can also extend a product’s life by preventing changes in its smell, texture, efficacy, flavor, etc.
While a very important ingredient, preservatives can also have some concerning attributes. So formulators have the challenge of choosing a preservative, or preservative system (multiple preservatives), strong enough to keep the product safe while also being as gentle as possible. This makes them one of the toughest ingredient types to evaluate.
From the beginning, we set extremely high standards. We know not all ingredients are created equal. And we know everyone has their own criteria for what they are looking for in a product. That’s why we consult with 12+ sources, including government regulatory groups (like the EPA and the ECHA), chemistry databases (such as PubChem and PubMed) and advocacy groups (including EWG and Women’s Voices), to learn everything we can when researching every ingredient.
Since MightyNest began, we have only approved natural and nature identical preservatives in our products. Guided by requests from our customers to broaden our offerings, we expanded our research and knowledge, and began digging deeper into ingredients. What we have learned is that the world of preservatives is complex.
To even be considered, a preservative must clear the following criteria:
- Is not a known endocrine disruptor.
- Is not a known carcinogen.
- Is not a known reproductive toxicant.
Note that every product page clearly outlines what type of preservative is in a product, if there is one at all. Read on to learn more about the different types of preservatives, and the pros and cons of each.
There are benefits and drawbacks to both natural and synthetic preservatives, and each needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Natural/Nature Identical Preservatives
Natural preservatives are derived directly from natural botanicals (plants, trees, fruits, etc). Nature identical preservatives are man-made but chemically identical to their natural counterparts.
Some downsides of natural and nature identical preservatives are that they tend to be more expensive and often have to be used at higher amounts to be effective. This results in a higher potential for skin allergy (preservatives generally have a potential for irritancy).
For example, citric acid is a popular skincare preservative ingredient. However, the amount of citric acid you would need to sufficiently preserve some products would end up being highly caustic and would harm the skin and surfaces it comes in contact with.
Synthetic preservatives are created in a laboratory and can be made from both natural materials and petroleum by-products.
Because synthetic preservatives are more powerful, a very small amount can effectively preserve a product. They protect against a broader spectrum of bacteria and other unwelcome “bugs” than natural and nature identical preservatives do, and they also have a longer shelf life — an important factor for some products.
For example, if you used an all-purpose spray that had spoiled, you’d be spraying and spreading bacteria and other germs all over your kitchen and food surfaces. Many cleaning products use ingredients based off of sugars, which bugs feed on, so an effective preservative is critical.
Through our rigorous product selection process, we have identified some Nature Identical and Synthetic Preservatives that pass our review process. And we have identified many more that do not. Until we can gather enough information to ensure a preservative meets our criteria for safety, we will not carry any product that contains it.
We are committed to being transparent about what’s in our products so you can choose what’s right for you and your family. This is why on the ingredient detail section of each product page we identify which preservative type is in the product: Natural/Nature Identical or Synthetic as shown below.
We will continue to update our Ingredient Yes/No List as we encounter more preservatives that meet — or don’t meet — our criteria. And we will continue to pay particular attention to any and all preservative ingredients.
If you have a question that we haven’t answered or want further clarity on how we choose our products, please don’t hesitate to let us know.