Copyright  Cleo Aromatherapy2015

The buzz about preservatives . . . .

You may have heard about preservatives, things like parabens and how products containing them are bad. There is a lot of information and misinformation out there about them. Let’s take a closer look . . . .


By all means research it for yourself, but I am presenting here some things I have learned. The word preservative tends to have a negative connotation. Perhaps its not a good word to describe them. It conveys an artificial function. Whatever preservative used, they essentially preserve products from the ravages of bacteria and fungi, which would otherwise thrive in the product. This is indeed an artificial function, but without it, products can spoil pretty quickly. Spoiling means microbes have reached hazardous levels, and the unpreserved product could pose greater risks to the user than the preservatives they are trying to avoid.



Natural vs. Safe


In making products I like to keep things simple and avoid synthetic ingredients and additives if possible. As a provider of products to the public, I have a responsibility to ensure my products are safe. Making them in sterile conditions is not enough as the user will contaminate the product every time they use it. The preservative is a bacterial agent required to ensure that contaminants do not thrive in the product and make it unsafe.


Preservatives are not all bad. They get a bad name when some people prove sensitive. Like MSG, and gluten, because some people have difficulties with them, many people perceive them as bad. Really they may only be bad for you if you are sensitive or allergic.



At Cleo


At present I am investigating a suitable means of preserving my creams. In the meantime I give my creams a short shelf-life. They only preservative I use at present is Sodium Benzoate, which I currently use to preserve my hydrolats. Read more about sodium benzoate below.




Sodium Benzoate


The facts about sodium benzoate are fudged out there. Some claim it’s natural and safe, and some claim it causes cancer. Benzoic acid is natural and you will find it in fruits and other foods, but particularly berries. Benzoic acid combines with sodium hydroxide to make sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate combines with potassium benzoate and vitamin C/ascorbic acid to make benzene, which is a known carcinogen (causes cancer). Benzoin acid, sodium benzoate and benzene are 3 different things. Sodium benzoate does not actually have much to condemn it.


Here is what I have found:

In Cosmetics:

Sodium benzoate is toxic at high doses (everything is toxic at high doses) however it is required at very low concentrations to be effective, so it is not used in any great quantities (about 0.1%).


In food:

Sodium benzoate is used as a preservative in food and drinks. This may present more of a problem, as it is often used alongside potassium benzoate (another preservative) and if the food or drink contains vitamin C/ascorbic acid, then you have all the ingredients for benzene, the carcinogen mentioned above. Even at low concentrations, since food and drinks are consumed in greater quantities, the cumulative effect may still be a concern.


At Cleo:

I currently use sodium benzoate in my hydrolats.


1) It is used on its own, so there is no potassium hydroxide or vitamin C present.

2) It is used in very low concentrations

3) The reason I’m happy to use it in my hydrolats is they are all water, and sodium benzoate dissolves so easily in water, it is well dispersed and very effective.

4) Hydrolats may be consumed orally, but they are used only in small amounts so the user has limited exposure to a very low concentration of sodium benzoate.

5)This safe level of exposure to sodium benzoate allows the hydrolat to be safe, and far outweighs the risks posed by using a hydrolat which may otherwise be host to a flourishing population of microbes.


Why not use alcohol?

Many producers of natural cosmetics use alcohol as a preservative. However it is only effective at 16%, which is relatively high, making it a poor choice for a product intended for drinking. At any concentration, alcohol in my hydrolats could make it prohibitive to people with an alcohol dependency.


This page will be updated as I learn more. Feel free to email me with your questions, concerns or information you have found at