Preservatives & Natural Skin Care

The time has come to discuss a topic that has built up quite the reputation over the past few years.  Having worked retail for a variety of natural skin care companies, I would argue that the most frequently ask questions by customers are those concerning the use of preservatives.  And it’s not hard to see why!

The likely culprit of our confusion?

Hand Holds Petri Dish with Bacteria Culture

Harmful Microbes

In my opinion, a lot of the confusion stems from what I call the, ‘preservative-free’ movement and the ‘paraben scare.’    Studies were conducted (thank goodness), and a respectable amount of preservatives used in the most common commercial-based products were deemed dangerous, toxic, and threatening to our health.  One minute later, someone decided ALL preservatives were bad, unnecessary, and downright offensive to even read on a product label.  While there are, without question, some preservatives we should do our best to avoid, do not let a few bad apples destroy your faith in the rest of them.

Here are some of the most common questions I hear (and have asked myself) regarding preservatives and how they operate in the realm of Green Chemistry, and help maintain healthy skin.  It is my hope, and Bee Naturals’ mission, that these explanations help clarify some of the confusion, and equip you with the knowledge necessary to make informative and healthy consumer choices.

Frequently Asked Questions & Straightforward Answers:

Let’s start off easy…

What is a preservative?

  • A preservative is an ingredient used in products to inhibit the growth of microbial contaminants (bacteria, mold, and yeast).
  • Some preservatives can protect against all three contaminants and are known as, broad spectrum preservatives. Because not all preservatives are blessed with such abilities, it is common for manufacturers to use a few in combination with one another to ensure the formula can defend itself against all microbial enemies.

What do you risk when you don’t have a preservative?

  • Without the use of preservatives, you run the risk of your product spoiling and becoming a microbial breeding ground for all kinds of health concerns, even diseases.  Imagine leaving the leftovers from dinner sitting on the counter for a couple of days.  You wouldn’t eat them, right?
  • Health concerns that can arise from bacteria overgrowth in a product include various forms of skin infections, toxic shock, strep throat, eye infections, etc.

Does EVERY skin care product need a preservative?

  • Primarily, water-based lotions and creams need a preservative.  Products like lip balms and water-free ointments, generally are considered, ‘self-preserved’, as they don’t contain all the necessary elements from organisms to grow and multiply.

What about parabens?

  • Well…there are many opinions on this matter.  On one side, we have those reputable sources who strongly believe that parabens are misunderstood, and, if used correctly under the right specifications, are perfectly safe.  To keep a long story short, the paraben-cancer scare is said to have started when, in 2004, Dr. Philippa Darbre published a study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology that alluded to the possibility of parabens causing cancer.  The study has since been deemed inaccurate and has been discredited.  However, general public consensus rules parabens DO still cause cancer, so many manufactures have chosen to use other alternative preservatives.

*For more on this story, check out this article written by Perry Romanowski

  • Regardless, there are still many articles claiming parabens do pose threats to our health. To stay clear of the paraben mess of opinions altogether, some companies, such as Bee Naturals, simply avoid paraben use altogether.

What preservatives are found in Bee Naturals products?

  • We use phenoxyethanol blended with sorbic acid/potassium sorbate for the majority of our water containing products.
  • This is our blend of choice because of its long history of safe use, as well as their ability to fully defend our products against the most harmful microbes.


Rating the Safety of Cosmetic Ingredients: EWG Reliable Resource?

Nine times out of ten, the average customer that strolls into a natural cosmetics store is an ingredient detective.  They care about what ingredients have been used and have acquired some sort of general knowledge on what should and should not be included in product formulations.  Thirsty for knowledge, this particular clientele often wonders what online resources are available to aid them in their product investigations.

The Importance of Multiple Resources

Bee Naturals owner Barbara Chappuis is frequently asked this question, and her answer aligns with the company’s mission:  to educate customers to the point of becoming empowered consumers.   While many owners would be inclined to greet an individual’s healthy curiosity with the hidden agenda of recommending their own products; her sincere recommendation is to draw upon multiple resources for the most accurate ingredient inquiries.

Everyone wishes that there were an easier answer.  But unfortunately, there is not a singular website to turn to for all your questions.  Some sites offer outstanding information on ingredients, but may not provide unbiased cosmetic product reviews.  There are pros and cons to every website, but identifying the flaws can require a little extra digging.  Educating the public on these positive and negative qualities cultivates a society of capable consumers.  Consumers who can then rest assured that their decisions on safe cosmetics are based on scientific fact, rather than opinion.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Database

It is tricky discussion to tackle, and only recently have people begun to publicly debate the credibility of the EWG.  Not many businesses wish to be on this multi-million dollar company’s radar.  But since this source is still a popular choice among customers as a cosmetic safety reference, it undoubtedly needs to be discussed.


The EWG is a non-profit organization that has been around since 1992, at the tip of the Green Movement.  The Group’s website describes their mission “to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment” by using  “breakthrough research and education.”  The EWG’s Skin Deep Database was created to be a helpful resource to judge the safety of cosmetics.  By searching a product name or specific ingredient, customers are able to see a toxicity rating and a brief description of the chemicals used, as well as their side effects.  The ratings are given a number between one and ten, ten being the most dangerous.  Obviously, the mission is something we can all stand behind, and the idea of creating a tool to help educate customers on what is in their favorite products is certainly something to be admired.


Perhaps the number one flaw with the EWG’s Skin Deep Database is that it is not backed by much science at all.  Most of the research is merely opinion, with no documented data to support the number ratings of a product’s ingredients.  Want proof?  Look no further than the EWG’s list of “Best Moisturizer’s with SPF.”  This list is the EWG’s pick of 125 sunscreens that have been deemed safe and effective.   On the list is Yes to Cucumbers Daily Calming Moisturizer, SPF 30.  This product is given the proud rating of 1, but the reasoning behind this score makes no logical sense.

Environmental Working Group

In the ingredient breakdown, numerical scores are given to each ingredient, and below each number, one word is written to describe the amount of scientific data supporting each score.  All 18 ingredients found in the moisturizer were given a safe numerical score, never exceeding a 2.  As for the amount of data to support those ratings, only 2 ingredients, water and sucrose, had a decent amount of data to support the EWG’s scores.  The other 16 ingredients had “fair,” “limited,” or “zero” amount of data to back up safety scores.

Environmental Working GroupClearly, the site has some work to do with supporting the strong claims it has made regarding the safety of its featured products.  This flaw is unfortunately consistently found across the database, which features reviews like the one above on approximately 79,000 products.

The EWG is a broad organization, and Skin Deep makes up only a small portion of the organization as a whole.  While some of the site’s information can be helpful, consumers should not use it as a sole source of information to determine the safety of cosmetic products.

Bee Naturals Resource Recommendations

Here is a list of helpful resources, as well as their areas of expertise:

  1. Cosmetic Ingredient Review –
  • This site is helpful for understanding the chemistry behind ingredients and their safety. All information is backed by scientific documentation made visible to viewers.
  1. Cosmetics Info –
  • This site is beneficial for those looking to search for products by name to get unbiased, science-based reviews regarding the safety of your favorite cosmetics.
  1. The Beauty Brains –
  • Written by two cosmetic chemists, this blog seeks to answer any all questions regarding cosmetic products.
  1. CosDNA –
  • This database allows you to search by product name or ingredient. The site details an ingredient’s function, scores the ingredient’s chance of causing acne and irritation, as well as gives the ingredient a safety rating.

What Is Green Chemistry?

Green Chemistry calls for the design of products and processes that decrease, or completely eliminate, the use and generation of substances that are harmful to human health and the environment. The United States Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, applies Green Chemistry to “…the life-cycle of a product, including its design, manufacture, and use” [1]. For the cosmetics world, companies that adapt this philosophy create products that are environmentally friendly and safe for human health during all stages of their production.

Bee Naturals and Green Chemistry 

Bee Naturals values Green Chemistry as a philosophy and applies its principles to the manufacturing process of all its products, from start to finish. Application of this philosophy is found in Bee Naturals product ingredients, sustainable product packaging, and the safe outputs each product has on human health and the environment.

Product Ingredients:

Bee Naturals founder, Barbara Chappuis, has never been one to take short cuts or cut corners. The world of cosmetics is cutthroat, and consumers want to make sure that what they are putting on their bodies is safe and natural. It is hard to find a company that places honesty above making a quick buck. They take advantage of consumer trends and market themselves to fit the mold, but a closer look often reveals the ugly truth. Chappuis has given her company a transparency rarely seen in the cosmetics industry. Involved in every aspect of her business, she truly cares about what goes into each product.

A chemist at heart, Chappuis is a real innovator, reformulating products with safe ingredients that deliver the results that customers expect. In order to keep her company natural, the founder has chosen to obtain ingredients from sources that shun the use of pesticides.   This elimination of pesticides from Bee Naturals products is a prime example of Green Chemistry, as it decreases the use of a substance that is harmful to our health and the environment.

Sustainable Packaging:

All Bee Naturals product packages are fully recyclable, and their codes are proudly displayed on the bottom. Even the paper materials are 100 percent compostable, including the product labels. The company recycles all containers and boxes. Chappuis proudly boasts of her company’s sustainability:  “Bee Naturals produces almost no trash. In fact, 85 percent of everything that comes in the door is either recycled or reused.” Checking out at one of the brand’s retail locations requires no paper at all, using an iPad, you are given the option of having your receipt emailed to you. This is the sort of “process” that Green Chemistry urges companies to design.

Safe Outputs: 

As previously mentioned, Green Chemistry must be applied to the life cycle of a product, from start to finish, from design to use. The safe outputs of Bee Naturals products prove the philosophy being upheld to the very end. The Natural Insect Repellent for instance, does not harm the person or the environment during its use. Commercial brand bug sprays on the other hand, rely on hazardous chemicals that are harmful not only to our health, but also to our sensitive ecosystems [2]. When you use one of these commercial products, the synthetic pesticides are often carried through the air to different pieces of land after they are sprayed. Scientists have linked reproductive issues of certain animals to the spread of synthetic pesticides that occurs from human use. Bee Naturals insect repellent simply repels pests.



  1. (Accessed July 3, 2015)
  1. (Accessed July 2, 2015)