We’ve always used natural preservatives like salt, honey and clay to keep LUSH products fresh for longer. As a result, more than 70% of our range is entirely self-preserving — something not many other cosmetic companies could claim. But it’s still not good enough. You want us to go even further and remove more parabens or synthetic preservatives from your cosmetic products. And your wish is our command.
Until now, most of our self-preserving products have been solid, as bacteria requires water to grow and multiply. To keep creams, lotions and liquids fresh we use minimal amounts of synthetic preservatives, namely methylparaben, propylparaben, phenoxyethanol and benzyl alcohol, as this gives non-solid products a much longer shelf life.
Although we’re confident that these synthetic preservatives are absolutely safe, we know that some of our customers prefer to avoid them. So we’ve come up with an innovative way to rebalance our formulations, which means that we can remove these artificial preservatives from some of the products that you know and love. As a result, we'll be able to offer more products that are totally free from preservatives – and all without significantly altering the look, the feel, the price, or reducing the shelf life.
What are parabens?
Parabens were first introduced in the 1930s and are now the most commonly-used preservatives in cosmetic products. They are so widely used because they are inexpensive, colorless, odorless, non-toxic and have a wide spectrum of antimicrobial activity, which means that they stop fungus, bacteria and other microbes from growing in creams and make-up.
Dr. Stephanie Williams, Dermatologist at European Dermatology London, says: "Parabens have a long history of safe use and are very commonly used in skincare. They are well established skincare preservatives and, for the vast majority, won’t cause any problems. In very few people, parabens might cause contact allergies, although that’s rare compared to their widespread use."
Despite this, parabens have become an unpopular ingredient, even though many customers aren’t entirely sure why.
"There is definitely a demand for paraben-free formulas, so much so that new products brought to the market are actually considered controversial if they contain parabens,” says beauty blogger Caroline Hirons, of carolinehirons.com. “But I’m sure, if asked, most people wouldn’t know why parabens are considered ‘dangerous’."
In fact, concerns about parabens can be traced back to a 2004 study which found traces of parabens in breast cancer tumors. This formed the basis of a theory that parabens, which can weakly mimic the hormone estrogen, can disrupt hormones and increase the risk of breast cancer. However, further studies have found no evidence to support this. Rachel Rawson, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Care confirms: “There is currently no conclusive evidence to suggest that the use of products containing parabens is directly linked to the development of breast cancer."
Indeed, parabens have been subjected to such rigorous testing that experts now believe that they are safer than other synthetic alternatives. Dr. Edmund Fowles of EF Chemical Consulting, a company which specializes in cosmetic safety assessments, says: “I feel absolutely sure that parabens are safe. As a result of all the fuss about the potential risks there has been exhaustive research, which has covered all angles. ‘Paraben-free’ cosmetics simply use a different type of preservative, which will have been much less rigorously researched, so how can we say that it’s better?"
Dr. Stephanie Williams agrees. She says: "Parabens rarely cause skin problems, and some newer, comparably less tried and tested preservatives, might cause more frequent reactions."
For these reasons, Lush continues to use parabens at levels which are within European Union (EU) guidelines. Current EU regulations permit a total concentration of 0.4% of methylparaben in cosmetic products, and LUSH uses 0.2% as standard.
From 2014, revised EU guidelines will mean that propylparaben can be used at a maximum concentration of 0.19%; Lush formulas use a concentration of 0.1%.
Left on the shelf?
You’ve probably noticed that, just like the food you buy at the supermarket, LUSH products have a ‘use by’ date. But unlike most other cosmetic brands, we also let you know when our products were made. We recommend that you keep our Fresh Face Masks in the fridge and use them as soon as possible while the ingredients are still fresh and active, but the majority of our products have a shelf life of 14 months from the date that they were made. In most cases we manage to achieve this without using preservatives, simply because of the way in which the products are formulated.
How long do Lush products last?
All cosmetics that contain water require some type of preservative system, simply because water enables bacteria to grow and multiply. So removing the excess water – by turning bubble bath into bubble bars, body lotions into massage bars and shampoo and conditioners into solids – means that bacterial growth is inhibited and we no longer need to add any synthetic preservatives. The same applies to our soaps, powdered deodorants, toothy tabs and cleansing rolls.
We use clay, calamine, talc and kaolin in our products to absorb water and several products, such as Big solid conditioner, also contain lots of salt, which is alkaline.
Bacteria will only flourish in acidic conditions so, again, we don’t need to use preservatives. "All organisms, including microorganisms, need water in order to live," explains LUSH Inventor Daniel. "In a solid cosmetic composition there is no water available for the microorganisms to use for their essential biochemistry, and therefore they are unable to develop."
Of course, it’s not practical to sell only solid products, which is why we have continued to use synthetic preservatives in our creams and lotions. However, we’ve now found a way to keep the amount of 'free water' – which is the water that’s left over once the chemical reactions have taken place – to a minimum, meaning that even our moisturizers can become entirely self-preserving.
"We’ve now developed a set of formulation parameters that allowed us to develop self-preserving systems," says Daniel.
As time goes on, we hope to add more self-preserving products to our range, giving you more choice than ever. Daniel says: "Our long term goal is to eliminate preservatives, while making sure the customer can get the product they love."