Preservatives are added to water-based body care products to to extend shelf-life.   This is good!  Without preservatives, these products would grow bacteria and mold, some of which can be harmful to humans.  Here is a brief review of a few common preservatives used in lotions to help you become more informed about what is in your products.

Citric acid:  A weak organic acid, citric acid is found in citrus fruits and prevents microbial growth by lowering pH.  Most pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria thrive in the pH range of 5-8, citric acid is used to lower the pH typically to around 4.  This chemical gives citrus foods their sour taste.  Citric acid is considered a natural preservative though due to its high demand is synthesized in laboratories.  It is non-toxic and non-irritating, though can cause skin sensitivities in excessively high concentrations.

Diazolidinyl urea & DMDM Hydantoin:  Widely used antimicrobial agents.  Generally considered safe, these chemicals are somewhat controversial because they work by releasing formaldehyde and can also cause skin irritation.

Parabens (methyl-, propyl-, butyl-):  Effective, low-cost broad-spectrum preservatives, parabens are widely used in body care products.  Some parabens are found naturally in fruit, most are synthesized. Considered non-toxic, they are excreted readily from the body.  There is some controversy and growing concern about long-term exposure to these compounds, mainly due to their possible estrogenic effects and presence in some breast tumors.  Parabens can also cause allergic reactions in those with sensitivities.

Phenoxyethanol:  This chemical is considered safe at low doses and an attractive alternative to the formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.  The FDA does, however, warn against it’s use for breast-feeding mothers.

Potassium sorbate:  Increasingly used as a replacement for parabens, this mold inhibitor has a long history in the wine-making industry to stop fermentation.  Generally considered safe, this chemical can irritate eyes and skin if used in high concentrations.

Diazolidinyl urea: