The art of preservation

Your guide to safe synthetics and natural alternatives

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"Making a water-based product self-preserving requires a careful balance of natural ingredients. Using these, it is possible to eliminate the need for synthetic preservatives."

Product inventor Jack Constantine


Preservatives are substances added to food and other products to keep them fresh for longer. They ensure that perishables aren't affected by microbial spoilage, retain a long shelf life, and that consumers are protected from any potential infection. The result is an insurance policy, giving you peace of mind every time you touch a product.

The preservation timeline

Throughout history, people have found innovative ways to keep food, drink and cosmetics clean, fresh and safe to use without the use of fridges, freezers, chemicals or handy tupperware containers. Take a trip back in time to see how the history of preservation has unfolded.

What is Free Water?

Free water, also known as 'water activity,' refers to water that microbes can use to reproduce. Like all living things, micro-organisms need water and nutrients to grow, and so water-based products like shower gels provide the perfect environment for bacterial reproduction. To keep perishables safe and fresh, free water must either be reduced or microbial growth must be controlled with a preservative. Synthetic preservatives like parabens can be used to stop microbes from developing in water-based products. Absorbent natural materials like clay and water-soluble compounds like salts and sugars can also be used to reduce the amount of water that microbes are able to access. Solid, naked products have minimal water content which means they don’t need added preservatives.

How do synthetic preservatives work?

Synthetic Preservatives

On average, 5 million aerobic bacteria live on each square centimetre of your skin. These are able to clear any pathogenic micro-organisms in 20 minutes, providing the skin is clear of cuts or abrasions. A good preservative should limit interference with these important micro-organisms.


To protect consumers, the European Union monitors the use of synthetic preservatives, both by classifying which materials can be used as preservatives and limiting the maximum usage of these. Manufacturers, however, are not limited by the number of preservatives they can use in a product.


Preservatives have different methods of keeping a product clean, and the effectiveness of each synthetic can be boosted when two preservatives that work in different ways are teamed up. Much like a doubles tennis team, one preservative can defend at the net while the other covers the back of the court, both waiting to tag-team microbes.


For example, preservatives like methylparaben and phenoxyethanol punch holes in bacterial cell walls or membranes, much like pulling the plug out of a bath. This means that the bacteria is unable to reproduce. Others like propylparaben and benzyl alcohol prevent microbes from forming cell walls properly so the bacteria can't close itself in to reproduce. This means a second generation of microbes can't form.

Are parabens safe?

Parabens are a family of chemical preservatives that are used to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold in perishable goods like preservatives. During their long history of use, numerous studies have assessed their safety and effects on the skin in extensive detail.

The self-preserving toolkit

If expertly used, a number of ingredients can keep formulas fresh naturally - eliminating the need for synthetic preservatives. These materials can reduce the water content of a product and create an environment that is inhospitable to micro-organisms, but simultaneously add benefits to a formula, making it lovely to use on your hair and body.

The Chemists of the Natural World

Bees are the chemists of the natural world, taking watery, sugary nectar and transforming it into unspoilable honey. Slowly scientists and beekeepers are gaining precious insight into this complex process of self-preservation.