Natural Skin Care

Natural Preservatives for Skin Care: Everything You Need To Know

Protect your skin and the planet.
Natural Preservatives for Skin Care: Everything You Need To Know

Who wouldn't want their favorite skin care product to last forever?! Preservatives exist to do just that, adding to their shelf life, and keeping out harmful bacteria.

Having a throughout understanding of the purpose of natural preservatives in your skin care products helps achieve healthy, glowing skin. This article will discuss natural preservatives for skin care, their benefits, and how to choose skin care products that prioritize your well-being.

If you're now thinking, What! I thought preservatives were bad?! 

The truth is: not all preservatives are made the same. There are both natural and unnatural preservatives, making transparency from skin care companies integral, so you can review the ingredients and carefully select skin care products that are free from the bad kind of preservatives! 

Read on as we explore natural preservatives and how to curate your skin care to avoid harmful additives. 

What Are Natural Preservatives?

Where do you apply your skin care?  Most folks do their skin care routine in their bathroom, gym, bedroom, or even their car! 

These environments are far from sterile, meaning microorganisms can contaminate the product each time you dip into your skin care product, leading to spoilage and potential health issues. 
Enter preservatives! Preservatives are added to most skin care products to prevent this.

range of natural preservatives that will avoid unwanted bacteria, mold, yeast, and fungi.

Whether natural or synthetic, additives stop the growth of unwanted bacteria, mold, yeast, and fungi. Without them, products can spoil and cause problems like rashes or infections. 

Preservatives do their job in various ways, depending on their chemical composition. Some preservatives work by disrupting the cell membranes of microorganisms, leading to their demise. 

Others inhibit the enzymes necessary for microbial growth, while others alter the pH of the product to create an environment unfavorable for microorganism growth.

Additives play a significant role in maintaining the safety, efficacy, and shelf life of cosmetic products, ensuring they stay free from harmful microbial contamination.

However, synthetic preservatives, like formaldehyde, parabens, and ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid, have been linked to skin irritation, endocrine disruption, and other serious health concerns. 

While these links are still being researched, they have raised health concerns.  Due to these potential risks, natural preservatives are preferred by many consumers who want to focus on nature,  health, and well-being.

inforgraphic by Shankara Naturals about Health Problems Linked To Unnatural Preservatives

Choose Natural: Why Are Natural Preservatives Better Than Synthetic Preservatives?

Natural preservatives are those organically found in nature or derived from natural plant sources

By trading chemical preservatives for natural ones, the benefits are: 

  • They are gentler on the skin, avoiding skin irritation and allergic reactions.

  • Natural preservatives are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than unnatural additives, offering a reduced impact on ecosystems. 

  • Some natural preservatives, such as essential oils, offer additional benefits such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.

Brunette woman with soft, clear skin after using skin care products with natural preservatives.

Are Natural Additives Effective and Safe? 

Research says that many natural preservatives are just as effective and sometimes even more efficient than their synthetic counterparts!  Regarding safety, natural preservatives are considered safe for use in natural cosmetics and beauty products. However, some additives - natural or not - may be less effective or could cause allergic reactions in some folks.

Some drawbacks include:

  • The potentially limiting scope of antimicrobial activity, resulting a shorter shelf life.

  • Some natural preservatives, typically essential oils, can be allergens, causing skin irritation or allergic reactions.

  • Official approval for natural preservatives can be more complex and time-consuming compared to synthetic ones.

As with any new ingredient, it's crucial to perform a patch test when adding a new product to your routine.  To do a patch test properly: 

  • Step 1: Select a small, inconspicuous area, like your inner arm or behind your ear. 

  • Step 2: Apply a small amount of the product you want to test to the chosen area. Use a cotton swab or a clean fingertip to gently spread the product.

  • Step 3: Allow the product to dry and leave it on your skin for at least 24 hours. During this time, do not wash the area or apply any other products to it.

  • Step 4: After 24 hours, check the patch test area for any signs of irritation, such as redness, itching, swelling, or a rash. If you experience any of these symptoms, remove the product immediately and rinse the area.

  • Step 5:  If no irritation occurs during the 24 hours, it's likely safe to use the product on your face or body. However, if you notice any adverse reactions, discontinue use and consult a dermatologist.

Remember, patch tests are essential for new products, especially if you have sensitive skin or allergies. It's better to be cautious and prevent a potential reaction than to deal with discomfort or skin issues later on.

On the other hand, synthetic preservatives, while not naturally derived, can still be considered safe and beneficial since they are crafted in a lab that uses strict, natural sources while formulated to be free of toxins and carcinogens, unlike some of the toxic preservatives previously mentioned. 

Environmental Benefits Of Using Natural Preservatives 

Not only will your skin thank you, but so will Mother Nature. 

Natural preservatives are derived from renewable resources and are often biodegradable, making them a much more environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic ones. 

Here are the environmental benefits:

  • Natural preservatives are often biodegradable, so they can break down into harmless compounds over time. Being biodegradable reduces their impact on ecosystems compared to synthetic preservatives, which can last and accumulate in soil and water.

  • Plenty of natural preservatives come from happy, renewable resources, like plant extracts and essential oils. This is opposite to synthetic preservatives, which are usually derived from petrochemicals, a non-renewable resource.

  • Making and extracting natural preservatives typically requires less energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to synthetic preservatives. 

  • Natural preservatives do not pollute air, water, and soil compared to synthetic preservatives, which can soak into the environment during manufacturing, use, and disposal.

  • Some natural preservatives are grown in methods that positively support biodiversity, such as organic farming practices which protect ecosystems and reduce the loss of biodiversity. 

  • Natural preservatives are considered safer for human health and the environment.

Cartoon female woman who is one with mother nature

By intentionally using products that have natural preservatives, consumers can support environmentally friendly practices and reduce their impact on ecosystems, contributing to a more sustainable future.

8 of the Best Natural Preservatives For Skin Care

Whether making your own DIY natural skin care products, or you just want to increase your knowledge, here are 8 of the best natural preservatives for skin care! 






Fragrant, antibacterial

Aromatherapy benefits, calms skin, and fights breakouts

Alter the scent of the product

Tocopherol (Vitamin E)

Antioxidant, skin repair

Strengthens the skin against environmental damage

Not a strong antimicrobial agent

Grapefruit Seed Extract

Antioxidant, natural preservative

Rich in vitamins E and C, supports healthy skin

Potential for skin irritation

Essential Oils

Antimicrobial, antifungal

Stops microbial growth, extends shelf life

Strong scent, potential for skin irritation

Japanese Honeysuckle

Natural derivation, non-toxic profile

A strong defender against bacteria

May be less effective in certain formulations.

Nature-Identical Additives

Synthetic, chemically identical to natural compound

Safe and effective as a preservative

Some individuals may prefer wholly natural options

Benzyl Alcohol

Aromatic, naturally derived

Safe, approved as a preservative

Strong aroma, may be less effective in certain formulations


Naturally occurring, "nature identical"

Chemically identical to natural compound, safe as a preservative

Some controversy over safety, regulatory considerations

Potassium Sorbate

Derived from sorbic acid, a mild preservative

Antibacterial, and antifungal properties, keep skincare stable

May not be as effective against certain microbes, potential skin irritation

1. Rosemary

Rosemary and rosemary extract is a common herb, plucked straight from nature! Its fragrance adds glorious aromatherapy benefits, while its natural antibacterial properties have calming effects on the skin and can support fighting breakouts

a dish with plenty of rosemary

2. Tocopherol

Derived from vegetables and a form of vitamin E, tocopherol is an antioxidant that supports repair and fortifies the skin against environmental damage.


3. Grapefruit Seed Extract

Grapefruit seed extract is a natural preservative that has been beloved for decades. It is rich in antioxidants like vitamins E and C, which support healthy, glowing skin. Hydrate your skin with our Revitalizing Serum which is packed with grapefruit seed extract, plus algae extracts, and amino acids, hydrating and replenishing for a healthier, more radiant complexion. 

Vibrant pink grapefruit and grapefruit seed extract

4. Essential Oil

Essential oils are common as a natural preservative due to their antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Common essential oils used as additives are tea tree, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and clove, which all stop microbial and bacterial growth, and extend their shelf life. We love essential oils here at Shankara, and you find them in many of our products including Sundarya Body Oil, Rose Facial Mist, Lavender, and Vetiver Aura Essential Oil Deodorant.

Bottles of essential oils, a very common natural preserative

5. Japanese Honeysuckle

Japanese honeysuckle is an effective natural preservative, due to the plant’s natural derivation process and its non-toxic profile, making it a strong defender against bacteria. 

Japanese honeysuckle, a common natural preservative for skin care products

There are also “nature-identical” preservatives, which are identical to those found in nature except they’re synthesized in a laboratory. These include: 

6. Benzyl Alcohol

Benzyl alcohol is produced naturally by plants. Benzyl alcohol is an aromatic alcohol with a warm, almond-like perfume, which the US Food and Drug Administration has deemed safe, and is an approved preservative according to the COSMOS Organic Certification criteria.

Benzyl alcohol derived from plants and a great natural identical preservative

7. Phenoxyethanol

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative that occurs naturally in green tea and chicory. It’s "nature identical," meaning it is chemically identical to the natural compound, it is synthesized in a lab for cosmetic and commercial purposes. Hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and many creams for acne prone skin use phenoxyethanol. 

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative that occurs naturally in green tea and chicory.

8. Potassium Sorbate

The compound potassium sorbate is derived from sorbic acid, which is a naturally occurring mineral. It’s considered a mild preservative, with antibacterial and antifungal properties that help keep your skincare shelf-stable and safe. You’ll find common products such as sunscreen and tinted moisturizer with potassium sorbate inside. 

potassium sorbate


Do All SkinCare Products REALLY Require Preservatives? 

"Preservative-free" is often touted as a healthier or "cleaner" option, but in reality, the opposite can be true. If a skin care product consists of water or water-based ingredients, it requires preservatives, to be safe and effective.

The only exception to this rule is water-free products, like plant oils, butter, and waxes, which can safely skip preservatives.

That being said, some water-free products are still at risk of becoming contaminated should they come into contact with water during use. 

So, the next time you see "preservative-free" on a skin care product, remember that for most products, preservatives are necessary to keep them safe and effective.

the extensive range of Shankara Natural products all 100% natural and free of preservatives

Frequently Asked Questions 

What’s the shelf life of skin care products made with natural preservatives?

The shelf life of a skin care product made with a natural preservative varies on several factors, like the specific preservative used, the formulation of the product, and how it’s stored. Some natural preservatives may not be as potent as synthetic preservatives and may not provide as long of a shelf life. 

How to preserve homemade skin care products?

Preserving homemade skin care products is important. Incorporating natural preservatives ensures that your homemade skin care creations remain fresh and safe. Always store your skin care in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and label them when they go bad, so you can carefully track it. 

What are the drawbacks of using natural additives? 

Natural preservatives can sometimes be less stable than synthetic preservatives, so they may have a shorter shelf life or require specific storage conditions. 

Natural, Forever 

Learning about the various types of preservatives, particularly natural ones, can greatly benefit skin and health. Knowing all the ingredients gives you more control over what exactly is put onto your skin. 

At Shankara, we are proudly a natural skin care line, producing 100% natural skin care products, without synthetic chemicals or unnatural preservatives. Rather, we are deeply committed to using organic ingredients and herbs that are hand-picked and not sprayed.

Shankara's organic skincare products are also cold-pressed to preserve ingredients and vitality, and pH-balanced to protect the skin's acid mantle. 

To learn more about Shankara’s mission and methods, click here. 

RELATED The most complete list of natural skin care ingredients you will ever need!

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Marissa Del Mistro
Marissa Del Mistro writer Marissa Del Mistro is a writer and editor with diverse interests. When she's not pursuing writing, she enjoys cooking, listening to podcasts, and traveling. She lives in the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, where she loves to explore her gorgeous surroundings.