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Is the Future A Jar?

November 10, 2009

I bet that Darbre and friends never thought that their 2004 paper evaluating the concentrations of parabens in breast tissue would lead to the demise of the jar in the cosmetics industry. After all, why should they? 

a jar or two

It didn’t take long before the above paper was splashed all over the newspapers, picked up by consumer groups and turned into a “point of difference” profit making tool.  Now, I say all of this with a degree of flipancy because the study is as perforated as a tea-bag and was mis-reported and mis-construed so much that most people in (and out) of the cosmetics industry have given up hope of re-installing consumer faith and have moved on to using other preservatives.  I must at this point note that while parabens are not the worlds most dangerous chemicals, they like many other things do carry with them environmental and health implications albeit quite a lot less dramatic than many others.  Therefore, the fact that some people want to avoid them is perfectly acceptable.

Anyway, what about the jars?

The  negative reaction towards  parabens by the public  (which are used to preserve products) has lead  cosmetic  formulators to move away from what happen to be a family of very effective (and pretty safe) bug killers. That, teamed with our desire for all natural and dare I say it, “chemical free” products has meant that we have to think about our packaging more than before.

You see jars are great but the wider the mouth of the jar, the more likely you are to introduce bugs and critters into the product. Cosmetics are just perfect places for microorganisms to set up home as many have high water contents, are pH balanced, are kept at room temperature and are continually prodded by fingers, brushes or sponges.   Want to know what kind of bugs you can expect? Think pseudomonads, staphylococcus aureus, E coli and salmonellae. Nice!

Of course, cosmetic chemists have more than just parabens to use when preserving products but not all of these alternatives are suitable for people wanting products that are  ‘Organic’ or ‘Natural’ or ‘Preservative Free’. This, teamed with a trend to un-processed ingredients makes for challenging times back at the lab. “Horay”  you shout!   “A win for public safety” scream the NGO’s!  It may seem like that but has anyone thought about the very real dangers of NOT preserving your cosmetic product effectively? OR about the impact that the preservatives in food have on our body’s. It’s not that easy……

So, when you next go to get a jar of something creamy don’t be surprised if that jar has evolved into a tube as us chemists try to stay one step ahead of the micro world.  


 If you are interested in cosmetic formulating and would like to learn more why not contact the Institute of Personal Care Science and ask about their short courses (that will be available to complete online from 2010). Alternatively e-mail me:

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