Natural. Paraben-free. Preservative-free. Safe synthetics. These are all terms we hear a lot in today’s cosmetic industry. Sure, they sound good but what do they mean to you? Inventing and manufacturing products freshly by hand has enabled us to find more innovative ways to move away from preservatives and offer customers products that are self-preserving.
Self-preserved simply means that a product will keep itself clean without the use of synthetic preservatives. The work Lush has done on self-preserving is part of an ambitious project to eventually transform all products to being self-preserved. Over the years a variety of self-preserving products have hit our stores and there are a few new ranges currently undergoing transformation.
How do we do it?
Water is an environment in which microorganisms can grow and so cosmetics that contain water generally require a preservative to stop the growth of bacteria and ensure the lifespan of the product. Free water is the amount of water not bound to any other ingredient and so is chemically available for microorganisms to grow. Exploring the levels of free water in a product allows us to adjust the levels of other ingredients so that the product no longer requires preservatives.
Lush cosmetic scientist Dan Campbell explains that one of the biggest challenges of moving to self-preserving is ensuring that the new formulas are as similar to the original products as possible or even better. It has also been an emotional challenge Dan says, “as we move away from products containing preservatives we are essentially throwing out thirty years of successful manufacturing to do something new.” All for a good cause though, reformulated self-preserving products will be just as good, if not better than the originals, while also reducing our impact on the environment.
What’s the issue with preservatives?
Synthetic preservatives have a significant environmental impact. Bioaccumulation refers to the process whereby non-biodegradable materials and chemicals enter our waterways and become part of the natural cycle. Aquatic plants and animals ingest these chemicals which, in large quantities, tend to affect them adversely. These chemicals are then passed on to other animals higher in the food chain and can even make their way back into our own bodies.
Synthetic cosmetic preservatives and materials more often than not end up being washed down our sinks, and so they eventually make their way into our water systems. Cosmetic preservatives have been found in rivers, oceans, streams, public water supply, agricultural soil and even household dust particles.
In 2015, a total of 75,000 metric tonnes of preservative were used in cosmetic products globally, meaning those chemicals that are non-biodegradable will eventually end up in our natural environment somewhere. This staggering number gives us extra incentive to protect the ecosystems that are essential to our survival from pollutants and non-biodegradable materials. Finding more natural ways to preserve products, with ingredients like honey and sea salt, will not only give additional benefits to the skin and hair but will reduce our impact on the world around us.
As a company that is passionate about reducing environmental impact as opposed to adding to it, we continue to review and improve our products and practices. Globally, our buying teams work closely with suppliers to insure our ingredients are sourced sustainably and waste is minimised. Where possible we have begun to move beyond sustainable and work on regenerative supply chains through our SLush fund.
When creating new products, Lush inventors aim for a minimal use of preservatives this was achieved in 2016 when our entire Christmas range was self-preserving. As of 2016, 65% of Lush products are preserved using only natural ingredients and careful formulation.