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Use of preservative in cosmetic preparation


Preservative is one of the important ingredients in cosmetic preparations, especially preparation containing high water content. This is because such preparation acts as a suitable medium for growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. The growth of microorganisms in a cosmetic preparation not only will spoil the preparations but may even pose health risks to consumers, such as skin infection or irritation. Therefore, preservative is used to prolong the shelf-life of cosmetic preparations by preventing microbial contamination during the use or storage of cosmetics.

Function of Preservative

The main function of a preservative in cosmetic preparation is to prevent the growth of microorganisms during the use of a cosmetic product and to protect the quality of the product from possible damages such as bad odour or composition changes caused by the growth of microorganisms. Therefore, preservative is essential to maintain the quality and safety of a cosmetic preparation during the period of its use and shelf life.

Commonly Used Preservatives in Cosmetic Preparations

The following preservatives are commonly used in cosmetic preparations:

    • parabens (methylparaban, propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben)
  • phenoxyethanol
  • methylchloroisothiazolinone / methylisothiazolinone
  • quaternary ammonium compounds (cetrimonium chloride, behentrimonium chloride)
  • imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin and sodium benzoate

The conditions of use of the preservatives such as its allowable concentration are specified in the Guidelines for Control of Cosmetic Products in Malaysia. However, there are some ingredients that are not listed in the guidelines as preservatives, for example, alcohol and natural ingredients such as essential oils. These ingredients have the antimicrobial properties which may also act to preserve the cosmetic preparation. In addition, antioxidant activity of essential oil may also helps to protect cosmetic preparations by preventing oils and fats from turning rancid.

Appropriate Use of Preservative

Every formulation of cosmetic product is unique. Hence, the choice of preservatives must be suitable to provide optimal protection as well as being safe and stable throughout the shelf life of the cosmetic product. There are several factors that determine the choice and concentration of preservatives in a cosmetic product such as:

  • Product type – For example, choice of preservative is limited for products intended to be used around the eye area or in the oral cavity.
  • Cosmetic substances – The preservative must be compatible with the substances being used in the product’s formulation.
  • Combination of preservatives in a product’s formulation. – The concentration of individual preservative may need to be adjusted when they are being used in combination.
  • pH level of the finished cosmetic preparation – The efficacy of a preservative can be affected by the pH level of a cosmetic preparation.

Safety Issues of Preservative

In Malaysia, the conditions of use of preservatives in cosmetic preparations are outlined in the Guidelines for Control of Cosmetic Products in Malaysia, Annex VI. To date, there are 58 types of preservatives listed in the mentioned guidelines where the safety of these preservatives have been thoroughly assessed by international cosmetic safety evaluation panel such as Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) in European Union, Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) in United States and ASEAN Cosmetic Scientific Body. Only these preservatives are allowed to be used by the manufacturer of cosmetic products and its use must be within the allowable limit and conditions of use.

Cosmetic users may experience allergic reactions to certain ingredients used in the cosmetic products including preservatives. Common signs and symptoms of skin allergy are redness, itching, burning and discomfort on the skin. In cases when there is increasing occurrence of allergy or side effects caused by preservative or other cosmetic ingredient, the cosmetic safety evaluation panel will re-evaluate the safety of the suspected ingredient. This may lead to certain measures such as reducing the permissible limit or prohibiting the use of such preservative/ingredient in cosmetic products.

Advice to Consumer

It is a requirement for the manufacturers to state all ingredients used in the product’s formulation on the label of a cosmetic product as well as any specific conditions of use or warnings of a particular ingredient/preservative. Therefore, in order to avoid undesirable effects, consumers are advised to read the information on the label of the cosmetic product for its suitable use or warnings and to identify any preservative or ingredient that may cause allergy. Such information may assist the consumers to choose a suitable cosmetic product for their use, especially those with sensitive skin or allergy to certain ingredients in cosmetic product.

National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), Ministry of Health Malaysia is actively monitoring cosmetic products sold in the local market to ensure its safety and quality. Consumers are encouraged to report to the NPRA, if they experience any allergic reactions or adverse effects from the use of cosmetic products or encounter any suspicious cosmetics using Notified Cosmetic Complaint Form, available through the link:https://npra.gov.my/images/public/BORANG_ADUAN_KOSMETIK.pdf and e-mail to kosmetik@npra.gov.my for further action.


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  2. Cosmetics Europe. Preservatives. Available at: https://www.cosmeticseurope.eu/safety-and-science-cosmetics-europe/products-and-ingredients/preservatives-.html [Accessed: 10 February 2015].
  3. Guidelines for Control of Cosmetic Products in Malaysia, Annex VI, Part 1 – List of preservatives allowed for use in cosmetic products. (Last updated: 21-22 Nov 2012 (18th ACC))
  4. Lundov, M.D., Moesby, L., Zachariae, C. and Johansen, JD. (2009), ‘Contamination versus preservation of cosmetics: a review on legislation, usage, infections, and contact allergy’, Contact Dermatitis, 60, pp. 70-78.
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  7. Yazar, K., Johnsson, S., Lind, M-L., Boman, A. and Liden, C. (2010), ‘Preservatives and fragrances in selected consumer-available cosmetics and detergents’, Contact Dermatitis, 64, pp. 265-72.
Last Reviewed : 22 August 2019
Writer/Translator : Ong Jialin
Accreditor : Noor Hidayah bt. Mohd Nor
Reviewer : Wan Mohaina bt. Wan Mohammad
  : Hanum Maisarah bt. Abdul Rahman