Preservatives

Preservatives, as the name suggests, help keep things fresh. We use preservatives to help protect our products from bacteria, yeasts and moulds. As well as being made synthetically, preservatives can also be found in nature, for example, blueberries, cucumbers, cherries and honey contain parabens, while all healthy human, animal and plant cells produce and use formaldehyde. In the natural world preservatives help defend plant, human and animal cells.

Skin care

Similarly, preservatives play a vital role in keeping our products safe and of a high quality. Without preservatives products could start to smell unpleasant, change colour or grow mould.

We assess each of our products to select the best preservative or combination of preservatives, considering factors such as the type of product, how it will be used and where it will be stored. For example, with skin creams we see if the repeated dipping of fingers into the product will contaminate it.

In addition to complying with applicable laws and regulations, we conduct our own safety assessments and monitor emerging scientific research. We only include preservatives when they are needed, and carefully control the amount we use. This ensures we use preservatives safely and responsibly.

We appreciate that some people prefer to avoid certain preservatives. With this in mind, we are sometimes able to develop products that do not include specific preservatives.

In the following sections, you can read more about the preservative ingredients we are asked about most often: parabens, methylisothiazolinone, formaldehyde donors such as DMDM hydantoin, and phenoxyethanol.

Your questions answered

What are preservatives?

Preservatives, as the name suggests, help keep things fresh. As well as being made synthetically, preservatives can also be found in nature, for example, blueberries, cucumbers, cherries and honey contain parabens, while all healthy human, animal and plant cells produce and use formaldehyde.

We use preservatives to keep products safe, effective and attractive – protecting them from bacteria, yeasts and moulds which could damage them and make them unsafe.

Why are preservatives needed?

Without preservatives, many products could spoil, reducing their effectiveness and leading potentially to problems such as skin or eye infections. Home and personal care products can deteriorate in the same way as foods – particularly when stored in warm, humid environments, like bathrooms and kitchens, that encourage the growth of bacteria, yeasts and moulds.

Why does Unilever use different preservatives in different products?

Each preservative has different qualities. Some preservatives work better against different types of bacteria, yeasts and moulds than others or work better with certain ingredient combinations. In deciding which preservative to use, we consider questions such as: How will the product be manufactured and transported? What is the climate of the country where it is sold? How is the consumer likely to store it?

If it is a personal care product, is it a leave-on product, like face cream, or a rinse-off item, such as shower gel? If it is a home care product, what kind of surfaces will it be used on, or is it used to wash clothes by hand or in a washing machine? The answers to these questions help determine which preservative or combination of preservatives can be used safely.

Preservatives also help us make products that are convenient to use and store. For example, a product without preservatives may need to be kept in a fridge or discarded soon after opening.

Are preservatives assessed for safety?

Yes. The preservatives we use have been assessed for safety – both by our own safety experts and by external authorities. We always comply with national laws and regulations. We also have our own global standards that ensure we have a consistent approach to the safe use of preservatives. We use the appropriate amount to maintain product quality and safety, and ensure that each preservative works safely with other ingredients in the same product.

Note that use of the terms “hypoallergenic” or “suitable for sensitive skin” does not prevent the possibility that some consumers may have an allergic reaction to a particular product. However, the average population tested with sensitive skin will have been shown not to have an allergic reaction to that product.

Such products have been tested according to internationally recognized standards. We subject the finished products to a well-recognized protocol known as Human Repeat Insult Patch Testing (HRIPT), using international accredited Laboratories around the world. Products marked for sensitive skin making “hypoallergenic” or “suitable for sensitive skin” and related claims are tested on consumers with self-perceived sensitive skin. Only if the finished products pass the HRIPT do we make claims such as “hypoallergenic” or “suitable for sensitive skin.”

This means it is possible that a Unilever product marked as “hypoallergenic” or “suitable for sensitive skin” may still contain an ingredient to which a consumer could be allergic. This means that if you have an allergy to a specific ingredient, it is still worth checking the product listing, on-pack, on the website, or on SmartLabel, to check that the product is suitable for you to use.

Do all products include preservatives?

We only use preservatives when they are needed. Preservatives are often essential in protecting against bacteria, yeasts and moulds. However, some products do not need preservatives, because their ingredients, packaging or intended use inhibits contamination. These are often referred to as ‘self-preserving’.

We appreciate that some people like to avoid certain preservatives if they can. With this in mind, we are also sometimes able to develop products that do not contain specific preservatives.

Can preservatives cause allergies?

Some people can develop allergic reactions to certain preservatives such as parabens, MI and DMDMH. We ensure we include minimal levels of these preservatives to avoid consumers developing these allergies. In addition, we inform consumers on their presence through the ingredient lists on pack and on the product website, as well as on SmartLabel.

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