Published February 2013
All Natural Lubricants with Preservatives?
We are often asked about the preservatives we use in Yes water-based. How can we say our products are natural when they contain Phenoxyethanol and Potassium sorbate?
Phenoxyethanol and Potassium sorbate are natural molecules
Firstly both Phenoxyethanol and Potassium sorbate are found in nature. They are not created chemicals. But they are commercially available and made in bulk and not taken from nature. We are glad about this because Phenoxyethanol is found in dominant male rabbit’s chins and we will not use any animal body part or an extract from any animal body part in any of our products. We rather it stays in the rabbits’ chins. We have to use preservatives in Yes water-based to protect everybody who uses it and to give it a shelf life. Unpreserved, all products containing water like shampoos, moisturisers and face creams will go off – this ruins the product and potentially spreads the bug that has caused it. Not good.
Phenoxyethanol is not a mucous membrane irritant
We use Phenoxyethanol as a preservative because it is not a mucous membrane irritant. Sodium benzoate, Benzoic acid, Benzyl alcohol, all approved by Organic certifiers, are deemed safe for skin products BUT they are all known mucous membrane irritants at higher concentrations (at the low concentrations used in our products Sodium benzoate will not irritate mucous membranes). We spent over three years selecting our preservative package to ensure the mucous membranes were treated as safely as is possible. Phenoxyethanol also has no estrogen-mimicking properties unlike methyl paraben (found in breast tumors). All our testing has shown Phenoxyethanol is the best and safest non-irritant preservative for our water based products. It preserves them for over 2 years, it is not an irritant, nor is it toxic to humans or the environment. Some European countries, France in particular, do not allow Phenoxyethanol in certified organic products, this happened because their rules were defined for cosmetics only. As YES was the first range of personal lubricants to be certified organic (anywhere in the world) we have had to fight to be allowed to use suitable ingredients for intimate tissues. Sadly ECO-CERT has not had to certify a lubricant as organic and therefore has not needed to be concerned about mucous membrane irritants. Sodium benzoate is a food grade preservative and thus is allowed in USDA certified organic lubricants, as the USDA can only certify products containing 100% food grade ingredients. Food grade ingredients are by definition subject to the human digestive system, a brilliant mechanism for breaking down complex molecules. Products applied externally, to skin and mucous membranes, obviously are not subjected to any form of digestion, so we believe they need to be ultra-gentle and ultra-proven to be safe. We chose Phenoxyethanol as it has a much longer history of use in Pharmaceutical applications than any of the alternatives. Its safe behavior on the skin and mucosa has been researched and proven for decades.
We also get a bit upset when other companies hide the preservatives they use by calling them something else sometimes its parfum (using a chemical that is legally allowed to be classified as parfum but is in fact a powerful preservative too) or lying on their ingredients list. Lying is a strong word, but if you see Rose Ether as a preservative does that worry you? No? Not much? Roses are nice things aren’t they? Companies say Rose Ether when they are using Phenoxyethanol, but do not want to admit it. I call that lying because they do not declare Phenoxyethanol anywhere. Maybe weasel-words is better. Either way i think that is very misleading. We strive to be completely open about our ingredients and beliefs.
We are aware of and have entered all Yes ingredients in the Skin Deep database, Yes is signatory to the Safe Cosmetics Campaign, we subscribe to the EWG’s fine work and indeed Susi attended by invitation one of their workshops held during the Natural Products West event at Anaheim, where preservation was one of the hot topics. For most of the attendees, it was clear that an effective and natural preservative system is still the holy grail.
On the Skin Deep site, the grading of Phenoxyethanol as a 4, does stress that this hazard level is “subject to concentration”. We use Phenoxyethanol at the lowest possible concentration to provide sufficient shelf life and to ensure we meet European and Global standards for shelf life and consumer protection.
Internet data and bad science
Unfortunately much of the data quoted on the subject, whilst being accurate about Phenoxyethanol, does not make it clear that it is the MSDS (Material safety data sheet) for 100% pure Phenoxyethanol. To the interested consumer it therefore looks shocking. Most chemicals at 100% purity can be lethal if misused – even water. We say lots about our decisions concerning preservatives on our site www.yesyesyes.org/faqs/ingredients.
Preservatives are by their nature, not very “nice” things – their role is to kill bacteria and molds and so prevent either the product from going “off” or the person using the product from being at risk. We use Phenoxyethanol at the lowest possible concentration to provide sufficient shelf life and to ensure we meet European and Global standards for challenge tests. The use of Phenoxyethanol at levels below 1.0% has been well researched and Phenoxyethanol has been approved as safe. As a contrast, glycerine/glycerol is used in old style lubricants at concentrations of 30-60% (at high levels glycerine causes severe damage to mucous membranes), I suggest you Google “glycerine msds” or “glycerol msds” (different names for same chemical) and you will see it is an eye & skin irritant, but it is used in KY Jelly, Astroglide and literally 100s of intimate products, at strengths that can damage tissues. Trying to find an understandable route through the maze of opinion about chemicals is very difficult.
We we spent over 3 years working on safe preservation and safe formulations for Yes products – The only proof you as a consumer have, of our guaranteed purity, is our Organic Certification. It is not possible to have a certified organic product that includes chemicals that have concerns attached to them, like glycerine or paraben preservatives.
i am curious to know what you might think about ingredients mentioned (or not) on lubricants – do you have a view? did you know that Durex Play never state their ingredients?