Should You be Worried About Mold in Clean Beauty?

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As beauty becomes Clean with a capital ‘C,’ it’s more important than ever that we are aware of and understand the key signs of mold in beauty products. Shifting away from longtime standard preservatives for ‘cleaner’ alternatives may mean shorter expiration dates, and a serious potential for your products to develop some unwelcome friends.

We dive deep into the science behind clean beauty formulations and explain what to be on the lookout for when it comes to mold and mildew in your beauty products.

Is There Mold in Clean Beauty?

You may remember a few months ago, when KOSAS was in hot water for reports of mold in their concealers. Unfortunately, when it comes to beauty products that intentionally step away from traditional methods of preserving their products, bacterial contamination is a concern.

According to medical aesthetician Amy Peterson, we should absolutely be concerned about the potential for mold in clean beauty products. “Consumers should either completely avoid or be very diligent with ‘clean’ skin-care products,” Peterson explains. “They can be more susceptible to mold and bacterial contamination. This is why it is crucial to properly store products and adhere to expiration dates.”

Davie, FL dermatologist Lesley Clark-Loeser, MD explains that clean formulations may expire sooner than traditional products. “We 100 percent need to be mindful of the potential for our products to ‘go bad,’ Dr. Clark-Loeser says. “Clean products may do this before more traditionally preserved ones. Be mindful of changes in color, change in texture or consistency, appearance of white or black dots, or a strange smell. These signs can indicate the presence of bacteria or mold.”

You should also consider that mold can form in improperly stored cosmetics as well.

Davie, FL dermatologist Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD notes that any cosmetic stored incorrectly or outside of its expiration date can be vulnerable to mold. “It’s possible for mold to form in poorly stored and past expiration date products,” Dr. Blyumin-Karasik explains. “Mold can damage our skin barriers and potentially infect and/or irritate the skin.”

How Are Cosmetics Preserved?

Before falling out of public favor, parabens were the gold standard for preserving cosmetics. “Parabens are a family of related synthetic chemicals that look almost identical to naturally occurring parabens,” Dr. Clark-Loeser explains. “They have been used for decades as preservatives in cosmetic products. Preservatives such as parabens are often used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold, in order to protect the consumer and maintain product integrity.”

They became popular not just for their skill at preserving cosmetic formulas, but also cost-efficient.

“Parabens are commonly used in traditional makeup and skin-care formulas as they effectively prevent the growth of bacteria, and fungi,” Peterson says. “They’re also cost-effective and versatile due to their solubility in various solvents. Typically, they cause fewer allergic reactions than other preservatives.”

They are also able to keep the product from spoiling for a significant amount of time when stored correctly, preventing mold.

“Products containing paraben preservatives can last up to two years before expiration when stored properly,” Dr. Clark-Loeser explains. “Product storage is extremely important to consider. Factors such as temperature (i.e. heat, temperature variation), UV exposure, and oxygen can impact product integrity both in terms of safety and efficacy. Storing cosmeceuticals away from the steamy environment of the bathroom and in a cool dark cabinet is ideal.”

That said, there is a bit of wiggle room that cosmetics have when it comes to expiration dates that can make things a bit harder. Some products don’t even have to include expiration dates at all.

“Expiration dates on skin care are determined by manufacturers mainly through stability testing in their labs and determine product formula integrity under applied external pressure (heat, humidity, etc.) and microbial contamination,” Dr. Blyumin-Karasik explains. “If the skin-care product is considered a drug, not a cosmeceutical, by the FDA, then it is required to have an expiration date. Otherwise, it is not a requirement, but a recommendation to have expiration or POA (Period After Opening) labeled date on cosmetics (such a 6M = 6 months) label.”

Parabens fall from grace as an ingredient is a bit complicated, as initial fears of endocrine disruption have not revealed significant scientific evidence. You can read more about parabens here.

“Although there is much discussion about the potential endocrine disruption activity linked to parabens, it is important to note that FDA scientists continue to review published studies on the safety of parabens and periodically conduct a CIR (cosmetic ingredients review) and at this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics pose a safety risk,” says Dr. Clark-Loeser.

Clean Beauty Expires Faster

When creating cosmetics without parabens, formulators have to consider how an alternative might affect the longevity of the product.

“Cleaner formulations, such as in our Stamina Cosmetics Intention Moisturizer have more natural preservatives such as tea tree oil, salicylic acid and gluconolactone to protect the product’s composition from microbial invasion,” Dr. Blyumin-Karasik explains. “This is a good compromise where the product is well protected and yet does not jeopardize skin wellness.”

According to Peterson, these formulas typically come with a shorter lifespan. “Typically, formulas that have natural or alternative preservatives often have shorter expiration dates compared to those preserved with parabens,” Peterson says. “This is because natural products can be more susceptible to microbial contamination which lead to shorter shelf lives. To ensure consumer safety and optimal product performance, it is crucial for brands to provide realistic expiration dates. This also ensures the efficacy and safety of the product.”

Depending on the ingredients used, it could mean your beauty product is only protected from bacteria for as little as six months. Given how long some of us may keep our beauty products around, there’s definitely a chance for the growth of mold in clean beauty products.

“Some of the natural fruit and plant extracts used as preservatives are believed to provide stability and an antimicrobial environment for up to six months,” Dr Clark-Loeser explains. “It’s not a bad idea to mark the date of opening on the actual product once it is opened. Once the product is opened the clock is absolutely ticking.”

Generally, you can expect your clean beauty products to last about half as long as a traditional formulation.

“In general, skin care with artificial preservatives has a longer shelf life of about 24 months vs. natural preservatives products, which is about 12 months,” Dr Blyumin-Karasik explains.

When to Toss Your Products

Okay, so there’s definitely a chance that mold can grow in your cosmetics if they’re stored improperly or go way past their expiration date. And you should be mindful of the potential for the development of mold in clean beauty products. But what are some signs you can use to recognize when this might have occurred? It’s not always like moldy bread, where a distinct and suspicious blob appears, but it is almost as easy to spot if you know what to look for.

“Spoiled cosmetics can generate a rancid oxygenation effect, altering its original color, lather or odor, which leads to an unpleasant sensorial experience,” explains Dr. Blyumin-Karasik. “So, if the skin-care product doesn’t have an expiration date but it develops a change in odor, color, texture (separation, clumping, liquidy), time to toss it like that browned, squishy banana.”

Basically, if it looks different, you should probably throw it out. And yes, you need to adhere to the expiration date when it comes to these products, especially if you don’t want to end up with mold in your clean beauty products.

“Any changes, especially mold, in addition to appearance, smell, or texture can indicate spoiled and expired products,” Peterson says. “Expiration dates are always a good rule of thumb. If the product is past its expiration date it is no longer effective and time to let it go.”

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