Synthetic preservatives have been given a bad wrap... a well deserved one. Certain preservatives have been found to cause dermatitis and other skin irritation as well as stimulate allergies.

The worst offenders are from the paraben family: methyl paraben, ethylparaben, butylparaben and propylparaben. Parabens act as oestrogen mimics and can disrupt the balance of hormones within the body. What's scary is the strong link between oestrogen mimics and cancer.

All products require some preserving ingredient to ensure they are safe and stay active, that is, effective for a minimum period of time. The only way you can get around a preservative-free skin care product that works is to make it yourself and use it immediately. This is a great idea if you have mountains of time on your hands but most of us don't so the alternative is to shop with your informed hat on and read the labels.

But even these need a little help from time to time. Sometimes even the most respected organic brands use synthetic preservatives in very tiny quantities to keep their products safe and effective. Soil Association beauty standards are renowned for being some of the strictest around and even permit certain preservatives such as phenoxyethanol.

The simplest preservatives are provided by nature. Good natural preservatives to look out for are organic herb and fruit extracts, essential oils, sugar and alcohol. Tea tree, propolis and manuka are a few effective ingredients that help to preserve natural products.

Our view is that preservative free is best but rarely practical, after that natural preservatives would be the preferred option and finally synthetics if really necessary. The most important thing is that the product is safe!