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Is the preservative in my body wash bad for skin?

Posted May 22 2013 8:50am

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Traci asks (via FaceBook)…Can’t Quaternium-15 be a skin irritant?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Quaternium-15 is a formaldehyde-releasing preservative commonly used in cosmetics. (We recently mentioned it in our post on Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Wash .) But is it safe?

Quaternium-15 is sold in a variety of forms and is commonly used because it’s very effective against a broad-spectrum of microbials including bacteria, fungi, molds. In addition it is cost effective and easy to formulate with. However, a number of studies have shown that it can cause allergic contact dermatitis. If you’d like more background,  Dermnet   has a nice explanation how some individuals may become sensitized to formaldehyde containing materials and may have a reaction to Quaternium-15.

Bad: One study (E. Warshaw, et al. Contact dermatitis of the hands: Cross-sectional analyses of North American Contact Dermatitis Group Data, 1994-2004. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 57, Issue 2, Pages 301-314) found that it was responsible for over 16% of about 1000 allergic contact dermatitis cases studied.

Good, sort of: The  “Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Quaternium-15″  published in the International Journal of Toxicology  says Quaternium-15 “is not a primary skin irritant in humans” but  may be a human sensitizer in some clinical patients. It safe at concentrations “not exceeding those presently in use.”  (0.1% to 1.0%)

Good and bad: The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety SCCS OPINION ON Quaternium-15  reviewed multiple tests: One concluded that  a 10% dose of Quaternium-15 did not cause allergic sensitization in a Guinea pig study  and therefore, was “not considered to have a significant potential as a human skin sensitizer. Another test, on humans, showed that at  0.6% in petrolatum the preservative did not induce allergic contact dermatitis. Yet, two other studies showed Quaternium-15 was “a potential human skin sensitizer under these test conditions” and that up to “10% of the population had a positive reaction” to this material and that it “can be an allergen for many people.”

While the data is mixed, studies have certainly shown that some people are sensitive to Quaternium-15. Problems usually occur when the ingredient is used at high level and held in contact with the skin for long period of time. Most people have no problem with this ingredient when used at the  lower levels typically found in cosmetics, especially if these are rinse off products. If you find yourself with symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis you should check the ingredient lists of your cosmetics for Quaternium-15.

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