Effect of commonly used cosmetic preservatives on skin resident microflora dynamics

Sci Rep. 2021 Apr 22;11(1):8695. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-88072-3.


Human skin is populated by various microorganisms, the so-called microbiota, such as bacteria, viruses, yeasts, fungi, and archaea. The skin microbiota is in constant contact with the surrounding environment which can alter its eubiotic state. Recently it has been also observed that the application of cosmetic products can alter the balance of the skin microbiota. This effect may be attributed to many factors including the residual activity of the preservatives on the skin. In the present work, we studied the effect of eleven preservatives commonly found in cosmetic products on Propionibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and Staphylococcus aureus in vitro using 3D skin models and culture-dependent methods. Also, the effect on Histone deacetylase 3 (HDAC3) has been investigated. Among tested combinations, three resulted as the best suitable for restoring a pre-existing dysbiosis since they act moderately inhibiting C. acnes and strongly S. aureus without simultaneously inhibiting the growth of S. epidermidis. The other four combinations resulted as the best suitable for use in topical products for skin and scalp in which it is necessary to preserve the eubiosis of the microbiota. Some of the tested were also able to increase HDAC3 expression. Taking together these data highlight the role of preservatives of skin resident microflora dynamics and could provide a reference for correctly choice preservatives and dosage in cosmetic formulations to preserve or restore homeostasis of skin microbiota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cosmetics / chemistry*
  • Histone Deacetylases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Microbiota / drug effects*
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / pharmacology*
  • Propionibacterium acnes / drug effects
  • Skin / enzymology
  • Skin / microbiology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / drug effects


  • Cosmetics
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • Histone Deacetylases
  • histone deacetylase 3