Why Beauty Packaging Matters Outside of Sustainability

Getty / Tanja Ivanova

We know that how beauty products are packaged matters greatly from a sustainability perspective with recycling but the jars, tubes, and bottles that they’re housed in are also important for protecting the integrity of the ingredients and making sure they’re most efficacious. Luckily for us consumers, product manufacturers handle all of those logistics, but knowing what to look for can also help you make more informed decisions.

For example, if you’ve ever taken inventory of the vitamin C serums in your vanity, you may notice they all have something in common: an opaque bottle. Some may be amber, others white, and others black, but the important thing is they don’t allow light to pass through. You may have also started to notice brands touting “airless pumps” on their new launches, though you may not know how that differs from a normal pump. “It’s essential to store your cosmetic products properly for optimum power and maximum shelf life,” Defne Arikan, founder of Bryhel Cosmetic Laboratories, tells PS.

The point is: beauty companies and their respective product manufacturers have gotten pretty savvy when it comes to packaging considerations in an effort to preserve formulations, extend the lifespan of actives, and keep bacteria at bay. If you’re curious about the most common cardinal rules of beauty product packaging, keep reading.

Opaque Packaging Protects Ingredients Against Sunlight

“It’s essential to store your cosmetic products properly for optimum power and maximum shelf life.”

Why is it so important for products containing vitamin C to be housed in an opaque bottle? “Opaque bottles help reduce exposure to light and prevent oxidation of active ingredients like vitamin C,” Rohan Widdison, founder and CEO of beauty manufacturer New Laboratories, says. Vitamin C, despite being great for brightening, is photosensitive and unstable, causing it to naturally degrade over time, but sunlight can speed up that process (as can interaction with heat and air).

Vitamin C isn’t the only ingredient that this applies to. “Perfumes containing the vanilla allergen; essential oils; and most lotions, serums, and oils are photosensitive as well,” Arikan says. In general, sunlight can also make many actives and oil-based ingredients prone to discoloration, which is why you’ll rarely see products in a clear glass or plastic container.

Airless Pumps Keep Air Out and Ingredients Fresh

Sunlight isn’t the only element threatening the efficacy of your products – air is another big one. In a classic pump bottle, air is utilized to get the product out. “When one milliliter of product comes out, one milliliter of air enters the product simultaneously,” Arikan says. “The air enters the formula and can deteriorate the quality of the cosmetic.”

Airless pumps, on the other hand, use pressure to raise a piston inside of the bottle and dispense the formula. “[This] prevents the introduction of contaminants like oxygen and bacteria, which in turn ensures a longer lasting, more efficacious product,” Widdison says.

There’s another reason airless pumps are favorable: “The pressure exerted makes it possible to get most of the product out of the bottle without leaving any extra at the bottom of the bottle,” Arikan says, which can stretch your dollar even farther.

Certain Containers Can Risk Cross-Contamination

As far as common packaging solutions go, you have droppers, tubes, open-face jars, and bottles with pumps, but depending on who you ask, they might tell you certain options are better than others. Jars, in particular, are often the center of controversy for some beauty people solely based on the fact that you have to dip your fingers into the pot.

“Jars are arguably more protective than pumps and tubes when it comes to products that degrade in sunlight, but they can be more prone to bacteria and germs,” Arikan says. Widdison adds, “The introduction of fingers in jars has a confirmed impact on the product’s integrity and results in the gradual degradation of the product.”

A workaround for this is to use a skin-care spatula to apply the product (which is often provided with the product). “Without a spatula, washing and drying your hands thoroughly before taking a small amount of product is ideal,” Arikan says.

However, depending on the quality of the preservation system incorporated into the product, you may not have to worry about this. “The weaker the preservative system, the more sensitive the cream is to bacteria,” Arikan says. That said, this is a very real possibility for all-natural or homemade products that don’t contain any preservatives.

Skin-Care Droppers Minimize Bacteria

Products with droppers are hailed for their ability to cut down on cross-contamination – although they do often let a small amount of air into the formula – but some brands and manufacturers are taking it a step further. At Vichy, for example, it’s updating the packaging on all of its antiaging serums to be in a pharmaceutical-inspired bottle with a plastic applicator tip.

“[This] allows users to apply the exact serum amount they need by turning it upside down and squeezing the applicator, allowing for a precision dose,” Minh-Dan Tran, general manager of Vichy USA, says. “The key benefit with this kind of application is that the amount of formula exposed to oxygen or other contaminants is minimized.”

Aluminum Bottles Guarantee the Best Protection

We’d be remiss not to call out aluminum, which is a beauty-packaging staple used for everything from skin care to hairspray and deodorant. But do you know why that is? “As a barrier material, aluminum protects against germs, UV, humidity, and temperature variations,” Arikan says. “Aluminum bottles are, therefore, particularly suitable for fragile contents, and this packaging is an excellent choice.” Aluminum tubes and bottles are also often easily recyclable.

As a consumer, you may not have the power to dictate what type of packaging your favorite brands use for their formulations, but with this knowledge, you can ensure you’re storing your products properly and shopping smart when possible to get the most out of them.

Jessica Harrington is the senior beauty editor at POPSUGAR, where she writes about hair, makeup, skin care, piercings, tattoos, and more. As a New York City-based writer and editor with a degree in journalism and over eight years of industry experience, she loves to interview industry experts, keep up with the latest trends, and test new products.

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