What are Stabilizing Agents in Lotion?

Don't skip the lotion -- just use one with the right ingredients for you.

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Stabilizing agents in cosmetics are pretty much just a fact of life. Unless you start making all your own cosmetics, using them within a few days, you’re going to have to face up to that fact. But don’t worry; not all stabilizing agents are bad. Some stabilizing agents can bother people with allergies, but if you don’t have allergies, you don’t need to worry. However, you should avoid some certain stabilizing agents that are known to cause irritation and skin problems in some people.


Glycol is a synthetic chemical derived from propylene alcohol. It serves in cosmetics as a thickening agent that helps to stabilize lotions during shelving. Glycol also helps to make skin feel softer, though it can sap the moisture from your skin since it is derived from alcohol. If you have alcohol allergies or very dry skin, avoid products that contain glycol -- that is, unless you don’t mind potentially flaky, irritated skin.

Stearic Acid

Stearic acid comes from animal or vegetable fats, and you'll find it listed in the ingredients of some bar soaps and cleansers. Stearic acid is generally okay for most skin types, though allergic reactions can occur. Allergic reactions are more likely with animal-based stearic acid, so look for products whose ingredients contain no animal ingredients to be safe.


One of the most common stabilizing agents in food and cosmetics, lecithin comes from soybeans. Lecithin is safe for most types of skin, but ladies allergic to soy should definitely be on watch. If you're allergic to soy, look for products whose lecithin is egg-based (if you aren’t sure, assume it's soy). Lecithin is a common ingredient in soap and cleansers because it’s a natural surfactant, which is basically a fancy word for dirt remover.


For all practical purposes, methylparaben and pabaparaben are the same, they’re just a few molecules different from each other. The two ingredients are used interchangeably in lotions and cosmetics as a preservative that helps stabilize and blend other ingredients. Generally, both parabens are to be avoided, as there is some concern that they may be carcinogenic. If you can’t fully avoid products that contain parabens, make sure they’re low on the ingredient list in your lotion.

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