OK. So the title is a bit dramatic.
This is an interesting story from the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail. They reported an outbreak of a deadly bacteria called Burkholderia cepacia (B. cepacia) in five patients in Barcelona, Spain. The infection was linked to a moisturizing cream that was applied to their skin while in the hospital.
B. cepacia is a gram negative bacteria that is relatively harmless to healthy people but can be deadly to immunocompromised or critically ill patients.
When I was an intern in the intensive care unit, we had a patient on a ventilator who became infected by this same bacteria. It was eventually traced to a hand cream that the nurses were using.
This is one reason why you have to be careful with “all natural,” preservative free products. Although preservatives can rarely cause skin allergies, they are actually in your product for a good reason.
Preservatives are antimicrobials, added to water based products to prevent bacteria and mold growth. Just like cream cheese wouldn’t do so well sitting out on your counter, a preservative free facial cream can become a petri dish for microorganisms if there is no antimicrobial in it.
Ironically, the contaminated cream the nurses in my hospital used was an expensive hand cream — apparently even bacteria know the good stuff.