Many commercial skin care products are loaded with harmful chemicals and preservatives to allow products to remain fresh. Preservatives are great in keeping products free of bacteria, but many of them are unhealthy, which can cause allergic reactions and even cancer.
More and more people are getting away from commercial skin care products. Many people are taking advantage of the wonderful benefits of natural and organic ingredients and choosing to make their own chemical free skin care products that are gentler and safer on their skin.
Making your own skin care products can be fun and rewarding, but it’s important that you know how to keep your products safe and free of bacteria, yeast and mold. This would involve using preservatives.
Want to learn how to make coconut oil lotion that leaves your hands feeling soft and smooth, not greasy? Click here for step by step instructions.In this article, you will learn 7 important things about using preservatives in homemade skin care products.
1. Why do you need to use a preservative?
There are many DIY recipes I came across online and DIY products sold on Etsy don’t use preservatives at all. Many people don’t understand the fundamentals of creating safe products and are posting and selling them online that are potentially harmful to your health.
I love the wonderful products I can create with the use of water, but the problem is once you add water, it also becomes a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, yeast and mold.
These microorganisms reproduce and thrive in your lotions and creams. Is that something you want to put on your skin?
It is important that you understand if you make a homemade product that contains water, milk, hydrosols, herbal tea or other aqueous liquids, you need some type of broad spectrum preservative against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, mold and yeast.
Inadequate preservation or not preserving your products can be hazardous to your health, such as skin infections.
2. Are there any natural preservatives?
There are NO all-natural preservatives.
In order to produce a safe product that is free of bacteria, mold and yeast, using a chemical preservative is important and necessary.
Natural substance such as essential oils that have antimicrobial activity are not adequate for broad spectrum protection.
It would require a high concentration of essential oils to be effective. Unfortunately, high concentration of essential oils is irritating to the skin and have undesirable odors and colors.
3. May I use an antioxidant as a preservative?
Antioxidants are NOT preservatives. Many people get this confused. It’s important that you know the differences.
Antioxidants help to prevent and slow oxidation. Oxidation is when oil is exposed to air or oxygen and result in rancid oils. Rancid oils are not dangerous or harbor microorganisms, they just smell unpleasant.
Antioxidants cannot preserve a water containing product because they lack the anti-microbial qualities that preservatives have, yet they are still helpful in keeping your products fresh.
Antioxidants are generally used in anhydrous (those that don’t contain water) formulas such as lip balms, body butters, lotion bars and other oil-base products.
Vitamin E, Rosemary Oleoresin Extract and Grapefruit Seed Extract are examples of antioxidants.
4. How to create preservative-free formulations?
Make Small Batches
If you do not wish to use any preservative, your homemade products will not stay fresh for as long as the commercial products. I recommend making your products in small batches, keep them refrigerated and use them up within a week.
Choose your containers carefully for your DIY products to help minimize contamination.
I personally love putting my lotions or creams in silicone containers because I can easily squeeze them out through the cap.
With silicone containers, I don’t have to worry about transferring germs from fingers to the lotion and therefore causing contamination and decreasing the shelf life of the lotion.
If you don’t have silicon containers, dispensing bottles would work as well.
Make Oil-Base Products
Making anhydrous (those that don’t contain water) products is another way to eliminate the need for preservatives because oil-based products are not susceptible to microbiological proliferation.
Body butter, lip balms, bar soaps and facial oils are some examples of oil-based products.
You may wish to use a natural antioxidant for oil-based products to extend their shelf life. Antioxidants help to slow the process of oxidation which causes oils to go rancid.
5. What kind of preservatives are out there?
This is not a comprehensive list of all the preservatives out there for homemade products. I’ve done quite a bit of research on preservatives and the list I put together is what I think to be some great options.
Geogard ECT Preservative
(Where to get it)
- It is a unique combination of Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerin, and Sorbic Acid, which are well accepted in a wide range of personal care products. It offers broad spectrum protection against gram-positive & gram-negative bacteria, yeast, and molds.
- Recommended Use Levels: 1.0% of the total weight of the recipe at temperatures below 113 F degrees.
(Where to get it)
- Optiphen is a paraben and formaldehyde-free preservative.
- Optiphen can curdle or destabilize some emulsions.
- It is recommend that Optiphen be added during POST-emulsification.
- It is best used in oil based products, such as body butters.
- Recommended Use Levels: 0.5 – 1.5% of the total weight of the recipe at temperatures below 176 F degrees.
(Where to get it)
- Optiphen ND is a very mild, broad spectrum preservative that is completely paraben and formaldahyde free for water containing products.
- This preservative works best in surfactant based systems, shampoos, conditioners, gels, creams, and lotions. It’s meant for use in products that contain water. Not suitable for anhydrous products (Oil-based products).
- Recommended Use Levels: 1% of the total weight at temperatures below 176 F degrees.
(Where to get it)
- Optiphen Plus offers broad spectrum preservation without paraben or formaldehyde for water containing products.
- Not suitable for anhydrous products (Oil-based products).
- Recommended Use Levels: 0.5 – 1.5% of the total wight at temperatures lower than 176 F degrees.
(Where to get it)
- A liquid preservative to inhibit a full range of microbial growth in your creams, lotions, salt scrubs, dusting powders and liquid soap bases.
- It does contain paraben, which some people may not like.
- This preservative is more suitable for products that are made at higher temperature ranges.
- Recommended Use Levels: 0.5 – 1.0% of the total wight at temperatures lower than 200 F degrees.
Liquid Germall Plus
(Where to get it)
- Liquid Germall Plus is a broad spectrum, paraben free, water soluble preservative for oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions and water soluble formulations.
- It is very effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, yeasts, molds and commonly found organisms.
- Recommended Use Levels: 0.1 – 0.5% of the total wight.
6. What product needs preservative?
- Any homemade products that contain water or any products that may get water in it.
- Example: Lotions, creams, scrubs.
- All oil-based products (they don’t contain water, just contain oil) can benefit from adding an antioxidant to help slow oxidation and increase shelf life.
- Example: Lip balms, body butter, lotion bars.
- Cold process soap does not need a preservative. Generally if the pH of a product is above 10 a preservative may not be required.
7. What preservative do I use?
Some preservatives work better than others. Every homemade skin care formulation is different and would require different preservative. I recommend that you do your own research and decide what would work the best for your recipe.
My favorite preservative is liquid germall plus. It’s water soluble preservative for emulsified portion of oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions. It’s very easy to use and is added at a temperature lower than 122°F or during the cool down stage of your creations. It’s heat sensitive and adding it above 122°F could result in compromising the preservative in your product.
Liquid germall plus is paraben free, not super expensive, effective over a broad pH range from 3-8, can be used in just about anything, except for products that don’t contain water, and doesn’t mess with the emulsions or stability of your homemade products like some other preservatives.
How Much liquid germall plus do I need to Use?
Liquid germall plus works very well at inhibiting the growth of bacteria, mold, yeast and other microorganisms at extremely low concentrations. It’s used in small quantities at 0.1 – 0.5% of the total weight and still able to achieve broad spectrum protection.
The recommended usage rates are provided only as a guideline to proper preservation. All new formulations should be tested to ensure preservative efficacy.
I recommend using 0.5% since our kitchens and tools are far from being sterile. If you have 100 grams of lotion and want to use 0.5 % of liquid germall plus, that would be 0.5 gram (100 grams of lotion x 0.5% of preservative and divided by 100) of preservative.
You can use a scale to weight the preservative or use a dropper. I don’t have a scale, so I use a dropper, this would translate into 10 drops of preservative. Using a dropper does not give you 100% accurate measurement, but it’s very close.
You are unlikely have to test the pH or make an adjustment. If you want to make sure that your preservative is working properly, you can test your product with a microbial test kit.
Have fun and be safe!
Now you know the 7 important things about using preservatives in homemade skin care products. Using preservative is important in any product that contains water.
Don’t follow any recipe blindly, always do your research.
Keep in mind that your homemade products are still a much healthier alternative even with preservatives to commercial products because the remaining ingredients within your product are natural and gentle.
We like to keep our products as natural as possible, but nothing is more unsafe than a product contaminated with bacteria, mold and yeast. The risk of using preservatives in your homemade products is far less than the risk of not using them.
Have fun with your DIY creations and be safe!
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