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How to Preserve Your Bath and Body Creations

If you make bath and body products for yourself, or to give as gifts or to sell, it’s critical to understand how to safely preserve them. There are a number of preservatives that I consider down right unsafe to use. However, you will often see these preservatives listed on the labels of over the counter cosmetic products. It seems to be the standard idea that a little toxicity in a product to make it “safe” is okay.


Bath and body creations for personal use

If you are creating bath and body products that contain water and are strictly for personal use, you can make very small batches to be used immediately. Leftovers can often be safely stored in the refrigerator for a week or two. In this instance, you can be an absolute purist and omit any preservatives. You may also omit preservatives if you are making products that contain only oils. However, if the oils you are using have a short shelf life, they will start to go rancid before they are used up unless you add antioxidants to preserve them.

Bath and body creations to be given as gifts or sold

If your recipe calls for water, you must add a preservative. This includes floral waters. Bacteria, yeasts and molds need water to thrive.

If your recipe calls for water and oil, you must add a preservative and possibly an antioxidant. Oils with short shelf life need the antioxidant to help prevent them from going rancid. The products that fall in this category include lotions, creams and shampoos.

If your recipe contains only oils with a long shelf life, you can opt out of adding an antioxidant.

If you are making soap, preservatives are not necessary. However, if the soap has a high fat content or oils with a short shelf life, you will probably want to add an antioxidant. If you don’t, that lovely smelling soap may end up with the unpleasant aroma of rancidity.

What are the preservatives that don’t work or shouldn’t be used?

Unfortunately, there are very few natural preservatives that will work when you are opting to sell or give bath and body products. Believe me, I’ve looked.

Honey won’t work because the minute you add water to it, it loses its antibacterial characteristic.

Potassium sorbate, though it prevents yeasts and molds from growing, it’s ineffective as a bactericidal.

Essential oils won’t work for two reasons. Primarily, too much of the oil would be needed to be effective and large quantities of the oil might be unsafe. Second, it would be too expensive. That said, tea tree oil is often used as a preservative, but it can be irritating to skin.

Sodium benzoate will prevent bacterial growth and is widely regarded as safe. In one study it’s been associated with skin allergies and DNA damage and that’s why it’s up here with the no no list. It works best in lower pH formulations.

All preservatives that contain parabens. These include: butyl-, ethyl-, isobutyl-, methyl- and propyl-.

All preservatives that can produce formaldehyde or may otherwise cause harm these include DMD, Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea and phenoxyetyhanol.

Preservatives that work

There are a number of preservatives that work well and are nontoxic. The following preservatives appear to be the safest on the market right now. Formulators are working diligently in creating others due to the high demand for non-toxic products.

Leucidal® Liquid is a relatively new and works well as a natural preservative. It is derived from fermented radishes fermented with the same bacteria used to make kimchi. It’s been tested and is a good option for skin care products.

Citric acid is a weak antimicrobial even at concentrations as high as 10% with a pH of 1.9. Though citric acid is used in some skin care products, I don’t think I would trust it in a product I intended to sell or give to friends.

NataPres is the trademark name for a product that contains Glycerin, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract, Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Extract, Populus Tremuloides Bark Extract and Gluconolactone. It does contain a miniscule amount of sodium benzoate derived from the honeysuckle.

Tinosan SDC has broad antimicrobial action. It consists of silver citrate and citric acid and is considered safe for use in skin care products.

Cosmocil cq is a fairly new and safe preservative. It has limitations in that it should not be used with bath and body creations containing beeswax-borax emulsifications or in natural liquid soap. It coagulates and turns brown. Ewwww.

Antioxidants that work

Vitamin E is an effective antioxidant that works very well to preserve the integrity of oils with a short shelf life. It’s best to use mixed tocopherols (vitamin E) containing alpha, beta, gamma, and delta tocopherol.

Rosemary extract is also a good antioxidant, but it carries a slight fragrance which may not be desirable in some formulations.

There are other antioxidants, but this will get you started. Besides, if I make this post much longer, you’ll probably run away and that would be sad.

Conclusion

In the future, you will have many safe preservatives to add to your skin care creations and that’s a very good thing. The list above will at least give you a start. In addition to adding preservatives, it’s important to sterilize your equipment and containers before using them. That way you can avoid inoculating your skin care creations with unwanted microbial guests.

I hope this post was helpful. In future posts, I’ll discuss in more detail each of the preservatives listed.

Now go have fun and relax.

Related articles:

Sodium Benzoate Dangers

 

66 Comments on How to Preserve Your Bath and Body Creations

  1. Guest

    I really got a very clear information from your article about sodium benzoate.
    thanks a lot.

  2. Guest

    vitamin e wont work..dont know why people write up about this stuff..same goes for ROE…we tested these so called antioxidants and results were as if they were not added…
    julius..

    • SpaFromScratch

      We’re sorry you had such bad luck. We use vitamin E and it works fine for us. Perhaps your concentrations were a little off. We hope you have better luck in the future. I’m assuming you didn’t overheat the formula and that you were using a mixed tocopherol oil.

  3. Guest

    Heat destroys Vitamin E. It must be added to your formulations when they cool down to just warm

  4. Guest

    I was actually hoping for the ‘longer list’, as I would have kept reading! Is there a way to obtain said list? It would be a great reference tool and lend a broader spectrum of options. Thank you!

    • SpaFromScratch

      Thank you for your comment and suggestion. I’m sorry the list was not longer. Sounds like I need to do another post and maybe create a longer list of antioxidants and reexamine the latest data on preservatives. Unfortunately, at the time I wrote this post there were few studies out there on the safety of natural preservatives. There may be more now, I’ll look into it for you.

      I work very hard to make sure that the information you receive on Spafromscratch is spot on accurate. It’s appalling how much much misinformation is on the internet and we vowed early on to make this blog different. Why? Because we believe the gods and goddesses that come here deserve only the best information available.

      We love you.

  5. Guest

    I have been using the radish root, (new one called arborcide) that is allowed in organic formulations, I had a lab do all the testing and so far so good, I obtained my radish root from the sample shop http://www.formulatorsampleshop.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=FSSM15010

  6. Guest

    Hi there
    I want to use cherry juice in a lip balm, for the colour, will grapefruit seed
    Extract work as a preservative?
    Best wishes
    Julia

    • SpaFromScratch

      Hi Julia,

      The short answer is no. One study found that the grapefruit seed extract that did work as an antibacterial actually contained other preservatives. All natural grapefruit seed extract demonstrated no antibacterial properties.

      In addition, I would be concerned with mold growth with cherry juice. Molds seem to find cherries just as tasty as we humans do.

      If you are dead set on coloring your lip balm, I would suggest purchasing lip balm safe colorant such as that sold by MMS. http://www.thesage.com/catalog/LipBalmColors,OilSoluble.html.

      Good luck with your creations.

  7. Guest

    Thank you for this info! I have been curious about Vit E and Grapefruit seed extract both, so it was nice to read what you put together. I have a few questions…. I really enjoy using raw honey in my face creams but am interested in trying Leucidal, and am wondering what you think about combining them? They also sell Leucidal SF (Salicylate Free), and I am wondering what your thoughts are on that option? Lastly, I see the range for usage is .5 to 2 percentage and I am a little worried about my ability to accurately get my dosage within that range and am wondering if there is an issue with going over slightly? Thank you!

    • SpaFromScratch

      Hello there friend,

      There are some reservations about using Leucidal in cationic formulations. Since this is not the case with honey, I see no problem in using it. The product works best in formulations from pH 3 – 8.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about using salicylate free Leucidal for skin care products. The big thing with salicylates is some folks are salicylate sensitive. However, this is usually in reference to foods and medicines (aspirin for instance).

      Formulator Sample Shop carries both types and the SF is a little less expensive $5.50 vs $6.25.

      Also, don’t worry about going a bit over on the concentration. It appears that the range is from .5 to 4 percent. That should give you a comfortable margin.

      Good luck with your creations.

  8. Guest

    How do you feel about Neem oil as a natural preservative?

  9. Guest

    I am making a Buckwheat Honey face mask. Do you think I should add a preservative to that for a longer shelf life, or will the honey do that on its own?? I have read so many conflicting stories, I am unsure now. Thank you

    • SpaFromScratch

      Hello goddess,

      The rule of thumb with honey is if you add water to your creation, honey loses much of its inhibitory qualities.

      Homemade creations often lack preservatives. Refrigeration will help them keep longer. An even better bet is to make your skin care products in small quantities so they can be used up quickly (within a week or so).

      Your friend,

      Vic

      • Guest

        Hi,
        Thanks for your reply. I am not adding water to the recipie. I make all of my recipies in small quantities for freshness. But I am looking to sell this product with my current line. I was just unsure if I needed a preservative in it for a longer shelf life. Stuff sells pretty quickly, so fresh batches are always made, but I just wanted to be on the safe side. : )

  10. Guest

    Phenoxyethanol (that’s the correct spelling) does NOT produce formaldehyde. That is nonense and false information that you are putting out here.

    • SpaFromScratch

      Hi there,

      Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely correct, we did make an error on phenoxyethanol as a formaldehyde producing preservative. Though we make every effort to offer the best information from the best sources, we are humans here at SpaFromScratch and as such may occasionally err. And though we erred in our statement regarding phenoxyethanol and formaldehyde, we stand fast on our assertion that it is a chemical that should be avoided.

      Studies demonstrate that:

      Phenoxyethanol affected the brain and nervous system in animals at moderate doses (Journal of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology)

      Phenoxyethanol acts as an endocrine disruptor in animals and can cause DNA mutations(Journal of the American College of Toxicology)

      Skin irritant (European Union Classification and Labeling)

      The effects of long term use are unknown

  11. Guest

    I am curious about adding a preservative to a sugar scrub. It contains mineral oil, sugar, and fresh lemon juice and peel. I have read conflicting info about the lemon spoiling or not. I know I need some sort of preservative in case water gets mixed in by the consumer. Any recommendations?
    Thanks,
    Sarah

    • SpaFromScratch

      Hi there guest,

      If it was my formulation, I would probably test it by using one of the recommended preservatives. I would probably try either Leucidal (effective at pH 2-9) or Natapress (effective at pH 3-8). Just for giggles, I would also see how the formulation fared with no preservatives.

      To do this, I would add a small but varying quantities of water to a test batch and leave the scrub containers out and uncovered at room temperature for a couple of weeks. During this time I would examine them daily for signs of bacterial or fungal colonies.

      If I had unlimited funds, I would send a batch off to a lab for testing.

      Hope this helps. Be sure and report back on your success.

      Hope this helps.

  12. Guest

    Dear Spa from Scratch,

    Thanks so much for the wealth of information and sharing so much knowledge. I have read the sodium benzoate article, and felt a bit sad as I have recently purchased a tub Geogard Ultra preservative (certified by ecocert) to use in my products after loosing so many beautiful creations to the creepy mold. I was so hopeful for Geogard, could you share your thoughts on this one? The recommendation is to add it to the water phase, at .5-2%.

    Many Thanks
    Guest

    • SpaFromScratch

      Hi there,

      From what I’ve read, Geogard Ultra consists of Gluconolactone and sodium benzoate. Gluconolactone is commonly found in food and sodium benzoate is a common preservative. My concern would be with the sodium benzoate. Since you have purchased Geogard Ultra, I would go ahead and use it up. The sodium benzoate isn’t going to kill you. However, the next time I would use one of the other recommended preservatives.

  13. Guest

    Dear Spa from Scratch,
    I have bought the Leucidal SF but I am afraid to use it. So paranoid about being all natural and so paranoid about harming someone that buys my product. How long of a shelf life will I get using it in lotions containing aloe Vera gel or scrubs that could get water in them? Can I stick with Vitamin E for my body butter? I’m looking for my product to be safe for 6 months.
    Many Thanks, Grateful Guest

  14. Guest

    YOU ARE WRONG ABOUT PARABENS BEING A PRESERVATIVE WE SHOULDN’T USE

    The issue of paraben use has become political with misinformation causing fear of using preservatives in our formulations. It is much more dangerous to not use an effective preservative than to use one containing parabens. The amount we use is far less than the amount indicated safe by the FDA. Please refer to these validating sites:

    http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductandIngredientSafety/SelectedCosmeticIngredients/ucm128042.htm

    http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk

    http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1020026/safetyofparabens.pdf

    (I have also found that even the supplier websites contain misleading and wrong information about their products. One supplier states that anti-oxidants are preservatives. This is wrong. Anti-oxidants help extend the shelf life of unsaturated oils by preventing the oils from going rancid. It’s best to use established websites and google scholar to do your research.)

    • SpaFromScratch SpaFromScratch

      Hi there Guest,

      Parabens have an estrogenic affect in the body and they are absorbed through the skin. According to studies by Dr. Darbre, Associate Professor at the University of Reading, UK, Parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors, blood and urine of human subjects.

      The problem arises not from using a product once or twice, but when small doses are administered over a long period of time. I personally wouldn’t want to risk it nor would I ever add something to my formulations that may cause harm to anyone else.

      Now for your comment about accepting without question the views of the FDA, remember a long time ago when they told us that Thalidamide was safe? My case rests.

      If you check out the FDA’s website on parabens, you will see they reference Dr. Darbre’s research and discounted it on the basis that it didn’t include paraben concentrations in other tissues. However, she has done two other studies since the original and has come to the same conclusion that parabens are not friends of the human body. In fact, she believes they may be instrumental in converting healthy cells into cancer cells.

      On the basis of:
      The latest research
      The lack of information regarding the long term effects of small daily doses of parabens
      The rise in breast cancer among young women and men

      I stand firm in that parabens should be avoided.

      I’m not saying they are the only culprit in the chemical mix we are exposed to, but I believe sufficient evidence has been presented that they are indeed one of the culprits.

  15. Guest

    I have found this to be the easiest to understand and the most useful article I have yet came across. Thank you so much!!

  16. Guest

    Hi
    I am new to all this organic beauty stuff. But in past u have tried masks and exfoliation scrubs. I was wondering what preservatives and anti-oxidants should i use for them to have long self live.
    I use, honey, olive oil, sugar, green tea, milk, lemon, gram flour for my masks.
    Xx

    • SpaFromScratch SpaFromScratch

      Hi there Guest,

      Congratulations in joining the organic movement. For your formulation, I would use vitamin E oil as an antioxidant and Tinosan SDC or Leucidal. I would then test the product at minimum to maximum concentrations recommended for each preservative. My biggest concern would be with the potential for mold (gram flour). Take a little out of each bottle with your fingers to introduce contaminants. Leave each of your test bottles out at room temperature for 10 days or so. How do they look? How do they smell?

      Anyway, that’s what I would do if I were you and didn’t want to send them away for testing. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get your concentrations correct.

      Good luck and report back. We would love to hear from you.

  17. Guest

    Thank you so much. I am on it now.:-)

  18. Guest

    What a wonderful site. I am happy to finally find a place that doesn’t just ignore the comments claiming you are wrong. You instead reply head on…..leaves me thinking that you know what you are talking about. I am glad you are here and I am glad I will no longer have to search and search for information and then have to flip a coin to decide whose to use. I’ll be planted right here on Spa from Scratch. I just purchased the Luecidal from the formulation shop and look forward to seeing how it does. It was a little discerning however that with the Luecidal came NOTHING. No instructions on the amounts to use no ANYTHING. Guess I will have to research that now. Thank you for a wonderful site!!

  19. Guest

    Pls I would appreciate u come up with a list of preservatives and antioxidants as according to each type of homemade product made: for instance scrubs such as sugar scrubs will need what preservative and what antioxidant, melt and pour soaps will need what, body butters, oil mixtures. Please give measurements in spoons as well as some of us do not understand percentages and concentration. Thanks alot

    • SpaFromScratch SpaFromScratch

      Thank you for your comment. I know doing the calculations can be confusing at times, but it’s nothing to worry about.

      As for your request for a “list” of recipes complete with preservatives, so much depends on the specific ingredients in the formulation that it would be almost impossible to cover all possible recipe. I can give you a few basic recipes complete with the necessary preservative and I’ll work on that, but it’ll take some time.

      In the meantime, you might want to learn something about percentages as they relate to concentrations. A quick Google search will take you to some excellent websites. As an alternative, you might check with your local library. Tell the librarian what you need and s/he will direct you to just the right book for your level of understanding.

  20. Guest

    Do you have any advice on what to use in a bath bomb to keep it from losing it’s fragrance smell and getting a rancid smell after a few weeks/ or a couple months? I use olive oil and grapeseed oil in it. Thanks!

    • SpaFromScratch SpaFromScratch

      Hi there Guest,

      Try using jojoba or coconut oils, I think you will have better luck. Grapeseed oil has a relatively short shelf life. To preserve the aroma in a bath bomb it’s a good idea to wrap it tightly with Saran wrap. For bath beads, store them in an air tight container. Otherwise the volatile molecules in the fragrance will rather quickly disappear. You might want to check out our bath bomb recipes.

      Good luck with your bath bomb project. They are such fun to make and use.

  21. Guest

    Hi there,
    I am so glad I found your site to learn about the various preservatives. I am wanting to make my own Soapnut based ayurvedic herb shampoo. I was wondering which preservative would work best. I am thinking for myself, being a purist junkie (LOL) I will make and freeze in ice cube trays and pull out to defrost the night before I shampoo. If I were to want to chose option B especially if giving as gifts to friends and family, I would like to have a preservative on hand.

    Also– what are your thoughts in general on Optiphen and Optiphen ND as preservatives? Thanks so much!!!

    • SpaFromScratch SpaFromScratch

      Hi there guest,

      Congratulations on making soapnut shampoo. I have never made it, but plan to do so as it’s very good for your hair. The only caveat is that you have to be careful not to get it in your eyes as it burns like crazy. Also, it is recommended that you leave in your hair for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing which may cause problems for that quick morning shower before work.

      There are three ways to preserve this shampoo without preservatives: You can freeze it like you plan on doing, you can keep it in the refrigerator (it should last a week or more) or you can can it like you would any other fruit,vegetable or juice.

      As for the family of Optiphen preservatives, the active ingredient is phenoxyethanol which is moderately toxic. It is recommended that the concentration be between .5% – 1% in formulations with a pH less than 6. The good news about the Optiphen family is that they lack parabens and formaldehyde.

      The problem I have with preservatives like these has to do with long term use and exposure. Increases in exposure is inevitable as manufacturers switch to Optiphen or other supposedly “natural” preservatives in an effort to satisfy public demand for safer products. With increased use comes increased exposure and the effects of both increased exposure and long term use are unknown. If you read my post on sodium benzoate, I make the same argument and that stuff is in all sorts of products.

      I hope this helps.

      Anyway, good luck with your new formulation. Be sure and report back and tell us how it is working out for you.

      • Guest

        Thanks for the wonderful information! What do you think would be the most natural choice of preservative for the Soapnut shampoo? The radish ferment preservative? Thanks for the info and I will definitely keep you posted on my shampoo! 🙂

  22. Guest

    Thank you so much for your response…much appreciated! Do you think
    the Radish root preservative would be a good choice for a soapnut shampoo?
    Thanks much!

  23. Guest

    FINALLY… a site that is clear and concise when it comes to preservatives!! YEAH!! as a long time organic/natural health food advocate and raising my “little arizona” on fast food free food; we’re venturing out into the all natural/organic skin/hair care products!!. We’re starting our own line of products and were concerned about what preservatives we should or shouldn’t use. Your feedback has been informative, educational and just downright spot-on!! Thank you so much for being here as a resource for all of us. Keep on keeping on!! Peace & Blessings!!

  24. Guest

    Hi, my name is Juliette, i want to make a body scrub safe for my friend’s birthday its all oil base but the one i already created got mold or yest or something on it that i cant tell what it is, i was wondering if you could tell me a product damage free and with good reputation to preserve the scrub, last thing i wanna do is damage my friend’s skin, please help !!

  25. Guest

    Hello there, just saw this and read all the posts. I’ll let you know what I have been doing for my lotions

    I have been using Leucidal along with potassium sorbate
    the company I purchase from now offers a replacement potassium sorbate
    therefore I now replaced my potassium sorbate and use amticide coconut
    I use 2.5% of leucidal (radish root) and 1.5% of amticide coconut
    I had my lotion tested twice via challenge testing (if you are familiar with challenge testing) it cost a lot of money but well worth it because I know I have a stable formula. I recenrly was accepted to whole foods! since leucidal is on their approved preservative list I got informed 3 weeks after my submission. I am so excited. I hope my story helps you

    have a great day,
    steph

  26. Guest

    Hi! I’m new to all the homemade bath and body products, but I, too, would like to make some things for gifts. Is there a “for dummies” guide somewhere that will tell me how long things will last and if I need preservatives? I make a body butter. One that is all coconut oil and cocoa butter and the other almost all cocoa butter with a bit of almond oil and vitamin e. Am I safe to assume these are okay for 4-6 months?

  27. Guest

    I made a shampoo formula for my cat and dog(different ingredients and concentration)in my kitchen. Basically it’s only a mixture of castile soap, virgin coconut oil, apple cider vinegar and rosemary water boiled together. It works amazingly to both of my cat and dog coats. The coat are shiny and silky smooth. No skin irritation happen. My question is, what kind of non-toxic preservative I can use to help the shampoo last longer( probably 6-7 months)? I have a plan to do the mixture in a large batch.

  28. Guest

    Does anyone know if you use manuka honey or kombucha in lotions what preservative may be good to use so you don’t kill active ingredients or kombucha thanks

  29. kemist

    Hello SpaFromScratch,
    I am wondering what preservative would you recommend for use in lip care products.

    I am particularly looking for a preservative that would be effective for a lip scrub that consist of fresh papaya fruit.

    The fruit is puréed in a blender and thickened with something like corn starch. This serves as the base of the product. No water is added, but it will consist of its natural juices.

    Any suggestions you can make would be greatly appreciated 🙂

  30. Guest

    Hello,

    I’m looking to perfect my bathbomb recipe. I know the recipe I currently uses lasts 6 months but I keep having problems with maintaining the fragrance 3-4 months down the line (I currently use essential oils). I’m stuck where to start for adding a preservative (maybe Vit E?) or to start adding in a fragrance oil to make sure they smell wonderful in case I decide to start selling them. Have you got any links or suggestions for what to add?
    From Julia

    • SpaFromScratch SpaFromScratch

      Hi there Guest,
      Essential oils are volatile and will lose their fragrance unless you use a stabilizer such as Orris root. The chemical version of these oils, fragrance oils, of course are more stable. I don’t usually keep bath bombs beyond a couple of months, so it hasn’t been a problem. I found recipes for pomanders and potpourri with a ratio of 1/3 Orris powder. Now you’ve got my curiosity up. Watch for a post all about Orris powder coming very soon. And be sure and nag me about it lest I forget.

  31. Guest

    Hi – can you please advise in your experience what the best most natural perservative would be for body scrubs? One is Coffee and the other Grapefruit, and both have a Coconut Oil as the binder. Thanks!

  32. Guest

    I want to start making body butters. I have a recipe that consists if the following ingredients: organic shea butter, organic virigin coconut oil, almond oil, jojoba oil, and lavender or orange essential oil. Would you suggest I use a preservative?