Friday, October 15, 2010

Introduction to preservatives!

Since writing this post, I have developed an entire section of the blog devoted to the individual preservatives, along with comparison charts and information on why we might like to use them. As much as I like this post, I think the preservatives section of the blog offers much more information. And I think you'll like the charts, too! May I encourage you to check out that section after reading this post to learn more about the myriad choices you have when it comes to preserving your products? 

Preservatives are essential to our products - they prolong the shelf life by keeping our products free from contamination and help retard rancidity in our oils (click here for information on microbial rancidity) - and I hope this series on preservatives will either strengthen your conviction to use preservatives or change your mind about being preservative free!

So why use a preservative in your product? Preservatives help prevent microbial growth in our products, which can cause separation of our emulsions, speed up rancidity of our oils and butters, and cause weird smells. Contaminated products aren't pretty and they're dangerous. There are countless reports of unpreserved lotions causing contact dermatitis, rashes, and worse.

When should you use a preservative? If you make a product with water, you need a preservative. Anhydrous products don't need preserving, although products that might come into contact with water, like scrubs or in shower lotion bars, require preservatives.

The beasties in our products grow before we know it. By the time you see the pink or green tinge in your lotion, it's way too late - you've been contaminated for days, if not longer. Keeping your products in the fridge isn't an option - leave it out for a few hours while you're taking a bath or cleaning the house and you've got a ton of contamination.

Think of it this way. If you made a cup of tea today and left it on the counter, would you feel comfortable drinking it in two days or seven days? Would you feel comfortable putting it in the fridge and drinking it a week from now? If you said no, then why would a lotion be different? If you won't drink it, why would you bathe in it?

If you still aren't convinced, please take a look at this video - The Importance of Preservatives - detailing what happens to an unpreserved lotion in 7 days. Or take a look at Anne-Marie's experiences with a mouldy lotion on her Soap Queen blog!

Join me tomorrow as we delve deeper into the world of preservatives with a look at what beasties can grow in our lotions! (It won't be too graphic, I promise!)

Please note, I will be going into detail about the components of preservatives as well as the most common preservatives we find on our suppliers' shelves, but you'll have to be patient as there's a lot to cover! 


Tara said...

I would love some information on phenoxyethanol. So many people love it, but for some reason it messes up my emulsions, even though I add it AFTER cool down and I use ample amounts of BTMS-50. Maybe I had a bad batch of Optiphen or maybe my cream size was too large (50 oz too large?). Anyhow, I'm interested in the logistics of WHY??

Kuldip said...

Add optiphen at about 45-55°C, the trick is to keep mixing until cool.Usually adding optiphen to a cationic emulsion the product sometime thins out and will eventually thicken as it cools. Without looking at the ingredients you are working with hard to predict if the preservative is even compatible with the emulsion.
My 2 cents.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tara. I plan to have posts on each component of the preservatives then on each of the most common preservatives we use over the next three weeks.

Hi Kuldip! Thanks for the great advice! I really appreciate your comments! You're such a great resource.

p said...

Are you planning to discuss potassium sorbate? I like that it's food grade, and from what I understand it is an effective preservative if one formulates right, but I'm not exactly sure how to do that! I know you have to keep pH below 5.5, but what else? Snowdrift Farms's discussion of potassium sorbate here gives the thumbs-up (, but the Herbarie says, "Potassium sorbate is not a broad spectrum preservative for cosmetic use."

I'm currently using Geogard Ultra (Gluconolactone and Sodium Benzoate) - I'd love to hear what you have to say about this preservative, too!

I'd also love to know what you make of grapefruit seed extract, which many people regard as a natural preservative. From what I've read, the evidence for it is scanty, and I don't really see how it's all that "natural" anyway...

Jenny said...

I'm so thrilled to have found your blog! I love your intelligence, wit, research prowess...I could go on. And I'm so glad you're posting more on preservatives! I would love to know more about Geogard Ultra as well as Cosmocil CQ. Is there a reason why you haven't tried either of these? Also, if we use preservatives that require a low PH, what ingredient(s) can we use to lower the PH that are not photo-sensitizing (and which is more photo-sensitizing: citric acid or lactic acid)? Also, I'm paranoid about adding the correct amount of preservative since the amounts are so small. If you could tell us how much a teaspoon of liquid preservative generally weighs in grams or any info that would help us double check our weight measurements, that would be incredibly helpful! Thanks again!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Vic. I looked up this preservative and noted that your company created this product. Can you provide me with some data sheets and studies on the preservative as it relates to personal care products? What's the INCI on the product? What's the usage - in the heated water or cool down phase, in which products is it appropriate, and what kinds of contamination does it prevent? Please e-mail this information to me at so I can take a look at this information.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi p. I'll be discussing the various components of preservatives as well as pretty much all the ones I've seen at our suppliers. I've written about potassium sorbate - look for it on Monday. I'm writing a post about GSE at the moment - there's no evidence it works as a preservative except for the preserving power in the preservative they add to the product! But look for more shortly!

Hi Jenny. I will be writing about Geogard Ultra and Cosmocil CQ in the near future as well. I haven't used these preservatives for two reasons - the first is that I can't get them locally and the second is that I like the trio of preservatives I use now and really don't feel like re-formulating everything. I don't sell my products, so I'm not worried about the label appeal or the preferences of my customers for non-parabens or other ingredients, and I have yet to see a study that gets me worried about what's in Phenonip, liquid Germall Plus, or Germaben II.

The question about pH is a good one! I guess the question is how low do you want to go?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Vic. Until you send me information on your preservative or write another post that isn't a cut and paste of your previous three, I am considering your comments to be spam and they will be deleted immediately. I'm always happy to hear about new ingredients, but this is feeling very spammy right now and I need you to rectify that before posting again. Please e-mail me information on your product at my personal address before posting here again.

Jenny said...

Thank you, Susan and Kuldip! I'm just trying to bring my lotion down from a PH of 7.25 to around around 6 so I can use Geogard Ultra as my preservative. Sounds like citric acid is my best bet.

LoveNature'n Art .com said...

Hey there!
I am looking into using Jeecide cap-5 as a preservative in my lotions, because it is labelled as non toxic. Any one have any experience with this preservative?


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi LoveNature'n Art! Can you please provide the INCI name or the proper, non-brand name for the preservative here, as well as a link, if possible. We might be able to help further.

LoveNature'n Art .com said...


INCI name: Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Potassium Sorbate (and) Water (and) Hexylene Glycol

Hope this helps, and thanks for your time!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi LoveNature'n Art! You only need to write something and publish the post once. Right now, anything older than 14 days is being moderated, so you won't see the post show up until I've had a chance to review and publish it, which could take up to a day.

How is this different from Optiphen Plus or Optiphen? I would read the posts about those preservatives as they are virtually identical to what you're linking to here. I wouldn't recommend either of these or Jeecide CAP-5 as they are very particular about how you use them, and even really experienced formulators suffer from lotion separation with these preservatives. Again, take a look at the links for them in the preservatives section of the blog to learn more about them.

The word "non-toxic" means nothing. None of the ingredients we use are "toxic" in nature. If they were, we wouldn't be using them. As well, for something to be toxic, it's all about the dose. (The dose makes the poison, we say in chemistry.) So you might have something that's safe at 1 gram, but not safe at 1 pound. That doesn't mean it's not safe. So don't look for that term or the word "natural" when looking for a preservative. Look for something that is easy to use, works for as many products as possible, and preserves your products well.

LoveNature'n Art .com said...

Ok. I won't be using Jeeside CAP-5 then! Thanks for your advice. Have you tried GeoGard ECT (Benzyl Alcohol & Salicylic Acid & Glycerin & Sorbic Acid)?