Thursday, November 4, 2010

Preservatives: Choosing a preservative

So we've spent some time getting to know our preservatives, so let's take a look at what preservatives we might want to use and those we should avoid when creating our products.

Let's say you're making a scented body spray and you want to use polysorbate 20 to emulsify your fragrance into the water based product. Which preservative is right for this product? We know the parabens like Phenonip, Liquipar PE, and Germaben II are partially deactivated by polysorbate 20, so we might want to choose something else (say Liquid Germall Plus or Optiphen). I'd have the same problem with something like my foaming post-crafting hand wash because I use the polysorbate 20 to emulsify the d-Limonene.

Or let's say you want to make a moisturizing body wash with olive oil to help chase away winter dryness. If you're using polysorbate 80 to emulsify that oil, use non-paraben based preservative.

If you're interested in making a cream with titanium dioxide (say a liquid foundation) again the parabens are right out of the question because they can be deactivated by the pigments and the titanium dioxide.

And make sure you aren't using hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose to thicken your anionic systems - shampoo, body wash, face wash - when using something containing phenoxyethanol based preservatives like Optiphen, Optiphen ND, Phenonip, Liquipar Optima, or Liquipar PE.

If you're making anhydrous products you want to preserve - like sugar scrubs - you'll want to choose preservatives that are oil soluble, meaning the parabens like Phenonip and so on.

Here's the list of all the posts relating to preservatives, so you can choose the one that's best for you.

Cosmocil CQ
Geogard Ultra
Germaben II
Liquid Germall Plus
Liquipar Oil
Liquipar Optima
Liquipar PE
Optiphen ND
Optiphen Plus
Suttocide A
Tinosan SDC

And here's the link to the preservative chart download!


Zenobiah said...

I just got the newsletter from Snowdriftfarm today. They have a new preservative called PerForm which actually contains Polysorbate 20:

INCI: Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol, Polysorbate 20

Could you evaluate this one too? It looks promising!

Kuldip said...

For those of you who still would like to use parabens and and make room sprays , colognes, etc and have to solublize the essential oils and fragrances witjout Polysorbates use Isoceteth-20 ( Arlasolve 200). Normal ratio of use is 1 part fragrance to 3 parts Isoceteth-20 . I have had good results with 1:3 and for more stubborn oils like essentail oils it can be 1:5. Mix the oil and Isoceteth-20 until homogenous and add to luke warm water, it will be cloudy first and eventually clear up. This is compatible with parabens mainly with good challenge test results. BTW addition of ethanol at 10% makes a good asstringent and prevents foaming or for those hating alcohol use glycerin.
As for perform it is a custom blend by snowdrift, just like any other preservatives one must take care and use ones best judgement in choosing a preservative. many factors make a preservative ineffective make sure work area, packaging, utensils , water last but not least temperature.A preservative is basically a vaccination for your finished product.

madpiano said...

Hello, brilliant series about the preservatives. I would have never guessed that something like Titanium Oxide could make my preservative useless. I am surprised this is not better known?
I do have a question though, as we are in Europe, we have slightly different preservatives available. I mainly use on called Microkill, it's INCI is: Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Chlorphenesin.
Is there anything I need to watch out for? I know there is a similar US one, but that contians an acid as the 3rd ingredient, I am not sure how that compares to Chlorphenesin. The MSDS says stable at PH 3-8, which seems to cover all the things I make that need preservative.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi madpiano! I've written a post about Mikrokill COS here. Hope it answers your questions.

Bajan Lily said...

Truly I love your posts.
Today I was looking at two bottles of preservative: Optiphen and Liquid Germall and wondering:

"how do I know when to use which?", "Is Optiphen better for shampoos and Germall better for creams?"

- now I have found this post, I'll have a read through the relevant material and see if I can find the answer!

Rachel Lewis said...

Hello! I thought I had asked this question already but I looked hard and could not find it anywhere, so I hope this is not a repeat question! If it is I am really sorry.

What is your opinion on using essential oils that have been tested and shown to exhibit anti fungal, viral and bacterial properties as preservatives?

Abeigh said...


I have formulated a product just for myself which contains:

and I haven't been using a preservative. Should I be and if so, which ones.

Many thanks

Abeigh said...

Sorry for the above post, I forgot to add the ingredients. They are: Shea butter (butyrospermum parkii), coconut butter (coco nucifera), jojoba oil (simmondsia chinensis), olive oil (olea europaea), castor oil (ricinus commenis), sweet almond oil (prunus dulcis), peppermint essential oil (menthe piperia), rosemary essential oil (rosmarinus officinalis) and lavender essential oil (lavandula hybrida)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Abeigh! You don't need a preservative in an anhydrous or non-water containing product. I'm glad to see you're thinking about safety!

Abeigh said...

That's what I thought but I am having the product safety tested and this is what the lady said:

"Regarding your product, we consider that there is a risk of contamination of the product. Due to being a hair moisturiser and the type of packaging, it is likely that some water is introduced when applying the product, making it susceptible to microbial growth.

For this reason, we consider that your product needs to be preserved and have the preservation challenge test performed on it in order for us to be able to complete the safety assessment on it.

Also, I would like to know if you have some information for the stability of the product."

It doesn't sound right to me but I'm not an expert. Anyone have any thoughts?

Amanda said...

So just to clarify that I read this right. I can use phenonip for the sunscreen I make that contains no water, and optiphen for the things I make like bubble bath and bug spray that do use water? I dont use poly 20 in my products, instead I use Plantamulse so im thinking its the same concept as poly 20 where I cant use phenonip with it so I can sub for optiphen? I just really dont want anyone getting sick lol

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

HI Amanda. Please don't make a sunscreen. You have no idea if it works, and you don't want someone to burn themselves with your product, do you? I really can't beg you enough not to do this.

As for the other ingredients, what does the post on Optiphen indicate for usage? (You can find all the posts on preservatives in the preservatives section of the blog...)

Melanie said...

I bought the Orange Lemongrass Blend from and it is nothing but orange oil, lemongrass oil and sesame oil. They say "Effective natural preservatives for creams & lotions but also shampoos & shower gels. Has excellent broad-spectrum activity against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, and mold and yeast." I doubt it can really work but it is hard to believe they would outright lie and say it is effective when it isn't. Right? I haven't had the products I used it for long enough to tell if it works. And it smells like Pledge so I won't buy it again anyway. It's uber expensive! I don't trust it so I'm feeling a bit ripped off by that company.

Rocio said...

Hi dear Susan:

I appreciate your information.


My best regards

Cooking For Two said...

Hi Susan-
Can you elaborate more on this comment from the "Choosing a preservative" post.
-And make sure you aren't using hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose to thicken your anionic systems - shampoo, body wash, face wash - when using something containing phenoxyethanol based preservatives like Optiphen, Optiphen ND, Phenonip, Liquipar Optima, or Liquipar PE.-

Can you elaborate on why this does not work?

Thank you,
Cooking for Two

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Cooking for Two! Check out this post. (You can find other posts of this nature in the preservative section of the blog.)

SweetAirSoapworks said...


First off, I have to tell you that I absolutely LOVE & have become addicted to your blog. I discovered it about a week ago & I've spent countless hours working my way through ton's of great posts. Your blog is a perfect example of what makes the internet great!

We handcraft soap, body butters, sugar scrubs, lotion bars & I've been working on formulating lip balms for our upcoming lip balm line.

Although Lip Balms are anhydrous, I'd like to add a preservative, just because & just in case. I'm sure people will find a way to get the balms wet, maybe they'll have water on their lips, lol.

Actually, what got me really thinking about adding a preservative to our lip balms was a story circulating around the internet about EOS lip balms, & how they've been getting mold inside the cap and even on the balm itself.

I checked their ingredients & I think I found the answer. They're apparently using water in their lip balms but I didn't see any mention of a preservative. I checked the INCI for all their ingredients & I didn’t find any type of preservative, although I believe they’re using Vitamin E as an anti-oxidant if I recall.

We've been successfully using Optiphen Plus in our anhydrous products & have had no problems whatsoever. But, being the creative type, I always seem to be on the lookout for something new, or something that not everyone is using, as I like to make our products a bit different than everyone else when possible.

This brings me to my question. I came across a natural preservative for preservative free cosmetics & anhydrous products called VegeCide. Here's a few blurbs on this product:

“VegeCide is perfect for your preservative free cosmetics and anhydrous products. VegeCide has no petro chemicals and is approved by EcoCert, NPA and NaTrue standards...VegeCide is a natural preservative crafted from high purity, renewable sources, of caprylic and undecylenic fatty acids.

VegeCide is a, 100% vegetable derived, broad spectrum natural preservative suitable for all of your manufacturing applications. Because it is made with fatty acids it also provides emollience, serves as a co emulsifier to stabilizes your emulsions and offers effective re-fatting activity.

VegeCide is also extremely easy to use. It may be incorporated into the oil or water phase, at any temperature. If this product is stored cool it may become a soft solid, you can re-liquefy by hot water bath or gentle, low, heat”.

Was just wondering if you've ever heard of this preservative or have tried it? I ordered some today to give it a try & if it works as presented, it looks like we'll be able to use it in all our anhydrous products & be able to keep our natural products natural. Plus, it should also enhance our label appeal as there’s no parabens involved, and I do get the parabens question from time to time when we exhibit at craft fairs & festivals.

Any thoughts?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi SweetAirSoapworks! Always check the INCI of the ingredient you're looking at, which is Glyceryl Monocaprylate (and) Glyceryl Monoundecylenate in this case. Apparently it's not a great broad spectrum preservative, being a great fungicide but not good for mold or bacteria. You'd have to add something else to it.

Although I'm a great fan of preservatives, if you aren't using water soluble ingredients in your lip balm, do you need to preserve it? There are loads of lip balms out there that aren't going off and don't contain preservatives because they aren't using water soluble ingredient!

Just a thought...

Claudia said...

Hi Susan,

I have been using Optiphen Plus in my homemade creams/lotions. So far, it's been looking good and I do not have any separation issues. My only concern is the smell of the preservative. I only used 1%, and the smell is overwhelming. I tried to mask the smell using a fragrance, and it does not work. Do you have any suggestions on which preservative I should use if smell is my main concern?

Tammy said...

Hi Susan,

I was wondering about the combination of Optiphen Plus and Polysorbate 20. I was participating in an online forum today with a formulator (from Microformulations in the US) and he mentioned that polysorbate and other surfactants can deactivate phenoxyethanol. I can't seem to find any other reference to that online or in your blog. What do you think? I had never heard this so I've been using Optiphen Plus to preserve my cleansers, foaming soaps, and sprayable lotions (all of which contain polysorbate 20 for the FOs or EOs) and I haven't noticed a problem -- yet. Thanks so much, Tammy

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tammy. I have found only one other reference to this on the Making Skincare website. I'm answering the question as today's Weekend Wonderings.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tammy. I have to add that I'm a bit confused about this because if you look at the first comment in this post - the one about the PerForm preservative - it contains polysorbate 20. Hmm....

Luisa Victor said...

Hello, i'm so glad i've found your blog, bc i'm a real newbie in this all cosmetics chemistry thing and you explain everything in a way i can understand (i'm a international relations student - nothing to do with chemistry lol).

Anyway, the majority of the preservatives you mention here are really hard to find/regulated here in Brazil. So, could I use Sharomix 706 in a basic conditioner recipe? Is there a type of recipe in which i can't use sharomix 706?

Thank you so much!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Luisa. What is the INCI for sharomix 706?

Martin Olsson said...

Hello! Im currently using this shampoo: and i am a bit worried about the ingredients list after reading trough your posts that it only contains natural preservatives, would you mind to comment on the preservative ingredients please.

Deionized Purified Water, Decyl Glucoside , Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sufonate ,Cocamidopropyl Betaine , Polyquaternium 71 , Cocamide MIPA , Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate , Polyquaternium 80 , Disodium Lauryl Sulfosuccinate, Melaleuca Alternifolia Lactobacillus Ferment (Natural preservative), Sambucus Nigra Fruit Elderberry Extract (Natural plantbased preservative), Willow Bark Extract (Salix Alba) (Natural plant-based preservative) (Tea Tree), Argania Spinosa kernel (Argan oil), Nigella Sativa Oil (Black seed), Amla Oil, Urtica dioica extract (Nettles extract), Ketoconazole 0.9%, Biotin (Vitamin H), Serenoa Serrulata extract (Saw Palmetto extract), Cedrus atlantica oil (Cedarwood oil), Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary oil), Salvia Sclarea oil (Sage oil), Polygonum Multiflorum Root (He Shou Wu), Hibiscus (Rosa-sinensis) Extract, Prunus Africana Bark (Pygeum), Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin seed),Camellia sinensis (Green Tea), Zinc Pyrithione, Soy Isoflavone (Non-GMO Genistein Daidzein), Beta Sitosterol, Phyllanthus emblica (Indian Gooseberry), Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon oil), Citrus Grandis Seed Extract (Grapefruit seed), Cymbopogon flexuosus (Lemon Grass Oil), Nicotinic acid (Niacin), Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Sorbitan Oleate Decyglucoside Crosspolymer (Derived from natural cane sugar, non-GMO corn and olive oil ), Xylityl Sesquicaprylate (Natural Plant-based preservative), and Citric Acid (Derived from Citrus fruits).

Melissa said...

I'm working on an emulsified sugar scrub with no water in the ingredients. Knowing it will be exposed to water, I'm looking for an appropriate preservative. I'd been using Phenonip, but just recently learned that it is deactivated when used in recipes containing polysorbates. I use an emulsion wax which contains either polysorbate 80 or 60 (depending on source). What preservative would be appropriate for a recipe containing polysorbate without water? Or is there another emulsifier that would be a better alternative? Also, would I be better off using salt instead of sugar?

Ashley R said...

I am using gluconolactone and sodium benzoate in homemade hair care products that contain ingredients like oats. After a few weeks, the white products begin to turn colors, however, they don't smell spoiled. What can I use to keep the color from turning?

Sindhu said...

I am in India and none of these preservative brands are available.Any one kind enough to recommend a good preservative for a room spray (80% water, essential oils) that is available in India and how much I should use. I plan to use polysorbate 20 as emulsifier. Thanks in advance

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Sindhu! Have you looked at the preservatives section of the blog for more ideas on preservatives?