Saturday, November 12, 2011

Optiphen revisited...

In this post and this post, sfs asks: Could Optiphen be used in an anhydrous product? Both Lotioncrafter and the Herbarie list it as a preservative for all types of products.

In this post, Sciarretta Farms said: Are you sure that all the preservatives in the Optiphen family are only for water soluble products? A lot of people use Optiphen to preserve their anhydrous scrubs.

Is Optiphen suitable for anhydrous creations?

I checked out the Herbarie's listing for Optiphen: Optiphen is suitable for anhydrous formulations and emulsions, such as creams, lotions, salves, body butters, and body scrubs.

I checked out Lotioncrafter's listing for Optiphen: Optiphen can be used in a wide variety of personal care products including aqueous and anhydrous systems and emulsions.

And I've checked out these brochures published by ISP, the makers of Optiphen...
ISP product guide (page 22) - nothing listed about being suitable for anhydrous products.
Preservative Data Sheet (page 12 or 22, not sure) - looks to be the same sheet, so that really doesn't help much.
Mild preservative data sheet (page 4) that says, "Optiphen® is applicable for use in a variety of personal care preparations such as aqueous and anhydrous systems, as well as emulsions."
And Preservation Breakthrough (page 7) that says, "

So there you have it. Apparently all the Optiphen products can be used in anhydrous formulations.

But wait...on page 4 of the mild preservation data sheet, the company writes this about Optiphen Plus...
"Optiphen® Plus can be used in a wide range of aqueous and emulsion-type personal care formulations, such as creams, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, mousses, and wet wipes." There's nothing about using it in anhydrous products. And on page 5 it says this about Optiphen ND..."Optiphen® ND/RokonsalTM ND has proven to be an effective preservative system for rinse-off products such as shampoos, shower gels, and foam baths. Optiphen® ND/RokonsalTM ND is recommended for use in creams, emulsions, lotions, and gels with acidic pH. Suitable for oil/water and water/oil emulsions."

I'm getting more confused by the minute! In the Preservation Breakthrough document quoted above, it states that ALL Optiphen products can be used effectively in "aqueous and anhydrous systems as well as emulsions". But then we see Optiphen Plus to be used in "aqueous and emulsion-type personal care formulations" and Optiphen ND suggested for "creams, emulsions, lotions, and gels with acidic pH". Hmm...

What do I think? When the company is putting out information that contradicts other information, I get confused and annoyed. With two references from the company and chemistry that backs it up, I think it's safe to say that Optiphen is suitable for anhydrous products - which makes sense because phenoxyethanol is soluble in both oil and water - but I can't say anything about the other Optiphen products.

As a note, I'm linking the three posts on Optiphen to this post, I'll update the PDF on preservatives with this information this weekend (time willing), and that's my final word on Optiphen. Unless I can get some definitive, non-contradictory information about this line of preservatives, I won't be commenting on anything relating to Optiphen in the future.

As a disclaimer: I use liquid Germall Plus, Germaben II, and Phenonip as my preservatives of choice. I haven't used Optiphen or any of the variations in my products and I'm not planning to do so, and part of that decision relates to the lack of good information about this ingredient. The other reasons including not finding it locally easily and not wanting it to curdle my lotions! 

EDITED TO ADD: I think I need to clarify my statement about Optiphen. I'm not knocking it and I'm not putting it down - I have no opinion on this preservative. I'm not going to be writing about it in the future unless I can find something really definitive from a source that I trust for fear that I'm spreading misinformation. I owe it to you, my wonderful readers, to be accurate, and I don't feel I have enough information about Optiphen to write anything further on it.

I can't use every single ingredient out there as I simply don't have the time and I can't afford to buy one of everything. I'm making my decision based upon my personal preference. Just as some people choose not to use silicones, some choose not to use parabens, and some choose to make organic products, I'm choosing not to include Optiphen in my workshop.


Robert said...

This is a great post on a difficult subject. One can spend many, many hours sifting through seemingly conflicting information about preservative systems and reviewing the pros and cons of each system.

While the Optiphen range of ingredients may have some application in anhydrous products, ISP is not targeting these products for this purpose. The ISP product guide on page 28 recommends Liquapar Oil for Anhydrous systems. It is likely that Optiphen preservatives are not the preservatives of choice for anhydrous systems.

On the other hand, we would not recommend being too hasty to dismiss the optiphen preservatives. They are highly useful and effective in various water containing products. Each preservative, though, within the optiphen range is different. We recommend paying close attention to any prototype formulations provided by ISP along with their recommendation as to product types and to the effective pH ranges.

Danica said...

Hi, I just want to say first that I love your site and it's taught me more about the science of cosmetics than anything else.
I use Optiphen plus in my mixes (conditioners, butters). I've tested them and so far I've not found any bacterial growth, so I think they're good.
You know more about this than me, but so far I haven't had any problems. I think you should actually use them before you knock them. Again I love you and love your site, but can you really speak on something you haven't tested?

Tara said...

I've had a LOT of curdling incidents with Optiphen Plus! These were generally when BTMS was being used as an emulsifier. One way that I've found around it is to use potassium sorbate + Optiphen regular when I use BTMS. When I use glyceryl stearate/PEG stearate as my emulsifier, I do not get curdling, but a temporary thinning of the emulsion that seems to thicken eventually.

Nancy Liedel said...

I've tried all the Optiphan preservatives and I don't like them. Straight Optiphan is irritating to my skin and the skin on my legs is not easily irritated. Well, pine makes it itch, but there was no pine in my formula.

Optiphan Plus curdled about 5 lotions (different formulas that should have worked) and I got so mad, I threw the bottle at my 14 year old who said, "Maybe you should do more research before spending money that you could have bought me Heelies with." No 14 year old's were harmed in the process. I have a bad arm and missed by a while. He did shut up, after that.

Optiphan ND didn't hold up to a challenge test and I just cannot take even one chance with my products. A false move and LAWSUIT!!! I have insurance, but I'd feel so rotten, that I'd quit and hide in a hobbit hole for the rest of my life, if something turned green, that was not supposed to. So, in defense of Swift and all those out there who have read the issues with a product and not tested it, I say, "If it breaks, don't use it."

I have a neat little book by, "David C. Stienberg," "Preservatives for Cosmetics, 2nd edition." It really helped me with preservative choices for which product. I pretty much stick with what Swift uses, except for the addition of Germaben II E for anything that's going near someone's eyes and has more than 25% oil in it.

This is my personal opinion and not meant to trump anyone. Plus, we, as formulators, cannot purchase one of each and test a formula with all of the possibilities. Sometimes you have to give it a whirl and sometimes reading up has to be enough.


Jama said...

Where's the like button for what Nancy said??? LIKE LIKE LIKE

catherine said...

Hi. This is something I've been thinking about a long time. So it's long. It ended up being so long that I had to divide into 2 separate comments. Here goes 1 of 2...

I'm a newbie who has used Optiphen Plus in five separate formulations and four turned out great; only one emulsion broke and I think it was because I used too many cosmeceuticals. I've run biosan tests on all formulas and *all* were clear of bacteria and fungus, including the broken-emulsion one.

I will soon be trying my hand at conditioner and shampoo bars; for those I'll be using plain old Optiphen, which appears to be what's recommended for anhydrous formulations.

Here's the company's pdf that recommends Optiphen for anhydrous, Optiphen Plus for emulsions with ph of 6 or lower.

Here's where I might be putting my foot in my mouth (can one do that online? :)...

I think Optiphen products have gotten a bit of a bad rap. They may be more finicky than paraben based preservatives but it's worth it for someone avoiding parabens. And...I think parabens have gotten a bad rap as well! Both can be true!

I'd read, heard on public radio, watched on major tv news shows all the bad news about parabens (cancer, bad for the environment, etc) and had stopped buying anything containing parabens. So when I started making my own lotions and shampoos I thought, of course, I would use only paraben free preservatives, and chose Optiphen Plus, since it seemed to cover *almost* everything.

However, as I delved deeper, I learned that there was a lot of misinformation about parabens. Here are what I think are 2 good links re parabens (in addition to this blog of course! but you're already there):

Two key points:

1) From wikipedia: American Cancer Society says "larger studies are needed to find out what effect, if any, parabens might have on breast cancer risk."

2) From cosmeticscop: "Should You Avoid Parabens? In a word, no."

catherine said...

Here's part 2 of 2 of my overly long comment :):

I remember thinking...."What?" I'd been knocking myself out reading ingredient labels and not buying anything that said "paraben" for basically no reason? Yes.

Not only that, I'd been avoiding parabens and instead bought products with other, scientifically proven "bad for you" preservatives that just haven't gotten the bad press that parabens have.

Here's what I think is a good link re good/bad preservatives:

Most notably, methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone are known irritants (per cosmeticscop, Contact Dermatitis, November 2011, pages 276-285) and they are in LOTS of products.

I am glad to see the truth slowly come out about parabens, in this blog and other sources, In retrospect, I'm blown away by the reputable sources where I got misinformation about parabens: Oprah, Doctor Oz, Consumer Reports, NPR!

I have a personal theory (untested!) that one person wrote one paper about parabens, the Environmental Working Group ( got hold of it, was able to generate a lot of publicity, and now all these otherwise reputable sources keep regurgitating this stuff about parabens.

But...It has been an incredibly successful publicity campaign. I'm sure I'm not the only one who avoided parabens because of this campaign.

Moreover, if I ever decided to sell a lotion, I would *not* use a paraben preservative, because I would actually like my product to sell. And I know a lot of people are like I used to be...avoiding parabens at all cost.

So, for me, that would mean using the Optiphen line of preservatives, because that's what I'm familiar with.

I know some lotion sellers have really trashed Optiphen on your blog, and evangelized the use of parabens. I wonder about the wisdom of can spend your time advocating the use of parabens and hope your products sell, or you can use non-paraben preservatives and just take that out of the equation.

I hope there comes a day when the truth about parabens is widely known, because, from what I've read, formulating is easier with parabens.

Wow, this ended up being a long comment. But it has been on my mind for a while. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey there
I am with most of the women when I say I love Optiphen plus although I have never bothered to try anything else, its prob due to my irrational fear of parabens or not bothering to argue to friends & family why parabens arent all that bad.
I also have had trouble with curdling but onlt in me last few formulations. Seeing as this is the only preservative I will ever use I will try to figure out what is causing this phenomenon and report back to all your other lovely ladies who love the Optiphen Plus preservative
- Kali Kelpie -

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kali! Have you read this post on Optiphen? Kuldip explains how to avoid the curdling as it's a pretty common phenomenon.

Hi Catherine! Your theory is sound, and it's pretty much what has happened, although I don't think it was just the EWG. Check out this column by Dr Joe about the studies on parabens.

Greg Oxnard said...

In my first year of making creams I was happily using plain Optiphen, and never experienced a lotion failure. I then switched to Optiphen ND because I'd read that the basic Optiphen was less than effective in some circumstances. Since then I've had (to quote Susan) epic lotion failures, with large containers of curdled cream needing to be thrown away. All would go well until the cool-down, and adding Optiphen ND, when the mix would turn into an oily mess. Sometimes I could sb it back into emulsion, but usually it went into the garbage, along with all the great ingredients I'd added. Although I've read the post on incorporatng Optiphen at lower temps, I haven't found this to work for me and I just can't the thought of wasting more ingredients. Thanks to Susan I am much better informed about the alternatives. Great shame because my customers often get me into a Vulcan mind warp and grill me about parabens. I'll no longer be able to smugly trot out "Optiphen...non paraben and non formaldehyde donor".

Rivergirl said...

Optiphen plus is floating on top of my anhydrous serum. It is not oil soluble. groan!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Rivergirl. That's unfortunate! Optiphen Plus doesn't work for anhydrous products. They may have similar names, but they aren't the same preservative.

Rivergirl said...

Also, I have discovered that the optiphen is irritating to my face. :( Do you think this is true of most people or a small minority of people? PS LOVE your new book!

Gramma Rox said...

Last week I made three batches of lotion with the same formula. To all three, at 118 degrees, I added optiphen plus. The first one I stick blended and it separated. I let it cool and eventually it became medium grainy. The second one I stopped after a moment of stick blending and used a wire whip. Slightly grainy result. The third I didn't stick blend at all after adding the optiphen plus with a whip, let it cool completely and it was beautifully glossy. Can over processing be part of the issue?

Anna Paul said...

I love optiphen plus, I have no problems at all, my products come out beautiful, I get curdlingwwhen I add it but you have to work that stick blender for a while and its pretty nice, don't trash it, its great

Amanda Dvorak said...

PLEASE HELP. Hello, I'm somewhat new to using Optiphen Plus and I can't find out if it is compatable with IPM, clymomethicone, dimethicome or BTMS-50? Please help. Greatly appreciated and I'm learning so much from your blog. Thanks in advance.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Amanda! Have you checked out the post on Optiphen Plus?

Dacia Alpuche said...

I too have been scouring the web and researching on using Optiphen Plus specifically for my sugar/salt scrub. I think I may have found the answer (at least for one type of product).... I checked the label for my favorite store bought scrub - Tree Hut Shea Sugar Scrub. Low and behold, at the bottom of the list are the same ingredients for Optiphen Plus! Looking over the rest of them, aside from sugar, lots of oils, fragrance, Vitamins C & E, I found the magic ingredients: Glycerin (a humectant) and Polysorbate 20 (an emulsifier). This seemed to tie in with previous gleanings from the web.

The sugar/salt scrub is anhydrous (no water). Yet, water will definitely be added repeatedly through customer usage. Since it will be the water that will need the preservative, I need a water soluble preservative that is miscible, meaning it will "blend" at an event rate, in oils. Then, once the customer gets water into the container, the Optiphen Plus will solubilize in that water and go to work as a preservative.

In order to really get the Optiphen Plus to blend well with the oils, Tree Hut added a humectant and an emulsifier. Since the product itself has no water, the only reason for the emulsifier would be to get the Optiphen to blend well and continue to blend well after it's solubilized in water.

I will be attempting this method as well but with different humectants and emulsifiers. I'll update with results. Has anyone else come across this as well?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Dacia! There are many reasons to include an emulsifier, including emulsifying a water soluble ingredient and creating an emulsified scrub. What will you be testing? Whether you can use Optiphen Plus in a scrub? Have you checked out the post on Optiphen Plus in the preservatives section of this blog?

Dacia Alpuche said...

Yes, I read the blog :)
I'll be testing if the Optiphen Plus blends well in the scrub. I'm not adding any water to the scrub at all, just salt, sugars, oils, and essential oils. My PH will be 6.0 or Lower so it's just right and since I'm not adding any other possible "incompatible" ingredients, so far this preservative seems the best choice to go with for a paraben free formula (utterly ridiculous what we have to go through to sell products with this hype :) It must work effectively since Tree Hut uses it - and they are a big corp with all kinds of testing behind their products. But I'm going to try it with some different ingredients and see how it works out.

I noticed several other references above about using it in anhydrous products - not emulsions, so I thought the scrub was a good example of one :) Tree Hut didn't use water to add the Optiphen, so their formula must work without it!

Amanda Dvorak said...

Found this on making Optiphen plus – INCI of Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid – use 1.5% (1% leave on products) – to help guard against emulsion instability and thinning, remove some of the emulsion, add the preservative, pre-blend well and then add back to the entire emulsion. Use a gelling agent such as sodium polyacrylate to help stability. If you are using dimethicone, add it in the heated oil phase (and if you are using cyclomethicone add just after the emulsion has formed) so it emulsifies better as silicones can be tricky for some emulsifiers to emulsify. Do not use with salts e.g. sodium lactate as the pH tends to drift and destabilise the emulsion further. The sorbic acid augments yeast/mold coverage. Sorbic acid is sensitive to oxidation resulting in discoloration and a potential petroleum odor. It is also is unstable at temperatures above 38c To be effective the pH must be 6 or below. Add at cool down – see note above. For an all water solution as the capryl glycol is oil soluble, you need to add a solubiliser such as polysorbate. Cosmetic chemists have reported effective preservation with this preservative with certain formulas. Do not use for surfactants. pH range: up to 6.

If water may be introduced to the product or the product used in a humid bathroom then a preservative is advisable. An expert microbiologist advises that if trying to preserve an anhydrous product (including all oil+sugar/salt scrub) the oil soluble preservative will get locked in the oils so will not reach any water, if water was introduced into the product. So if you added an oil soluble preservative then that preservative will stay in the oils and not move over to where the water is located to protect that water against bacteria and mould so would be useless. So contrary to what you may have read, we should really use a water soluble preservative in an anhydrous product which means we’d need to add an emulsifier to get that preservative mixed in properly with the oils.
Susan what are your thoughts? I love using Optiphen Plus in my lotions bit was wondering if I could also use it in my sugar/salt scrubs and water based body sprays. It looks as if this is an option. I wanted your opinion tho. Thank you

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Amanda! I"m sorry, but I don't think I understand your question. Are you asking if we can use Optiphen Plus in anhydrous products? Are you asking if we can use Optiphen Plus in your water only products?

Amanda Dvorak said...

Sorry Susan, I have read over your preservative section along with researching the Internet for HOURS and it seems like their is conflicting information. I found the article on and it just confused me more but it did make sense (water based preservative for possible water contaminated products). Basically, can I use Optiphen Plus for emuslsified sugar/salt scrubs and water based body fragrance sprays (water,aloe, polysorbate 20 and fragrance/essential oils). I hope I make sense this time. Thanks so much for your input and Have a blessed day!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Amanda. Sure!

Amanda Dvorak said...

Hello again, I'm in need of some desperate HELP. I'm having my lotions curdle when adding my Optiphen Plus preservative but even before the preservative is added it doesn't look to be completely stable (tiny bubble separation). I have NEVER had problems with any lotion failure until I started adding in "all the goodies". Can u please take a look at my recipe and let me know what could be the problem. I heat and hold for 20 minutes at 158 degrees and blended with my stick blender until it was to thick and then blended with the hand mixer. Once it cooled to 100 degrees Fahrenheit I added the cool down phases and blended and blended but the separation just got worse. PLEASE any help would be greatly appreciated!

Distilled Water 44.5%
Aloe Vera Liquid 15%
Silk Amino Acid 2%
Panthenol (powder) 2%
Allantoin .5%

Sweet Almond Oil, Jojoba oil, Apricot oil 15.5%
Cethyl Alcohol NF 2%
Emuslsifing Wax NF and BTMS-50 (half and half) 6%
Mango Butter 4.5%

Honeyquat 3%
Calendula extract (liquid) 2%
Green tea extract (liquid) .5%
Optiphen Plus 1.5%

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

HI Amanda. I have no idea why your product isn't working if you're heating and holding, mixing properly, and using the right amount of emulsifier. (Why are you using half BTMS and half e-wax? Just curious.) I'm not sure what you mean by tiny bubble separation. Can you be more specific about this?

Aline Huntly said...

I have used optiphen plus and now optiphen nd (at 1%) and have not had a problem with lotion curdling using BTMS as the emulsifier. But a couple of times I tried mixing some lotion with Emulsifying Wax together with my BTMS lotion and this resulted in curdling....

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Aline. What were the recipes for each of these lotions? If you analyze those, you might be able to figure out why they curdled!

Rachel said...

I have had MEGA lotion fails (curdling and separation) when using e-wax and cetyl alcohol together regardless of the preservative and additives used. Beyond me why this happens as I follow the exact same process when making all my lotions but this is the only emulsifier combination that fails every single time. I have no problem with BTMS/Cetyl Alcohol or Olive Emulse/Cetyl Alcohol combinations or Polawax. It took a long time and a LOT of testing to figure what ingredients were causing the problem (also tested preservatives Microcare, Naturaguard Ultra, Optiphen, Germall Plus and again the only fail was with the e-wax/cetyl alcohol). I even tried it again a couple of months ago just in case.... but no, still the same old curdling. I even noticed in the heat/hold stage of the oils that it was "congealing" and leaving a "foamy" residue on the surface in the beaker and not wanting to mix with the oils properly. To cut a long story short I will not go near e-wax in the future - it cost me a lot in terms of product wastage and I have many other options so why bother.

I use Optiphen (different to Optiphen Plus) all the time in my sugar scrubs (emulsified using Polysorbate 80 and/or BTMS depending on what type of scrub I'm formulating). It works great for these products.

Shannan said...

Your site is a life saver, however I am having a problem that no one else seems to have. When I rub my lotion in, it leaves a thick white coating that rolls or beads up when you rub it in harder. My recipe is as follows:

Water phase:
60% distilled water
3% glycerin

Oil phase:
5% olive oil
5% grapeseed oil
5% coconut oil-76
5% mango butter
5% Shea butter
6% silky e-wax
3% stearic acid

Cool down phase:
2% EO

I am trying to make something that melts into the skin but is not greasy. I live in the desert and need the emolliency.

Imogene Dent said...

Hi My names is Gene,

I have read so much information on your website, and its left me confused. Very good information though.
If I am making a lipscrub that contains
Granulated sugar, grapeseed oil, essential oils, flavoring, jojba oil, petroleum, and NO water,
Is my product safe to leave preserative free? I will just educate my clients on not adding water by accident to the product
Thank you so much for your help. Looking forward to hearing from you.