Thursday, November 7, 2013

This is why you want to use preservatives in your products...

You'll notice there are actually two areas of contamination in the product. The first is the great big green spot on the left side, but did you notice the brown-y orange streak to the right hand side of that on the side of the jug? Yep, there's a little more contamination for you!

I made this lotion without preservatives to show you how quickly things can go off. I made this sixteen days ago. (It might have gone off earlier. This was the first chance I had to check it, to be honest!) I did all the things I generally do - I heated and held both phases, I made sure all my equipment and workshop was clean - but I left out the preservatives. I covered it tightly with Press & Seal in this jug after it had cooled to room temperature. It's been cold in the workshop - below 10˚C - which is quite chilly considering a fridge should be kept at 0˚C to 4˚C, and room temperature is 18˚C to 22˚C. It is also quite damp back there as we've had a bunch of rain since Hallowe'en - just about every day - which is normal for this time of year.

I used a heavily modified version of the Natragem EW recipe I shared with you a few weeks back because I was honestly too lazy to get into the emulsifier/giant heavy ingredient box and went with that. (This should not be construed in any way as a reflection on this emulsifier. It was quite literally what was sitting on top of my workshop counter.) I didn't use the aloe vera or hydrosols. I shudder to think what it would have looked like if I did!

I have to point out that I get weary of hearing people saying they're going to leave the preservative out of their products because "it's just for me". Do you want to smear THAT on your skin? Do you want to give that to someone you love? Please don't. Products are contaminated a lot sooner than you think, and contamination is almost always there long before you see the green or orange bloom!

It's sad because I only have so much time to create, and this is what I did when I had that small window. But I really really really wanted to make the point that you need to keep your lotions well preserved. 

Related posts:
Why do we need preservatives in our water containing products? 
Preservatives: What can get into our creations?
Preservatives: How the heck do they work?
Preservatives: Water activity and sugar/salt scrubs
If you're new to lotion making (heating & holding)
Why do we heat & hold?
Why do we heat and hold separately?


Anonymous said...

Hi Susan, I'm totally sold on the use of preservatives since making my first lotions some 30 years ago at the age of 15, which were formulated without preservatives - these ended up with similar results after a week to the example you're showing today. Back then, it was a lot harder for the home crafter to buy ingredients!

Do you think that a lot of the problem consumers have, is that many companies tout a no preservative/no man made chemical line or that they use special packaging? For example, Nivea claims they are "preservative free" (, and this company claims that it's packaging has "... scientifically been shown to preserve natural ingredients stored inside for longer" ( and that their products are "... totally chemical free ..." (

Thanks for the great site.

Michael, London.

Katie Ziegler said...

I agree with Michael. There are too many "all natural" products out there, and for some reason people think that our advances in biotech are bad.

Before I became disabled I worked at a biotech lab growing tissue culture. We had a cleanroom with biosafety hoods and a special air filtration system. Every piece of equipment I used was either sterile out of the package or autoclaved. We were obsessive about cleanliness, and we still had problems with contamination. If we had contamination issues with the level of precautions we took, how on Earth could someone think that they could do better in a kitchen? Even if he or she managed to make a perfectly sterile product, as soon as the container is opened for the first time it would no longer be sterile.

Susan, one of the reasons I trust this blog so much is because you have such a strong insistence on using preservatives. I have found too many blogs that recommend recipes that I consider to be pretty dangerous. When I first thought about experimenting beyond CP soap, my hubby bought me a book on "natural" skincare that left out preservatives. That pretty much destroyed the author's credibility for me.

Well, I rambled on longer than I meant to, but this is such an important topic that I think the more we talk about it, the better. And the next time I see a cosmetic touted as being "chemical free," I'm going to explode!

Rahy said...


Just curious, do you have to use preservative if making a hair oil serum for example a blend of oils and silicone or just oils?

NB: Just realised i posted in the wrong article, I am new here!

Melissa said...

I am an Herbalist & I have made lots of lotions over the years and they have NEVER molded and I have NEVER used preservatives. Although, I do use essential oils and high quality, organic carrier oils like Jojoba and Coconut which do extend the shelf life. I also use only distilled water in my homemade lotions which is free of contaminates that may be present in tap or spring water.

MoonMaid Botanicals said...

I am totally "not sold". I have been making stuff for years and never used mold, no problems. I would far rather have a bit of bacteria/mold then a bunch of chemicals. However, I doubt I would be smearing mold on my skin..............

Kenna said...

Just because you can't see the mold or bacteria doesn't mean it's there.

Thanks for this, Susan, another link to add to my bookmarks for sharing when needed!

Kenna said...

I meant it doesn't mean it's not there.

Jeez! Susan can you edit my previous comment? If not, there you go. LOL

p said...

Great idea to run this experiment for the blog -- a picture is worth a thousand words!

Brandi Yates said...

I dont see how it ever became a question whether to use preservatives!

Valerie said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to run this experiment. I only hope it might convince a few of the "naturalists" out there.

Michael in London- I find it especially hilarious when products claim to be "chemical-free". I'm not even quite sure what it's supposed to mean!

Valerie said...

Please click my name for a good article regarding the dangers of contaminated cosmetics, from rashes to infections and more.

Kathy Q said...

Thank you, Susan, for your untiring efforts to help us keep ourselves and our loved ones safe! I don't understand why the hate campaign against preservatives. They are one of the many benefits of living in modern times.

I support your efforts to educate, educate, educate your readers. Thank you!

Andee @ said...

This is an excellent example of why preservatives are so important! I've told so many customers over the years that a preservative will keep them happy and healthy!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments. I'm glad my gross little experiment managed to engender some great conversation!

Hi Melissa. Not seeing it doesn't mean it's not there. What do you think my product looked like the day before the bloom started? It looked just fine! (I'm running another experiment this weekend for another post in the near future, and I'll make sure to take pictures every day.)

There are no essential oils that can behave as anti-microbials used at the levels we use essential oils - Can we use essential oils as anti-microbials? No. - and even the most organic versions of our carrier oils still go rancid and don't extend shelf lives in any way. Jojoba and coconut aren't known for having high levels of Vitamin E, so they won't do anything for your products. Something like meadowfoam or soy bean oil will retard rancidity, but there are no carrier oils that will prevent contamination.

We should always use distilled or reverse osmosis water in our products. My lotion had distilled water in it. Didn't prevent the problem.

I cannot stress enough the need for preservatives in your products. I think it's plain to see the need for them, and I think if you read the posts from other commenters, you'll see how important people other than me think this is. If you are sharing your products with others, you are putting their safety at risk if you aren't telling them the product isn't preserved. And you are setting yourself up for a lawsuit if you're selling products like this. I can guarantee that if I bought a product that was contaminated, I would be following up with legal action against the seller!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Valerie! Great link. How gross! Although I don't quite get why someone would think that breaking through the crust is okay. That sounds pretty awful!

Hi Moon Maid. You've been lucky.

Danica said...

Plain and simple I would not buy a water based product without a preservative. I would also not make one without a preservative.

Those who say they made water based lotion and didn't get mold are full of it.

Preservatives are added in small quantities and I will take that over some nasty mold.
All natural is not always good and no preservatives in water based lotion is a prime example.

FG said...

Hi Susan,

I stumbled upon this local business today, and found this question and answer in the FAQ section. They are basically expecting customers to throw their unpreserved creams and lotions away one week to ten days after purchase. But if this was visible in your lotion after 16 days, I shudder just thinking about what infections these creams can cause in the hands of customers. I feel very compelled to write to the owner of this business but I don't even know what to say! I was looking it up to investigate the possibility of outsourcing the production of one of my products to their facility but now I'm just very disturbed!

"Why are there no preservatives in Amina’s Skin care products:
The beauty of switching to 100% natural skin care is that you no longer have to think about all the harmful preservatives and chemicals you’re depositing onto your face and body on a daily basis. This comes with a condition however. We at Amina’s Skin Care are proud of the fact that using our products means that we can rely on our senses again. We can rely on our sight and smell to know whether the product we are looking at or smelling is fresh or not so fresh. We no longer need to worry about harmful chemicals masking smell and appearance of the hidden bacteria that only testing in a laboratory will reveal their presence. Although our natural skin care creams are extremely advanced in terms of performance and the look and feel of the products, the fact remains that without synthetic preservatives, they usually don’t last as long as their mass-produced synthetic counterparts. We believe that shelf life begins from the day that the product is made and bottled.

There are still a few steps you should follow to make sure your creams stay as fresh and effective as possible for as long as possible:
1. Keep them cool. For the products to perform in the way it was designed, it needs to be kept cool away from sunlight – and this is the same for many natural skin products.

2. Have clean dry hands or spatulas before dipping your fingers into a jar.
3. Once opened they should be used up as soon as possible. Any amount left in the jar for more than a week to ten days without using should be inspected for any changes in appearance. If any darkening patches are observed then please discard.
The oil blends and ointments being free from water do not require preservatives and have a naturally long shelf life. The soaps, shower wash and shampoo don not require preservative either and so also have a long shelf life. We know that there are several natural preservatives available however, we have opted not to use them because many, although natural tend to be irritants and cause reactions in sensitive skin and babies."


Elizabeth said...

To Melissa and MoonMaidBotanical -
You should really respect the fact that while you may be formulators to a very small degree, your lack of knowledge of microbes, yeast, and mold (and apparently chemicals as your lotions ARE chemicals, everything is) is a severe deficit to the integrity of your business.
I shudder to think what my lab would find after running growth tests using your products as medium.

Anonymous said...

I did a post ages ago about what happened to me and how it not only nearly destroyed my eyesight but could have killed me using someones unpreserved product. Seriously, any person who makes products, doesn't preserve them and sells them, should be charged with assault. One day one of the "I don't use preservatives" idiots will be responsible for someones death, but I guess as long as they made a sale of their $8.00 lotion they simply just don't care or are just too stupid. Yeah Im blunt. I wish I had photos of my personal experiences to give you an idea, my face looked like the elephant man and I sustained damage to my eye, I now have to wear glasses....I was "lucky" would then kiss my butt :)
Im not anonymous either I don't have the required accounts to choose from.
My name is Kristein.
I live in New Zealand and I am a survivor of morons :D

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kristein! You need to be blunt when you have been injured! I agree with all you have said before and all you said here. It is dangerous to sell or give products that are unpreserved, and your story demonstrates that to the utmost. The people who insist on not using preservatives are putting the people they love and their customers at serious risk.

I'm so sorry that you went through this, and I thank you for sharing your horrible experience with us. I encourage you to continue to share with everyone you know on every blog you can!