Thursday, July 24, 2014

Question: Why would you leave out preservatives for sensitive skin? What do I mean by "water"?

Sarah asks in this post, Lotions: Making a cream: I made an unscented cream yesterday for my friend with very sensitive skin. I left the cream in the bowl over night with a stainless steel spoon in it. Today I noticed on one side of the spoon the cream has been discoloured (purple in colour). From the beginning the cream smelt like metal (before discolouration), so I had to add a few drops of lavender essential oil. Whenever I use rose water in my formulas it always has a metallic smell.
The ingredients were: 
Rose water, 64%
Glycerine, 3%...
No water and preservative added because my friend has super sensitive skin.

I have two thoughts about this today...

1. Where did we get the idea that someone with sensitive skin shouldn't use preservatives? This implies somehow that preservatives are harsh ingredients that can hurt someone with sensitive skin instead of ingredients that can keep icky things out of a lotion that could hurt someone with sensitive skin. Exposing oneself to all the contaminants that can grow in a lotion is a bad idea for all skin types!

I notice in the unabridged recipe, Sarah is using grapefruit seed extract. Please note that this is NOT a preservative. It might act as an anti-oxidant in our products, which means it retards rancidity in our oils, but it is not a preservative. The only preserving power it might offer comes from the preservatives put into the GSE to keep it from going off.

I have to point something else out when it comes to not using preservatives - it doesn't take long for contamination to happen. You could have something growing in the product hours after you've made it. Keeping it in the fridge isn't going to stop the bacteria and other stuff from growing; it only slows it down. A lotion has maybe a few days in the fridge - certainly not a week or longer. And who wants to make lotion every other day?

Yes, I know I have said in the past that a lotion might be good for a week in the fridge, but I've learned a lot since then and now consider it good for only a few days. If you come across a mention where I say that it is good in the fridge for a week, please let me know and I'll correct it. As well, there's an e-book in it for you! 

If you've made lotion without preservative and it looks okay, remember that it only looks okay. You have no idea what is lurking below the surface of the product. My lotion in the container looked just fine until it grew the green stuff! Or you might have gotten lucky this time around. Or the preservatives in your water soluble ingredients - yep, just about everything that contains water is sold with preservatives! - might have been enough to keep the rest of the lotion preserved. But don't take those chances!

If you are making lotion, use preservatives! For using such a tiny bit - say 0.5% to 1%, check the suggested usage rate - you get so much protection for your products and your skin!

If you are giving away your product, I believe you have an obligation to let the giftee know what is in and what isn't in your product. If you aren't using preservatives, you have an obligation to let the person know that you aren't using one and what could grow in your product. I don't think it is fair or right to give something to someone when you are aware that there could be contamination in it. 

Related posts:
Preservatives section of the blog
What contaminants can get into our products?
How preservatives work
Why grapefruit seed extract (GSE) isn't a preservative
Choosing a preservative

As a side question, is this a common thought - that water isn't good for sensitive skin? I've never heard it before, so I thought I would put it out to you, my lovely readers. Have you heard of this before?

Related posts:
Skin chemistry and types
Sensitive or resistant skin type - acne type
Sensitive skin type - stinging
Sensitive skin type - allergic

2. What exactly do we consider water? We know that when we have water in a recipe, we have to use a suitable preservative because things can grow in our products, but what exactly do we consider water? "Water" in a recipe is anything that is water soluble. Something like the rose water and glycerin Sarah puts into her recipe is considered water. Any of our hydrosols, hydrolyzed proteins, cationic polymers, and anything else that is water soluble is considered water in our product.

Anything that is water soluble is considered "water". 

If you have rose water and glycerin, you have water in your lotion. In this case, you have 67% water in your product. When we have water in a lotion, you require a preservative, so take a look at the links above to find one that you like.

Related posts:
Learning to formulate: The water phase
Weekend Wonderings: Adding and removing from the water amount

As for why your lotion discoloured...there are a few reasons. One, the lotion could have reacted with the metallic spoon. Two, you could have contamination in your product, which, as I note, can start right away with lotions.

You mention in the original comment that your rose water had a metallic smell - I think you might have a problem there as rose water should smell faintly (or strongly) of roses. I would throw out that bottle and order another one. If this smell has happened more than once, consider ordering from a different supplier. And for the love of everything good and holy, please get yourself a good preservative and use it at the suggested usage rate so you don't have this kind of thing happening again!

Have a question? Want to suggest an ingredient for the one ingredient, ten posts series? Then make a comment! 


Anonymous said...

Ooh, a Googling challenge!

In you wrote, "If you don't use a preservative, your product has a shelf life of about three days out of the fridge, about seven in the fridge." You updated this on, but it might be good to edit the original post to avoid confusion.

In you wrote, "I wouldn't use this at all, but you could use it for maybe one week if you keep it in the fridge. (And I'm not responsible for anything that happens to you if you make up this product and put it in the fridge for a week!)" This seems pretty clear to me, but I thought I'd point it out.

In you wrote, "Unpreserved water containing products have a shelf life of about three days out of the fridge, and maybe a week in the fridge."

Hope this helps,

Lise M Andersen said...

Hi Susan - I've worked with rose hydrosol from all kinds of suppliers for ages and have never encountered a metallic scent. I think Sarah's hydrosol might have gone bad. There should always be production date and use by date on any hydrosol.

Mariena White said...

Hi Susan,
I have learned so much from you! Thank you for sharing with people you do not know. I use Phenonip in my lotions and emulsified scrubs and was wondering about the .5 to 1% usuage rate. How do I know when to use just .5 and when to use 1.0% Perhaps in an anhydrous product, i could use .5 and in a lotion containing water, use 1%? What do you think?

mimoko said...

Hi Susan
Really agree with your today´s thoughs specially with " Where did we get the idea that someone with sensitive skin shouldn't use preservatives? "
Someone with sensitive skin SHOULD use preservatives and there is many options for.
My HB is chemical hypersensitivity affected, and for us,as is no posible use parabens or benzyl alcool-benzoate (on many ecocert preservatives), Leucidal range (bioferment) is the thing. On "very conflictive" formulas, or on hard summer time (we lived in a mediterranean island so weather is fine for molds growthing)potassium sorbate PLUS leucidal
A non preserved formula, even if "looks ok" may have contaminations, and may generate big problems, specially in a very sensitive or reactive skin.
Thanks for your thougts, and always intelligent posts, you make us learn a lot always.

Patricia (

Sherry said...

Someone I know insists on making lotions and other products without preservatives for some horrible reason. Now they're complaining about going through their lotion too quickly and wanting to make a batch that lasts several weeks. I've stopped trying to insist on preservatives. People are so quick to not trust companies using preservatives, but they're so eager to trust those who are just claiming they're bad for you without any sort of research or studies to back it up. I don't understand it.

I purchased some facial products from two companies already only to realize they list NO PRESERVATIVES in their products. And they're charging around 25-50 bucks per product. It's unnerving to me because I feel they don't honestly have safety in mind and then I have to throw out a large amount of product I paid up the wa-zoo for. One company claims their product has enough antioxidants to preserve their product but somehow I fail to believe that's possible?

Carolyn Ray said...

With water comes the possibility of microbial life, which makes preservatives necessary. If someone is trying to avoid preservatives due to known sensitivity, then formulating without water makes sense. Carolyn,

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi M! Thanks for doing the work for me. Email me at and let me know which e-book you want!

Caroline black said...

Hi susan, I have emailed you ....can you check it hasn't went into your thrash ? About mentoring?
Best wishes


La Prairie Lady said...

Good morning

what a great source of information, Thank you.

I saw a lot of recipes with citric acid in water. that help ?? or just a light preservative for 1 month in the fridge.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Mariena and La Prairie Lady. I hope I've answered your questions in today's post. The short answers are that you need to use your own judgement and citric acid isn't a preservative!

Bec said...

I'm most intrigued by her product turning purple! I wonder what her full ingredient list is.

I'm having the same issue with an anhydrous balm I make with zinc oxide, and I only use glass vessels and disposable wooden spatulas. The only other reference I've been able to find was on this forum:

Funnily enough my balm also contains rosemary antioxidant (it's a CO2 extract). I'm going to dig up the spec and do a little research, as well as a few experimental batches.