Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Question: Why can't we use tea in our products?

I'm asked all the time about how to make infusions or steeped teas for use in our products, and I generally give the same answer - don't. I know it sounds like a great idea to use something like green tea - both plentiful and inexpensive at the local grocery store - but inexperienced formulators can make a really lovely product turn bad in a few short days if it isn't well preserved.

Botanical ingredients are harder to preserve than non-botanical ingredients, and you definitely want to use a good broad spectrum preservative for any products in which you're using powdered or liquid extracts. (Even though most hydrosols and other liquid botanical ingredients contain preservatives, there's only enough for that ingredient, not your entire batch.)

Think of it this way. Would you drink a cup of tea you'd steeped seven days ago? No. Because it would be contaminated with all kinds of nasty things that would make the tea taste horrible and your stomach feel queasy. It's the same way with the infusions. You simply can't remove all the bits and pieces from the tea or infusion, and those bits and pieces attract contamination. Even if you can remove every last molecule of the tea leaf, you'll still get bacteria and fungi that can't wait to swim in that lukewarm broth. This works the same way with an infusion of lavender or calendula or other botanicals we find in our suppliers' shops.

It is possible to make an infusion with those lovely herbs and flowers, but you need to be an experienced formulator who uses preservatives at the maximum level and has access to testing facilities or supplies. You need to know how to infuse, store, and preserve the products well to ensure you won't see a layer of brownish goo floating in your tea a few days later. (You do not want to hear the story of the bottle of unpreserved aloe vera I once bought from Wal-Mart! Let's just say it was a good example of why we preserve our products! Ick!)

If you're a novice, please just buy the extracts or hydrosols and enjoy them. Then find someone who has a lot of experience in the area of making infusions and ask them for help (that person isn't me, by the way) so you can learn how to do it right. I know it sounds lovely to steep some green tea and use that as the liquid in that body butter or facial cleanser, but if you don't do it right, you're bathing in bacteria!


Madeaj said...

Excellent post. It came at the right time. I have been considering extracts and how well they would do in personal care products. I am off to do some more extensive research. I keep seeing products with Ayurveda Extracts and I wonder how well they are preserved and if I could use the extract for personal use. I am not really to make anything for sale.

Thanks again Susan

carolanlorraine said...

Hey Madeaj and co. Did you have any luck getting more info on extracts in cream. I'm thinking Germall plus would be a good preservative......any thoughts?


Charlotte said...

I am so glad I read this. I recently became interested in making soap and lotions at home (for fun). I was interested in infusing herbs, but now I won't. There's so much contradicting information out there. I watched a video on YouTube that demonstrated how to do infuse Calendula flowers that was provided by a major online herbal supply shop. They also sell sell the finished product online. Do you think it's safe?

Little Lad Soap Co. said...

Hi susan,
Are you referring to water infusions only, or are you also referring to oils infused with dried botanicals. I was curious to try some calendula infused coconut oil in a lotion, but perhaps that is unwise. ( I will of course be using a broad spectrum preservative in the lotion.)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Little Lad Soap! I wrote an updated post, which you can find here. I wouldn't infuse anything dried into an oil given the possible problems that can come from something like the botulinum pathogen.

Rose said...

Hi, I've seen on many of your posts that you are against using tea/infusions, which makes sense, but wouldn't using powdered extracts in water be the same thing as an infusion? I am interested in buying Chamomile and Green tea extract from Voyageur Soap & Candle, but not if I will get contamination.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Rose. No, using a powdered extract isn't the same because it is designed to be used in cosmetics. The extracts are cleaned and sterilized so as to not introduce contamination. Having said that, strawberry extract is very hard to preserve and you always want to preserve your products at the maximum level when using any botanical ingredients.

nicPesante said...

Hi Susan, thank you so much for this wealth of information you've given us. I have 2 questions about extracts.

1.) How do you feel about a 'natural' colorant like spirulina or dandelion infused in olive oil as a colorant in CP soap. Brambelberry states that "... the pH is too high for mold, bacteria or microbes to grow in." However, I've gotten recipes from BB for infusing herbs into oil for use in products before, so I'd like your opinion.

2.) I noticed you use some extracts from Brambelberry, and I'm curious about those specifically, they are the only extracts I have purchased. I find it a little odd that they are all (Avocado, carrot, chamomile, etc.,) virtually clear and odorless. Can you confirm they actually provide any benefit? I have asked them directly, but would really appreciate your opinion.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi nicPesante! I don't know much about soap making, so I can't really comment. I know that the pH in soap is high, but I don't know what impact that would have on botanicals and mold. Having said that, I know people have been using natural colourants for years successfully, so I figure they know what they're doing!

I feel very strongly about infusing oils, and I don't recommend it unless you are being instructed by an experienced infuser.

The extracts I have purchased from Brambleberry are oil based, generally in fractionated coconut oil. I think they offer benefits as they contain the oil soluble bits of the plants while the powders or w/s extracts contain the water soluble components of the plants. It's like using an essential oil versus a hydrosol or distilled floral water. For instance, the green tea extract contains the oil soluble parts of green tea, like the phytosterols, which are of great benefit to our skin.

nicPesante said...

Gotcha. Thanks for the reply. I'm really getting into the chemistry side of things, but I don't have a background in it. You are my go to source!

Christine Ebadi said...

Hi Susan, thank goodness I stumbled upon this post before exploring my new recipe. I just purchase some dried chamomile flowers (whole), from my supplier. I guess I won't be using those. I was planning on steeping them. They are not per chance cleaned the way botanicals are, are they?

Thank you so much for all the wonderful info and handwork that you put into your posts :)

Sarah Watkeys said...

I know you say you don't know much about soap making but it's worth an ask anyway. Obviously we shouldn't use teas and the like for other skincare, but does this apply to soap as well?

My thoughts would be that it doesn't, given that no preservatives are required for soap and liquids such as goats milk are common. Or am I missing something?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Sarah! I'm learning more about soap every day! I guess my question is why use a tea in a soap? What does it bring to the product? And can it survive the process of saponification?

Binky Melnik said...

Argh. I just found this post, as I’ve been making facial serums for my own use and have been gathering information to refine and improve them. As soon as I post this, I’m off to dump out the quart of white tea hydrosol I created. Argh x 2. I’m confused, though, because the reason I created it in the first place is because several DIY serum recipes I found use rose water (a rose hydrosol) as à base, and after hunting down how to create a hydrosol, I thought I’d rather have white tea because of the benefits white tea provide, but even more importantly, I’m not one of those who feels the need to perfume her face. (I leave fragrance out of everything I do.) But if tea isn’t appropriate for my products, then why is rose alright? If I grok your explanation properly, any hydrosol is potentially problematic because of the presence of water and not just tea, so why did you specifically call out tea? Is there something inherent to tea that makes it more likely to spoil than other hydrosols (Ike rose)?

I think I’ll stick to allantoin for my base from now on. I don’t wanna be applying mold and other yucky things to my skin!

Thanks for straightening me out WRT tea vs rose.

Totally off-topic, but potentially helpful: now that your blog and site are your day job, consider the SEO-ness (or lack thereof) to « Point of Interest » and « SwiftCraftyMonkey. » I ended up on a LOT of other sites in my search before finding POI, I think because the names of the sites lent themselves to DIY beauty and cosmetics, and some of those sites are ... er, less than useful, to put it mildly. They showed up much higher in searches, though, because they named their sites with search terms I was using. Renaming an enterprise is always painful, but in the long run, I expect you’ll get a LOT more traffic if people more easily find your site.

(Oh: I neglected to mention that yours is my favorite source, but I had to wade through a LOT of dreck filled with a lotta isinformation to find it! And if I hadn’t found it I’d still be bumbling around doing things like using a white tea hydrosol as my base for my serums.)

I type all this not to criticize but rather to try to help. It behooves me as a DIYer that you flourish. It’s something to consider before you reject the idea, anyway. :-)

Thanks for everything you do, Susan; you’re totally awesome! And as soon as I straighten out my very dire financial situation I can’t wait to become a patreon of the highest level! You’re a gem.