Using Preservatives to Extend the Shelf Life of Your Products

Commercial products are typically loaded with preservatives to allow them to remain fresh during the long span between the time of manufacture and the time the customer finishes using it. Although the preservatives do extend the longevity of the products and help keep them free from bacteria, there certainly are considerations that need to be kept in mind when utilizing preservatives to protect naturally derived products.

Are there any natural preservatives? Not really. Natural substances that show antimicrobial activity are either not adequate for broad spectrum protection or they have undesirable qualities. Most natural substances are not active against the most threatening microbes, pseudomonads. Others, such as essential oils, require unsuitably high concentrations to be effective. Some have offensive odors or colors that would be unacceptable in skin care products. Many become inactivated by manufacturing procedures and other factors. So a natural preservative is not really an option.

One of the many advantages to handcrafting your own natural products is that you can be in charge of overseeing the types of preservatives that are incorporated into your formulations.



Preservative-Free Formulations

It's important to remember that your preservative-free, natural products will not stay fresh for long. Spa settings are one of the most ideal settings for the use of preservative-free products because formulations can be made immediately prior to use. Formulating anhydrous products is another way to potentially eliminate or reduce the need for chemical antimicrobial preservatives. Bar soaps typically do not require an antimicrobial but stay fresher when an antioxidant is used. You do have natural antioxidants available to you for this purpose. Switch to the use of natural balms made of oil and butter instead of creams and lotions which require antimicrobial preservatives. Create dry bath products such as bath salts, milk baths, bath bombs, bath teas etc. to eliminate the need for antimicrobial preservatives. Salt scrubs, bath oils, bath melts and other oil based products stay fresher longer, especially if water is not introduced to the container during use. Again, you may wish to use a natural antioxidant to keep the oils fresh. Minimize contamination potential by choosing your packaging carefully. Dispensing bottles are better than open mouth jars.

Direct sunlight and UV rays, oxygen, heat, moisture and bacteria from your fingers can all be detrimental to your products. Below are several tips for protecting and preserving your preservative free formulations:

  • Be sure your hands, work surface, and utensils are clean/sterile when preparing your products. This will help ensure that you do not introduce bacteria or contaminate your batch. Commercial skin care production is undertaken in extremely clean and sterile environments for this same reason.
  • Store your products in dark containers or opaque packaging to keep them away from the harmful effects of sunlight. We offer a wide selection of packaging solutions for your products.
  • Ensure that your packaging is airtight. Natural products can oxidize and go rancid when exposed to air.
  • Heat can also be damaging to natural products. Store products in a cupboard or other cool place.
  • Because our fingers can be a host to bacteria, try to avoid dipping your fingers into your jars and bottles. Instead, use a clean spoon, toothpick, popsicle stick or other appropriate utensil to obtain the amount that you wish to use. Lotion pumps and PET bottles with turret or disc tops are wonderful for dispensing more fluid ingredients such as lotions and gels. Please see our Packaging section for our selection of lotion pumps and bottles.



When You Have to Have an Antimicrobial Preservative

If you are formulating something that contains water, milk, hydrosols or other aqueous liquids, you will have to preserve the product or use it within 1-2 days refrigerated. It simply is not optional. Water provides a medium for harmful bacteria, mold, yeast and fungi to grow over time. If used, a contaminated product could cause severe health problems, blindness and even death. Your product must be adequately preserved to prevent contamination and microbial growth. Adequate preservation is absolutely necessary if you are intending to sell your produt.

Your options will be based on your formulation and what it contains. Essential oils are the most natural antimicrobials you will find, but they cannot act in place of an anti-microbial preservative. Unfortunately, the percentage required to adequately protect a product from microbial growth generally exceeds the recommendations for safe amounts of essential oils to use in skin care products. Grapefruit seed extract or citricidals are another class of antimicrobials that are considered by some to be more natural than the parabens. Choose your citricidal preservative carefully as some of them have questionable ingredients. A good quality citrus seed extract should not contain additional preservatives. Parabens are preservatives that are available in small quantities for crafters and small businesses. Paraben based preservatives include Germaben, Germaben II, Phenonip, Methyparaben and other types such as Germall and LiquaPar Oil.



Antioxidants

An anti-oxidant is a preservative that reduces the rate of oxidation in oils that oxidize quickly. Oxidation is a chemical process that occurs when oils or other natural ingredients are exposed to oxygen. Anti-oxidants extend the shelf life of your products by reducing the rate of oxidation of your oils. Use an antioxidant in any formulation which contains fragile oils such as sweet almond, hemp, avocado, flax or evening primrose. You can add antioxidants directly to your oils to help keep them fresh, or you can add the antioxidant to the oil phase of your recipe. Lip balms, lotion bars, creams, lotions, scrubs and any other product containing oils can benefit from the addition of an antioxidant.


T-50 Vitamin E Oil

Vitamin E contains natural antioxidants which extend the life of your products. Gamma tocopherol, a component of Vitamin E, is a great antioxidant for protecting cosmetic formulations. T-50 has a larger amount of gamma tocopherols than other forms of Vitamin E oil.

While the alpha tocopherol in the 250, 1000, and 1400IU/g oils is wonderful as an in vitro antioxidant, studies show that the gamma tocopherol in the Vitamin E T-50 oil is a better antioxidant for oils/lipids in cosmetic formulations. T-50 has a higher content of gamma tocopherols. As a general guideline, it can be used at a rate of .04% or 400ppm to help extend the shelf life of your product. Recommended usage levels are meant only as a guide. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure that your preservative is working properly.


Rosemary Oil Extract

Rosemary oil extract (ROE) also acts as a natural antioxidant. ROE can impart its own aroma into your products, so keep that in mind when using it. As a preservative, .15 to .5% is offered as a general guideline.



Anti-Microbials

An anti-microbial is an ingredient or substance that helps to destroy unwanted micro-organisms such as bacteria. In the context of handmade skin care products, an anti-microbial helps preserve a product by keeping the product free of these unwanted micro-organisms.


Grapefruit Seed Extract

Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) is a citrus seed based anti-microbial used as a preservative in skin care products. GSE is made with the extracts of citrus seeds and pulp. It is blended with vegetable glycerin to make it non-irritating to the skin and mucous membranes when used in formulations. GSE is even safe enough to use as a disinfectant for drinking water when necessary.

Our Grapefruit Seed Extract is professional strength. It is 60% GSE in 40% vegetable glycerin. It is not the usual 33% found elsewhere. Please be sure to take that into consideration when using a recipe that simply calls for "GSE." GSE has a stable shelf life. It is said to be anti-microbial, anti-septic, anti-bacterial, astringent and does also have some antioxidant activity.

As a general guideline, use GSE at .2 to 1% to help preserve most formulations. Adding GSE to your products does not mean that you can market or label the product as an "anti-bacterial" product. Recommended usage levels are meant only as a guide. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure that your preservative is working properly.

Wear gloves while handling Grapefruit Seed Extract. GSE can be irritating to the skin in its undiluted form.


Germaben II

Germaben II is a convenient, ready-to-use broad spectrum anti-microbial preservative for personal care products such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions, creams, body sprays and other formulations. It is highly effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, yeasts and molds and does not need any additional preservatives. It is a clear, viscous liquid with mild odor. It is soluble in both oil/water emulsions and aqueous formulations up to a level of 1.0%. At 1%, Germaben II provides 0.30% Germall II, 0.11% methylparaben, 0.03% propylparaben, and 0.56% propylene glycol. Germaben II should be added slowly to your product under gentle agitation before the addition of fragrance oil.

Recommended usage rates are provided only as guidelines for proper preservation. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure preservative efficacy.


Germaben II-E

Germaben II-E was developed to protect formulations that contain ingredients that inactivate parabens. It is a liquid preservative system that contains 20% Germall II, 10% methylparaben, 10% propylparaben, and 60% propylene glycol. It is used to preserve water-in-oil and oil-in-water emulsions but should not be used in aqueous formulations. It is readily soluble at 1.0% and should be added to the emulsified product under gentle agitation before the addition of fragrance. Germaben II-E is a complete preservative effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, yeasts and molds. It is compatible with almost all cosmetic ingredients including surfactants and proteins.

Recommended usage rates are meant as guidelines only. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure proper preservation.

Liquid Germall Plus is a broad spectrum, water soluble preservative for oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions and water soluble formulations. It is highly effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, yeasts, molds and commonly found organisms. It is compatible with most cosmetic ingredients and has no known inactivators. Liquid Germall Plus is effective at low concentrations of 0.1 - 0.5% (the higher % should be used in conjunction with high protein and complex formulations). It remains active through a pH range of 3-8. It should be added during the water phase or to the emulsified portion of the formulation at a temperpature of 120F or less. Liquid Germall Plus has a safe toxicology profile and has been evaluated as safe for both rinse-off and leave-on formulations. It is a good choice preservative for shampoos, conditioners, lotions, creams, body washes, body sprays and other such formulas.

Recommended usage levels are meant only as a guide for proper preservation of your product. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure that your preservative is working properly.


LiquaPar Oil

LiquaPar Oil is a clear, liquid blend of isopropyl, isobutyl and n-butyl esters of para hydroxybenzoic acid. It is a very stable and effective preservative against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, yeast and mold. LiquaPar Oil is readily incorporated into various types of formulations, including anhydrous products, without heating. It is a good choice for salt scrubs and bath oils where no water is present but may be inadvertently introduced to the container during regular use. The recommended usage rate is 0.3 - 0.6% however, in complex formulations, 0.1% Germall II may be required for adequate preservation.

Recommended usage rates are meant as guidelines only. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure proper preservation.

In summary, we repeat the statement that the usage rates are intended only as guidelines because we want to be sure that this disclaimer is not overlooked. If your products are not properly preserved, dangerous bacteria, molds and fungi can colonize and invade the body through the skin and cause serious health problems. If you create products for sale to the public, properly preserving them is mandatory. Simply adding a preservative to your products is not really enough because you cannot tell with certainty if your chosen preservative is working effectively within your particular formulation. Even the most time-tested preservatives can fail to work if inadequate amounts were used or if they were broken down by heat, pH or other factors during the creation of your products. It is essential to ensure that your preservative is working and will continue to work over a long period of time. This is generally confirmed by having your product tested by a lab. The lab will challenge test your product and will let you know if it has remained microbe-free after being repeatedly introduced to the most commonly found microbes. Please visit our Test Laboratories page for a list of testing facilities.


To learn more about any of the products and ingredients that we mentioned above, please visit our Preservative category.

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