Why do you need preservatives?

A lotion in the works!

I have always wanted to make lotions and creams to add to the shop’s inventory as the tropical heat turns people off balms (the idea of slathering on oil and butter is off-putting to some) but never got around to it because of one issue – preservation.

Why do you need preservatives for something homemade?
Because of one thing – water.

Lotions and creams are not anhydrous. This is to say that they contain water-based ingredients such as hydrosols, extracts, gels and water. No matter how sterile your environment, your prep station, your ingredients are, there is always the chance of bacterial and fungal contamination happening somewhere. And preservatives help keep these nasties at bay. Of course, ensuring clean and hygienic standards and processes are important as well.

Items are often never made fresh every day or in small containers. You don’t need a lot of body lotion after each shower so people don’t go around making 10-30gms of lotion each day. And for most people who buy lotions, you don’t buy 10 gms of lotion a day. You buy a bottle and use it as and when you like.

So what did I discover?
After much research, I decided to take the plunge and set about ordering materials for my lotions and this includes preservation. I noticed that many people shy away from products with preservatives citing reasons like formaldehyde and parabens to be cancer causing and so forth. Some tell me that the hallmark of a great homemade product is that you don’t need preservatives. Teachers from cosmetic classes even tell me that essential oils and Vitamin E will do a great job on its own. Others tell me that if you’re using it for yourself, it’s okay; there is no need for preservatives.

Now, I’ve suffered from food poisoning all my life and it doesn’t take a lot to give me the runs. Just overnight food that is improperly stored or chilled food that is left to “thaw” out at room temperature will do the trick. As such, I eat only freshly cooked food that is hot to the bone/touch and I hardly eat out. When I gift food to people, I make sure that it’s properly stored and made the night before I give it to them. Sometimes, I make it on the same day itself.

Now why can’t we do the same with cosmetics? Why can’t we give people cosmetics that is fresh YET be sure that it’ll be nasty-free and that they won’t get a shocker a few weeks after receiving our gift? Or worse, break out into a rash, pimples and all that after using our lotions or creams?

What happens when you skip the preservatives?
Well, you can take the risk and skip the preservatives. This is what you may find in your creams anywhere from 7-16 days after production. Bear in mind that the contamination may occurred from Day 1 itself and that you or the recipient has been putting on mold, bacteria or fungus on their skin together with the lotion/cream.

Moldy lotions & creams

Pictures were taken from Soap Queen and Fimby

In the pictures above, the lotions and creams were made without preservatives OR using Grapefruit Seed Extract and Borax and stored at room temperature in covered containers. Good manufacturing processes to make these lotions were in place.

What about refrigeration?
Sure, you can store your homemade lotions and creams in the fridge (which is a pain if you don’t have much space for non-food items) but refrigeration isn’t a bulletproof vest against bacteria, mold and fungi. You can still have mold growing on things in your fridge – if you don’t believe me, open up a tub of yogurt or cream or even leave some food in the fridge for a few weeks and see what happens.

So what sort of preservatives should I use?
I must say this here and now – essential oils, Vitamin E and rosemary oleoresin are NOT preservatives.

In order for essential oils to be effective at killing bacteria and fungus or mold, you’d have to drown yourself in it and those kind of quantities are toxic no matter what the essential oil is!

Preservatives available in the market today can be traditional paraben or formaldehyde based or new and free of parabens and formaldehyde. Google can be your best friend at this point and there are many suppliers and stores that sell the stuff. In the EU where parabens have been banned, options like Naticide and Cosgard are available as well.

Now you don’t even need a lot of the stuff – just 1% of your total yield will do. So that means that at any given time, your lotion or cream is packed with 99% natural goodness which is way better than what you’d be paying for if you were to pick up a commercial product.

Moral of the story…
I use only paraben- and formaldehyde-free preservatives in my lotions and salt scrubs (due to the possibility of people dipping their wet hands in the salt scrub and thus, introducing bacteria/fungi/mold) because I don’t like the idea of nasties growing on anything. It’s not pleasant and the idea of putting something that is possibly a breeding home for germs on my (or anyone else’s) face is off putting.

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2 comments on “Why do you need preservatives?
  1. Maja says:

    Of course, paraben are not banned in EU! Only five of them are, but speaking the truth, they were at least commonly used. However, they are not allowed in natural & organic cosmetic product, which pretend to get certified by EcoCert.
    Great post, there is ton of totally wrong, misleading,ignorant articles on the internet, where the natural preservative-free cosmetics is promoted and every time I stumble upon some,I go crazy a bit! :-)
    So, every conscience raising post is welcome to battle fraud and (non)intentional lies spreading!
    My best regards!

    • Mabel says:

      Thanks for the correction on the issue of parabens in the EU!

      Same here – I go bonkers whenever people tell me that it’s okay to sell lotion without any preservatives or to use essential oils. NOOOOO, it’s not ok!!!!

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