Natural Preservatives for Homemade Lotion (An Experiment)

Natural preservatives that will help your homemade lotions and creams stay fresh longer

Have you ever felt confused and conflicted when you looked up information on preserving homemade lotions and creams?

Me too.

I want my products to be as wholesome and natural as possible, but also don’t want to create something that’s going to grow weird stuff in it, or worse – make a loved one sick.

To get to the bottom of it all, I started an experiment last summer, in an attempt to try to figure out if I really needed to worry about preservatives in my lotions and creams, or not. And, if I did, what kind should I use?

While there’s still more research and experiments on the to-do list, I learned enough to convince me how I wanted to proceed.

Since many of you have the same questions I did, I thought I’d sit down and type up what I’ve learned, to date.

 

The Initial Thought Process

Fact: if a cup of herbal tea sits out at room temperature for a few days, it’s going to get really gross and smelly. But, on the other hand, I’ve made creams with herbal teas in them and no preservatives, and they looked, smelled and acted fine for months.

So, what’s up with that?

I decided to order some microbial tests and see for myself, just what (if anything) was hiding in my lotions and creams.

In my hunt for microbial test kits, I also found that there were all sorts of nature-derived* preservative options out there that I’d never heard about. I was surprised and intrigued!

(*”Nature-derived” means that the product started out from something found in nature and was then processed further into the end product. Examples of this would be things like essential oils and soy wax and even potato chips. You don’t go out and pick any of those off of a tree, but at one point, they started from whole plants. Nature-derived doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthier in all cases, but for some people – myself included, the original source is an important factor when choosing ingredients.)

 

Some natural preservative choices for homemade lotions and creams

The Test Subjects: Nature Derived Preservatives

For this experiment, I hopped over to Lotioncrafter (a similar source is The Herbarie), and read through all of the descriptions of preservatives for sale on their site.

I ended up ordering the following:

Leucidal Liquid – derived from radishes fermented with kimchii bacteria, ECOCERT approved, may add moisturizing benefits

Leucidal Liquid PT – derived from fermentation of lactobacillus, can be used in opaque lotions & creams

Leucidal Liquid SF – derived from lactobacillus ferment, REACH compliant, salicylate-free & stronger against fungi than original Leucidal Liquid

NataPres – a radish root ferment filtrate, with honeysuckle & aspen bark extracts, ECOCERT approved

Phytocide Elderberry OS – derived from elderberries, REACH compliant

Phytocide Aspen Bark – rich in salicylates, low to no irritation potential, GMO free, skin conditioning, REACH compliant

Besides the six listed above, I decided to test:

– A homemade propolis tincture (10% using THIS FORMULA)

– An aloe-mint lotion (made with preservative-laden aloe gel, but no extra preservatives) that was already 6 weeks old and still looking great

– One control lotion with no preservatives, stored at room temperature

– Another control lotion with no preservatives, stored in the refrigerator

 

What About Vitamin E, Rosemary Antioxidants or Grapefruit Seed Extract? How about essential oils?

Short answer: The first two don’t really count as preservatives. My goal was to outright prevent mold and bacteria from growing, so that rules them out.

Vitamin E and Rosemary Antioxidants (Extract) (also called ROE) are both excellent antioxidants that will slow down rancidity in oils, but they won’t kill the germs in your lotion.

Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) is technically an antioxidant, but it’s also fraught with controversy. I used it in the past as a vegetable wash, but studies like THIS ONE that show GSE is almost always contaminated with some nasty synthetic compounds, convinced me to stop using it.

Yes, some essential oils have been shown in studies to have antibacterial properties and might be useful. The only problem is that often you need more than is a safe dilution amount in order to be wholly effective. Or, you’d need a specific percentage of specific oils for your specific product, so it couldn’t be a formula that can be applied across all lotions. That’s way beyond my current knowledge base, so while I don’t discount the idea, I just don’t know further details on the topic.

 

One More Thing….

If you’re making an anhydrous product (or one that doesn’t contain water or other similar liquid) then you don’t have to worry about a preservative.

So, lip balms, salves and lotion bars are all fine without one.

The problem comes when you add water or a water-based ingredient (like aloe, herbal teas, hydrosols), since that’s where your mold and bacteria will start growing.

 

Experiment with homemade lotion and nature derived preservatives

The Test Lotion Recipe

I used the following recipe, made several times over. Each batch was divided precisely in half (using a scale) into sterile jars. The only exception to this recipe was the propolis batch, in which I used 65 g of water in the recipe and added 10 g propolis tincture, after the heating phase.

Plain Lotion:

  • 75 g water
  • 6 g emulsifying wax NF
  • 19 g sunflower oil

Distilled water should always be used for making lotion since tap water can have all sorts of ickies lurking in it, but I know a lot of people start off using tap water anyway and I wanted to really test these preservatives, so I used tap water.

I heated the water and oil/wax portion in a water bath for 10 minutes, until the temperatures were 150°F each. (Many people heat and hold for 20 minutes. HERE is one article on why it’s the best thing ever and HERE is another article on why it’s a waste of time. You can choose which side of the fence you’re on.)

I combined the two portions, stirred 30 seconds with individual clean straws, then let cool to around 90°F or whatever ideal temperature the preservative needed to be added, then stirred occasionally until thickened.

Each batch of lotion was poured into sterile jars and allowed to cool before capping. (THIS STUDY demonstrates that jars are less than ideal for storing lotions; go with pump tops or flip caps instead.)

Multiple times over the next four weeks, I used clean, but not scrubbed with anything antibacterial, fingers to scoop once into each jar and rub a bit of lotion on my skin. (Using a different finger and different spot on my arms for each application, so there was no cross-contamination.)

None of the lotions were irritating and all felt nice, though I noticed a slight medicinal smell initially from the Leucidal Liquid SF, and the lotion made with propolis tincture smelled downright boozy and not overly pleasant.

 

Microbial test kits and homemade lotion

 

Time to Experiment!

After one month, the lotions in each jar looked perfectly fine, but I figured they’d had plenty of time to accumulate an assortment of potentially gross microscopic stuff that should show up during testing, so I pulled out my microbial test kits.

I labeled each test tube with the name of the lotion, the preservative used and the date.

Using individual swabs (included with the kit), I rubbed a thin layer of lotion over both sides of the test stick.

(Lotioncrafter has complete instructions for their kit HERE.)

Be very careful not to touch the agar-covered surfaces with your fingers or you’ll contaminate your test.

The pink part tests for yeasts and molds, while the yellow part shows up bacteria lurking within.

After 17 hours, I gave a peek and saw bacterial growth already starting in some of the test tubes.

Uh oh!

 

prepared microbial test kits

17 Hours Later….

This is how things were looking:

Leucidal Liquid, used at 4% – All clear!

Leucidal Liquid PT, used at 2% – Significant speckles starting to develop on the yellow (bacteria) side.

Leucidal Liquid SF, used at 4% – All clear!

NataPres, used at 2% – All clear!

Phytocide Elderberry OS, used at 4% – A few light speckles on the yellow (bacteria) part (However, please note that I later found out it’s oil soluble and I didn’t use it correctly. So, this one’s result isn’t valid until further testing.)

Phytocide Aspen Bark, used at 2% – All clear!

Propolis Tincture, used at 10% – All clear!

Aloe-Mint Lotion without a preservative, but the aloe itself had multiple preservatives in it – (Interestingly) All Clear!

Control lotion without preservative, room temperature – Lots of speckles (see photo below for how it looked at 24 hours.)

Control lotion without preservative, refrigerated – Speckled, but not quite as much as room temperature control.

In spite of the results in the test tubes, when I opened each jar of lotion to compare, they all looked and smelled great. At this point though, you couldn’t have paid me to put one on my skin to see how they felt!

 

Comparison of 1 month old homemade lotion with no preservatives kept in the refrigerator versus room temperature

About 24 hours into the test. Those reddish speckles indicate bacteria growing. (It grew lots more over the next two days.)

72 Hours Later….

Lots of stuff was happening now!

Leucidal Liquid, used at 4% – All clear!

Leucidal Liquid PT, used at 2% – Bacteria, but no mold

Leucidal Liquid SF, used at 4% – All clear!

NataPres, used at 2% – All clear!

Phytocide Elderberry OS, used at 4% – Bacteria & Mold (I later found out this one is oil soluble and I used it incorrectly – so these results are invalid and needs retesting.)

Phytocide Aspen Bark, used at 2% – All clear!

Propolis Tincture, used at 10% – No bacteria, but lots of blue-green mold

Aloe-Mint Lotion without a preservative, but the aloe had multiple preservatives in it – No bacteria, but it did mold

Control lotion without preservative, room temperature – Had the most bacteria and mold growth than any other test

Control lotion without preservative, refrigerated – Had the second most bacteria and mold

 

Row of Microbial Test Tubes

Tubes with plain yellow – are good. Tubes with reddish-brown speckles are heavily contaminated with bacteria.

Sadly, though I’ve searched and searched, I can’t find my final photos showing the mold and worst of the bacterial growth. You’ll just have to trust me that they were Gross (yes, with a capital G.)

I still have hopes of finding them on a lost SD card though, so can hopefully update this spot in the future.

 

The Winners!

The only preservatives that showed no bacterial or fungal growth by the end of the microbial challenge (and when I checked a final time a week or so later) were:

  • Leucidal Liquid SF
  • NataPres
  • Phytocide Aspen Bark

From these three, I settled on primarily using Leucidal Liquid SF. NataPres is nice, but more expensive and I had heard of a few people that experienced mold with it. Phytocide Aspen Bark is also really nice, but it’s in powder form and a little messier to use.

Doing more research, I discovered that some people combine different preservatives to get more effectiveness, so definitely plan on trying that with the next round of testing.

I also bought a bottle of AMTicide Coconut to try out, since it’s supposed to work alongside nature-derived preservatives to give extra protection against yeast and mold.

 

What Is That Stuff Growing In My Lotion Anyway?!

Wondering what lovely things your microbial kits unearthed? Check out THIS EXCELLENT POST at Precision Laboratories. They even have a handy PDF to print out.

Some of them are kind of hard to tell, but primarily, I spotted Klebsiella spp. According to THIS passage, “Members of the genus Klebsiella are found inhabiting soil and water and are considered part of the normal flora of the nose, mouth, and intestines of humans and animals.”

Okay, normal flora doesn’t sound too alarming.

THIS ARTICLE and others like it though, tells me that it can become a problem for immune compromised individuals. I have several loved ones that fit that description and while it could certainly be classified as an all-natural ingredient, no way do I want to give them a jar full of Klebsiella spp!

I also detected Serratia marescens, Aspergillus niger and other things you don’t want to Google anywhere around  meal time.

 

Conclusion

While this was a fun and interesting experiment, there are so many variables I didn’t test for. Just because one of the preservatives I listed ended up with a bad test result, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fluke or an error in my setup.

It would be very irresponsible of me to imply that one bad test means the preservative is all bad, or that one good test means that preservative works in every case, so please don’t think that.

Mainly, this experiment convinced me that I will always, always, ALWAYS use some type of preservative in any lotion or cream that I make from now on.

Since I’m kind of crunchy, I’m inclined to keep working with nature-derived types, even if they’re not as strong or won’t last as long as other more synthetic options.

Others may prefer the proven effectiveness of a stronger, broad spectrum preservative. (You can read more on those HERE.)

That’s the beauty of making your own. YOU get to decide just what you’re comfortable putting on your own skin!

 

Disclaimer

I’m not a professional scientist. Just someone that likes science. But I also like hippie dippy stuff. (So, of course, I’m often conflicted.)

I try to keep a very open mind, but must admit I went into this test biased towards being all-natural and hoping it would show I didn’t need ANY preservative in my lotion and cream recipes. I was wrong.

Your results may vary and as always, thoroughly research and spot test ANY item you’re unsure of or avoid if you think you have an allergy. I can’t advise on what specific product you should use for your own personal use or if you sell your items, because I just don’t know the answer to that.

Feel free to leave any questions in the comments below, just be aware that I pretty much spilled everything I know right here. Also, I get about 3 or 4 times as many spambots as real people leaving comments, so have to have several spam filters in place. Unfortunately, that means some comments don’t make it through the system. If you don’t see your comment appear after a few days, try again using a different email address. I try to answer every legitimate one I see!

 

Did you enjoy this article on some natural options for preserving lotions and creams? If so, let’s keep in touch! Subscribe to my newsletter HERE to get my latest herbal projects, recipes & soap making ideas sent straight to your inbox once (sometimes twice) each month. No spam ever, unsubscribe at any time.

You may also like:

Basil Anti-Aging Face Cream | Rosehip & Ginseng Face Cream | Lavender Plantain Lotion

Basil Anti-Aging Face Cream Recipe  Rosehip & Ginseng Face Cream Recipe for Mature or Dry Skin   Lavender and Plantain Lotion Recipe

 

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Pre-order it today at the following places!

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124 Responses to Natural Preservatives for Homemade Lotion (An Experiment)

  1. Pingback: Basil Anti-Aging Face Cream – The Nerdy Farm Wife

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  4. beth says:

    Hi Jan, this off the subject but I finally got another computer to download the new soap making book that you sent in an email in December to people who had already bought it from you. When I go to the page I can’t find the free update are you able to resend it to me.
    Thanks Beth

  5. Savanes says:

    What an interesting article!!!
    If I understand correctly, you didn’t use the lotion or put your fingers in the jar at any point before testing, right?
    I wonder how effective the preservatives would have been then… :)

    I love your blog. Thanks for an amazing job! :) :) :)

    • Hi Savanes, I’m happy you liked it! :) I did use the lotion and put my fingers in each jar several times over the 1 month before I tested it. I used a separate finger per jar and dipped it in, then rubbed the lotion in on separate spots on my arm. I washed my hands before I did so, with soap, but not anything antibacterial as I wasn’t trying to be totally germ free – just the amount of bacteria a person would normally have on their hands after washing. I really should’ve done it daily though, to mimic normal use, but I forgot some days. Next time, I’ll keep better track! :)

  6. Alex says:

    Hi Jan, what a great experiment. Thank you for sharing.
    I’m just wondering why you didn’t mention the Leucidal® Liquid on the winners list as that shows as clear after 72 hours as well as the other two.

    I recently bought some Leucidal® Liquid as it seemed the most natural with the bonus of being ECOCERT approved, which was the clincher for me over the Leucidal SF. Interesting that you used it at 4% though, as my supplier’s website says 2%. I’ve only used it once and my moisturiser did go mouldy after a week or two. However, I put that down to using a very old calendula/almond oil infusion and oat water (water that had steeped rolled oats in it before being strained).
    I will try 4% next time and ensure my oils are in date :-)

    Oh, and reading Savanes’ comment above, I did have it in a jar dipping my fingers in. But then I am currently finishing off some moisturiser from a jar I made on a workshop well over a year ago using GSE as the preservative and there’s no mould whatsoever! None that is visible to the naked eye anyway.

    • Hi Alex, Thanks for pointing that out! I completely forgot to include Leucidal Liquid in the winners list. I’ll go in and fix that shortly. It did stay clear for me, with no mold, but I’ve read more than one report of it molding for other people, so decided to use the SF version instead. However, that’s interesting that your supplier mentioned using at 2%. Lotioncrafter suggests 2 to 4%. I wonder if the suggested higher percentage is because of the mold reports coming in for it? Very interesting!

  7. Very interesting Jan. I use Geogard Ultra as my preservative but have wondered about other options for natural skincare. Leucidal looks promising! I’ve also swapped over to using mainly airless dispensers too so the chance of contamination is a bit lower.

  8. farmer Liz says:

    Very interesting! I have stuck with oil salves rather than getting into lotions for this reason, I really don’t want to have to consider the pros and cons of preservatives! What I did wonder though, if the bacteria are just getting into the lotion from your fingers. If you repeat the tests, it would be interesting to see a comparison with a jar of lotion where you used a sterile spatula to remove lotion instead. If I made my own I would happily use it like that if it was a safer option. I also wonder if you’re just breeding skin bacteria and putting them back on your skin whether it really matters. Hard to tell without a full assay of what’s growing there! I’m going to stick with salves for now! This is too difficult!

    • Hi Farmer Liz! That’s a great idea to compare jars using fingers and ones with a spatula, or perhaps a pump-top style. I’m curious too about the exact things that were in there – I would love to send the lotions out for testing in a lab, but just don’t have the funds to do that at this time. Maybe one day though! It would be insanely interesting to see the reports. You’re right that salves are very nice in that you don’t have to worry about preservatives! :)

  9. Lily says:

    Hi, I just wanted to understand how you used the Elderberry preservative. I thought it was used for anhydrous preparations only? I have the Elderberry, the Leucidal, and Aspen Bark preservatives, but couldn’t find a working recipe to know how much per recipe to add of these natural preservatives. Thank you I appreciate this post very much!

    • Hi Lily, Thank you so much for pointing that out! I read over the preservative descriptions multiple times and you know what – I still missed that elderberry was oil soluble instead of water soluble. Oops! :) It looks like I should’ve added it to the oil phase. That pretty much nullifies those test results! I’m going to go in the post and edit to reflect that. I’ll have to retest that one for sure. (And I was planning to also in a combination with another one or two preservative types, since I like the thought of using it still.) I love that Lotioncrafter gives the suggested usage rates for all of the products too – very convenient!

      • Lily says:

        Hi Jan, I realized that Lotioncrafter gives a usage rate let’s just say 1 percent of Elderberry. If I’m using a scale do you know what that would measure out to? Thank you again for all your wonderful recipes and research I really love them!

        • Hi Lily!

          The easiest way I’ve found to figure usage rate is to make sure that my lotion recipe ingredients add up to 100 grams, so that each 1 percent of preservative needed is = to 1 gram.

          So, in the sample lotion:

          75 g water
          6 g emulsifying wax NF
          19 g sunflower oil

          The water + wax + oil adds up to 100 grams, meaning that
          1% preservative would equal 1 gram
          2% preservative would equal 2 grams
          3% preservative would equal 3 grams
          and so forth.

          You just want to make sure that you have a scale that can measure such a tiny weight as 1 gram if needed.(One scale I bought didn’t do this so well – kept wanting to round to 5’s.)

          I hope that helps! :)

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  11. Pat says:

    Hi Jan,
    Thanks for an interesting article, I had been concerned about preservatives as vit E did not seem to be effective.Copper is supposed to be a very effective antibacterial and I was going to try using a copper pan when making my next batch of lotion so now I know I can get microbial test kits I will try my own experiments but will be using Leucidal Liquid SF if it is available in the UK.
    Thank you for all your posts.

    • Hi Pat, I’m so happy that you enjoyed the article! I’d love to hear how your experiments go too! :)

    • Melanie Molloy says:

      Hi Just to let you know vitamin e is sometimes thoughts of as preservative but its not as sometimes thought. It is an anti oxidant and helps oils from gong rancid. .I’ve stayed away from making lotions and just make oil serums and balms as don’t want to use preservatives. However it s the first time I’ve heard of Leucidal SF so will be looking more closely at this. Did you find it was available in UK? Thanks

  12. Kimberly says:

    Thanks! I’ve been studying preservatives but didn’t know what I wanted to order. This is perfect. I ordered neodefend but it hasn’t arrived yet. I’m sad you didn’t have this one tested, but glad to see you tested all of the other ones I was looking at. I may try some of your positively tested ones as well. You’ve made ordering the testing kit look like tons of fun as well. I can see my own experiment happening in the future. Perfect post for me. Glad I stopped by today. I was only randomly referring my friends to your lovely soaping book.
    Thanks again!

    • Hi Kimberly, Thanks for letting me know about Neodefend – I’ll definitely have to check that one out! The test kit was lots of fun! I’m really looking forward to my next round of experiments. Thank you too for letting your friends know about my soap making book! :)

  13. Ann Marie says:

    Hi Jan,

    Perfect topic! I’ve wanted to start using some more natural preservatives also. I even have Leucidal which is now very old, needs to be replaced. I used it once and the product shortly after started molding. After that I just stuck with Optiphen. At least no formaldehyde issues.

    Just want to say thank you for posting this. I really appreciated all the time, work and expense (in testing kits). I’ll try the Leucidal SF.

    On a side note, with your Rose and Ginseng Face Cream, have you considered using your own ginseng tincture? Instead of infused oil which may contaminate a bit more? It should be the same as the Ginseng Root extract you bought. I think I’ll try that. Thank you for the recipe.

    So looking forward to your book!

    • Hi Ann Marie! I’ve heard that several times about regular Leucidal Liquid too. Do you happen to remember what usage rate you used for it? (After Alex’s comment above about 2% molding, where mine at 4% didn’t – now I’m curious about the different rates!) I really do like the Leucidal SF best though. (So far anyway!) That’s a really interesting idea about using a ginseng tincture instead of infused oil – thanks! I’d love to hear how it turns out if you try it too.

  14. Michele says:

    This is awesome info, Jan! Thanks so much for sharing it. I’ve been wanting to test my lotions for quite some time and you have encouraged me to get it done:) you rock!

  15. Jocelan says:

    Can you tell me how I can get the recipe for the peppermint pine headache salve
    as I get a lot of headaches
    Thank You
    Blessings Jocelan

  16. Signe says:

    Thanks for sharing this, your experiment was very interesting! I also would like to leave preservatives out of my lotions, but I know that is not smart thing to do. So I use them, but not any more than is needed. I’m sure that is still much less than in commercial stuff.

    • Hi Signe, I’m glad that you enjoyed reading! I think you’re exactly right too. The tiny amounts of ANY preservative type used in a beautiful handcrafted lotion is a much better option than the majority of commercial products out there. :)

  17. sha says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your test about using preservative. It’s really very informative for a person like me who knows very little about preservative. I read about Germaben® II. Do you have any info about this? Is this ok if I use it in my lotion?

    Thanks in advance.

  18. Rachel says:

    Thank you so much for this! I’m going to start making a hydrosol blend spray with plant extracts. I’ve been researching preservatives for weeks! My brain is tired! I’m going to try Leucidal SF (for bacteria) and Luecidal PT (for mold) together and see how that turns out.
    This question isn’t completely related to preservatives…but how does one sell any type of diaper rash balm, postpartum spray for moms, eczema ointment etc., without registering it as a drug? I realize the product can’t make claims to “cure” or “treat”. But how do we describe what it’s for to the consumer without SOME type of indication for what it’s for? Can I label Diaper Spray and then describe what each ingredient does? Can I say cooling, soothing? I’m so frustrated with this. I see claims by hundreds of Etsy shop owners. I wonder how they are doing it? Either unknowingly or just ignoring the rules? I know you have an Etsy shop,which I see isn’t selling skin products right now :(. Any insight would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

  19. Katie says:

    Very interesting read! I’m curious how the winners hold up over an even longer period of time 3,6, and 12 months.

  20. Teresa says:

    In making my lotions I have been using Colloidal Silver. 1 Teaspoon per Pint. And I haven’t been having any problems with bacterial or mold in any of my products because of it. Just to make sure the Silver is pure? I have my own machine which is pretty reasonable to buy. Just it is another way to preserve your body products.

    • Hi Teresa, Thanks for sharing your experience!
      There’s a silver-based preservative I bought (made of silver citrate and citric acid) to try as well:
      http://www.lotioncrafter.com/silverion-2400.html
      but after doing more research, I was concerned about the potential for metal toxicity over time.
      I’ll definitely do some research on colloidal silver and add that to my list of items to test. It will be interesting to compare the two products!

    • Chris says:

      Hi Teresa, I too have been also considering using Colloidal Silver for my face cream. Can you please recommend a good pure silver product as I don’t have a machine as yet. Also when do I add in the silver? Thanks so much. Looking forward to your response.

  21. Annie Ryan says:

    Very impressive read this morning Jan. Thank you. I have been holding off making lotions simply because of the preservatives issues. Your findings are very helpful.

  22. Fawn says:

    Wow! It wouldn’t even have occurred to me that bacteria would grow in lotion, but it totally makes sense. Your experiment is so interesting!

    Btw, I use and love your recipes! Thanks!

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  25. Thank you so much for doing the work of testing these preservatives. I just ordered some of the ones you used and have amiticide coconut on the way also, I haven’t really had any trouble with my lotions molding but I want to sell it at our local farmers market and have to make sure I am not only true to our brand of natural and organically made but safe to use. I feel much better having a regular person who has tested it for us!

  26. Emily says:

    Wow! I appreciate how much detail you put into this post. I haveny branched out to making lotions yet (only body butters) for the reason of mold specifically. This is a great jump start of information. Thank you for the work you did with this.

  27. Hildie says:

    I just love that you did this! It’s been so confusing and difficult knowing which preservative to use. When I called and talked to the people at Formulators Supply Shop they definitely recommend Lucidal PF at 2% combined with Amticide Coconut at 2%. I just ordered some, plus elderberry and aspen bark and I’ll have to try all of them out. I don’t like the sciencey stuff but looks like I don’t have a choice!

  28. katie says:

    This was great to read! How much AMTicide coconut and leucidal SF did you use in conjuntion with one another?

    • Hi Katie! I haven’t tried it out yet, but when I do, will first try 4% of the Leucidal Sf with 2% AMTicide coconut. (The 4% may be able to be dropped to 2%, but I like to err on the side of the higher end, than too low.)

  29. Elizaveta says:

    Hello, Jan
    could you please specify: the preserved lotions were kept at room temperature, or in the fridge? If not the fridge, where did you keep them (bathroom, where it’s usually humid, or a more neutral place?
    Also, using your knowledge, for how long would you recommend to keep a lotion (preserved with Leucidal SP, let’s say). You found out it was good after one month, and I understand you haven’t tested it for more, but just using common sense?
    Thank you very much.

    • Hi Elizaveta! The preserved lotions (except the test refrigerated one) were all kept at room temperature. I kept them out of direct sun, on a shelf in my home office, which is the most neutral place in the house & keeps a consistently moderate temperature of around 70 to 72 degrees F.
      I’ve found that the lotions stayed visibly fresh at least 5 months, but haven’t kept any longer than that without using them up first.
      I do think I’ll start adding in AMTicide Coconut as an extra assurance, based on some reading I’ve done lately.
      http://www.lotioncrafter.com/amticide-coconut.html
      “AMTicide® Coconut was developed to be used in conjunction with Active Micro Technology’s broad-spectrum antimicrobials like Leucidal Liquid, but it can be used alongside any preservative system for extra protection against yeast and mold.”
      Without challenge testing, it’s hard to know for certain, but I feel a 6 month shelf life is not an unrealistic estimate.
      I want to say possibly 9 months, but based on the fact that the preservative itself has a 12 month shelf life from the time of manufacture, am hesitant to estimate too high.

  30. linda says:

    jan, this is such a helpful post. i’ve started researching preservatives in the hopes of finding more natural options and my head is just spinning. susan over at the swiftcraft monkey blog did find a study specifically on Leudical Liquid that shows it was chemicals in the processing that caused the preservation and unfortunately not the bacterial ingredient in the radish root. here is the url: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf5063588

    one of the processing chemicals that caused the preservation was salicylic acid. i see that your description of their other preservative, Leudical Liquid SF, says it is salicylate-free. i have no idea if that is the same thing as salicylic acid. also, there was some sort of salt used in the processing of the original Leudical Liquid that was causing the preservation. so…i wonder if the Leudical Liquid SF, the AMTicide Coconut, or any of that company’s products really, are working or if again it is the chemicals used in the processing causing the preservation. i was bummed to find this info out as i thought i’d found a pretty good option for natural preservatives. i’ve asked susan what she thinks–maybe she knows how to understand those technical sheets–and am hoping she’ll answer if she finds out anything.

    i have read that herbal tinctures, those in alcohol at certain percentages, are preserving. i don’t know anything about them though.

  31. Karen says:

    I use Benzoin Resin, about 20 drops in a batch of lotion and no longer have to keep my lotion in the fridge. It is an essential oil and available from Mountain Rose Herbs.

  32. Dom says:

    I was hoping to see few comments on their results from challenge testing using natural preservatives. We will send ours out in few weeks (cost is $250 per test). Its the only way to know if your preservative system really works. Those home kit test only show if current microrganisim is present but does nothing in terms of telling you what happens 2 months down the road.

    What I would do with those home kit test is to test your preservatives right when you receive them from supplier to check for contamination as there was case last year where Leucidal was culprit for large recall of baby sunscreen products.

    As mentioned, its good idea to really hammer away at preserving especially if using natural preservatives. We also use Willow Bark ontop of Natapres, Aspen Bark & Leucidal. Our preservatives reach a whopping 9% but exhibit no skin irritation.

    Good luck and do those challenge test!

    • Hi Dom! Thanks for your great tips! I would love to explore challenge testing with these preservatives as well, I just have limited funds for my blog experiments. I agree completely that those selling handmade products should definitely test their products all sorts of ways, including challenge testing via a lab, before selling to the general public. I’d love to hear any comments from others with their experiences too! It’s great to share information with each other! :)

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  34. Alistair says:

    Hi Jan, thanks for a really interesting and enlightening article. We have started a company in South Africa that makes 100% natural lotions and body products. I see that your post was written a while back and I was wondering if you have found anything since then or if you’ve done any more testing?

    • Hi Alistair! I haven’t been able to experiment any further yet, though it’s high on my want-to-do-so list! I’d like to go on a grander scale this time, testing many more ingredients, so have needed to save up to acquire all of the supplies to do so. Hopefully, I can start my next experiments sometime by the end of this summer, so I can report on them in the fall. Stay tuned! :)

  35. DavetteB says:

    Really appreciated this information; my essential oil group is always having a hard time with this as some think the refrigerator is enough or making smaller amounts is enough. Granted, it may just be normal household gems and nothing that would cause illness, but many like to make for gifts or want to sell and this could be a serious problem, esp. if someone is immune-compromised.

    It’s good to know there are some ecosafe options to use when making products.

  36. PJ says:

    Hi Jan – Thank you for all the great information. I tried making lotion with the Leucidal liquid SF, and it was a flop. Thinking that I didn’t have my concoction at the right temperature, I tried again and had everything in the right temp area. Once again, I had a lotion with oil and water that didn’t emulsify. I had about given up, when I actually started thinking with the science portion of my gray matter. So, my question is do I add the preservative to the water phase or to the oil/ water emulsification?

    • Hi PJ! Each preservative has a range of temperature at which they do best added.
      Lotioncrafter’s entry for Leucidal Liquid SF says:
      “We recommend adding it at cool-down when your formulation temperature is below 40°C (104°F) to avoid destabilization issues.”
      I don’t stir it in until after my lotion has emulsified and has cooled down to under 104°F. At that point, the lotion should be nicely emulsified & there shouldn’t be an separation going on.
      Could it possibly be your emulsifier or an amount that’s off in your recipe?
      Have you used the recipe and emulsifier before with good results until you added the preservative?
      If so, it could be that you’ve been adding the Leucidal SF at too high of a temperature and that’s the “destabilization issues” they mention.
      If the emulsifier or recipe is new though, you might want to investigate that the amounts are correct.
      Emulsifying wax NF is pretty stable & user friendly, but other types of emulsifiers out there are a bit more finicky.
      I hope your next batch is a success!

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  38. Cathy says:

    Hi Jan,
    First, THANK YOU for all you do and share with everyone! It is a blessing!
    I have come back to this article many times, and have read all the comments. I just want to make some lotion for personal use as body butters are too greasy for me, but I have stayed away because all the preservatives are so confusing. I haven’t seen anything about Optiphen Plus, but after reading about it on thesoapqueen blog, could that be the best all-around preservative, if I could only buy one? My funds are very limited. Have you ever used Optiphen Plus? I’d really love to try some of your recipes. Another question: Can I use stearic acid instead of emulsifying wax in a recipe (as in your Dandelion- Magnesium Lotion)? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Cathy! I’ve not used Optiphen Plus personally, but I do know it’s very popular & seems to be effective for most people. Emulsifying wax has a different function than stearic acid, so you can’t interchange them. Stearic acid will help thicken a lotion recipe though. What I’ve done before is make a lotion with beeswax and used stearic acid to thicken it up. You’re not getting an emulsion on the chemical level (like emulsifying wax gives) but you do get a mechanical emulsion which – in spite of what that method’s critics say – will last quite a long time if done correctly. It is a bit trickier to get right though – emulsifying wax is the easier method. If you want to use stearic acid, you could use some of the elements of the Dandelion Magnesium Lotion recipe (namely the infused dandelion oil) and combine it with this recipe: https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/make-lotion-leg-cramps-growing-pains/

  39. Liz says:

    Just wondering how much of the Leucidal Liquid SF you add to each container of lotion? And at what point do you add it? Does it come with instructions for use?

    • Hi Liz! I use the ratios given on LotionCrafter’s site to determine how much to use for each batch of lotion:
      http://www.lotioncrafter.com/leucidal-liquid-sf.html
      They say:
      “The suggested use levels are typically between 2 and 4%.”
      So, if your ingredients (water, oils, wax) add up to 100 grams, you’d use between 2 to 4 grams of preservative. I always go with the high end (or 4%) to make sure it’s effective.
      If your ingredients weigh up to some odd number like 147 grams, you’d just multiply that number by 0.04 (or 4%) to get 5.88 grams of preservative needed – which you can round up to 6 grams.
      As for when to add it, they say:
      “We recommend adding it at cool-down when your formulation temperature is below 40°C (104°F) to avoid destabilization issues.”
      Also, I’ve started combining it with AMTicide Coconut to give an added boost against mold.
      http://www.lotioncrafter.com/amticide-coconut.html
      That one’s used at 2 to 4% as well, so you’d add the same amount as you would the Leucidal SF if you are using that too.

  40. Carina says:

    Thank u so much for posting this artical, such a big help! I was hoping you could share a face lotion recipe you have tried and loved?

    Thank you!!!!!

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  43. Karen says:

    Hello! I have been experimenting for years off and on with lotions, butters, etc. I am very happy to have found your site via Pinterest w/ all of your testing & effort you have put into your science experiments for us! Wow, I was concerned about the preserving part of it too, but, probably too lazy to find out. Now, I know and thank you for this!

  44. Alice says:

    Hi Jan! Thank you for taking the time to experiment and share this very vital information! My question is, if I were to use witch hazel in the place of water in a lotion recipe, do I still need to use a preservative?

    • Hi Alice! I’ve wondered the same thing before too! I haven’t tested that idea out with a microbial test kit, so I’m not exactly sure how it would do. Until I experimented and learned otherwise though, I’d still add a preservative just to be on the safe side. :)

  45. Frann says:

    I purchased a home microbial test kit and haven’t used it because it has to be kept at a steady temp I don’t have an incubater. What’s the beat way to keep the temp steady? A heating pad?

    I’ve been successful using leucidal sf with potassium sorbate. They came out with a new product leucidal sf complete that has coconut fruit extract. I used it at 3% and my lotion went bad. So I upped it to 4.5% hope that works but the extra liquid diluted my lotion…. have you tested this one?

    • Hi Frann! The kits I bought from LotionCrafter mentioned:
      “If no incubator is used and the slides are stored at room temperature, you may need to wait up to 5 days for bacteria and up to 7 days for yeast and mold.”
      http://www.lotioncrafter.com/microbial-test-kit-lotioncrafter.html
      I kept mine in my kitchen/dining room (which is one big room combined) & the temperature stays fairly warm and steady there.
      That’s great to hear about your results with Leucidal Liquid SF! I haven’t seen or tried the new version out yet – thanks for letting me know about it! I’ll have to check it out for sure. I’m gearing up for a new round of testing in about 3 or 4 weeks or so. Can’t wait! :)

  46. Kim says:

    I love that you did all this figuring. Thank you so much for the helpful information !! I am starting to make baby products for my expected grandbaby. :) Is the leucidal SF and the amticide coconut safe for baby products? And would you suggest 4% of EACH preservative? Thank you !!!

    • Hi Kim! That’s a very good question about the baby products! I suspect they’re okay, but I think it would be best to double check with wherever you purchase from and see if they have a solid answer. I use 4% Leucidal SF always and when I add the Amticide Coconut, I’ve been using anywhere from 2 to 4%. (Still feeling that one out!) :)

      • Kim says:

        I have asked the company I bought the preservatives and they couldn’t tell me. :( Do you have any other suggestions for the baby products? My kids live in Wisconsin, I am in Florida. I am trying to make at least 6 months worth of stuff and sending it. Anyone else here know?
        ThanK You !!!

        • Hi Kim! I wish I had more information for you, but I just haven’t researched for babies to be sure either.
          One thought I had is to check out the labels on natural products that are safe for kids, like Badger products.
          They have the ingredients they use listed here:
          https://www.badgerbalm.com/s-64-badger-sunscreen-ingredients.aspx
          and as far as preservatives it looks like they use a combination of several types such as:
          Elderberry Fruit Extract (from the fruit of the Sambucus nigra plant) –
          A powerful antioxidant and a good source of undecylenic acid, an organic fatty acid that provides broad antimicrobial benefits, but is especially effective against fungal microorganisms.
          and
          Glucose + Lactoperoxidase + Glucose Oxidase –
          A natural preservative system and powerful antioxidant. Generates antimicrobial activity using oxidation products that target bacterial and fungal cell walls. Derived from non-GMO corn products, whey products, fermentation products, and trace amounts of synthetic materials.
          and
          Sorbitan Caprylate (from non-GMO plant material) –
          Helps to increase the viscosity of a formulation and it can act as an emulsifier. Acts as a weak antimicrobial on its own, but can boost the efficacy of other preserving agents within a formula in a synergistic manner. Produced via esterification of sorbitol (a sugar alcohol) with octanoic acid (a fatty acid).
          and
          Glyceryl Caprylate (from non-GMO plant material) –
          A multifunctional wetting agent made from natural resources with great moisturizing and refatting properties. It is skin friendly and has strong antimicrobial activity. It has a high efficacy against microorganisms in a broader range of pH compared to many other natural preservative compounds. Produced via esterification of glycerol (a sugar alcohol) with octanoic acid (a fatty acid).
          If I’m remembering correctly, I believe at one point they used radish root filtrate (basically Leucidal), but it wasn’t robust enough.
          Since it’s a product for a baby, the company you bought the preservatives from might just be erring on the side of caution, for legal protection from giving bad advice, but perhaps the manufacturer themselves would have some advice?

  47. Corie says:

    Hello there! Do you think this could be used in toothpaste recipes? If so, would it still be the 4%. Also, about how many drops was 1 gram?

    • Hi Corie! I don’t believe these preservatives are safe for items like toothpaste, but I’m not 100% sure. If you check with the manufacturer, they should have the best advice on that. I measure out preservatives using a small scale, so am not sure how many drops that would be. I did measure once by volume, just to compare, & *think* (about 90% sure) it was roughly 1/4 teaspoon. :)

  48. Tatiana Antoshchenko says:

    Hi Jan, I AM a professional scientist (I am a biochemist and a microbiologist, who is also into making my own creams and lotions without parabens and other harmful preservatives). Well, I can tell you that this was a very well designed experiment!!! You had the right controls and the right conclusions (one bad experiment doesn’t mean the answer is that it doesn’t work, and the good experiment doesn’t mean it works all the time!:)) Very well done!! Thank you very much for it! So far I was just using Grapefruit Seed Oil as a preservative but clearly, it does not protect your cream from getting moldy!!I will try using Leucidal Liquid SF from now on. If you feel like experimenting with the new natural preservatives, please post the results! Will be greatly appreciated!!

  49. Tatiana Antoshchenko says:

    Ok, I read a few comments above and I thought I might have my two cents here. First of all, no matter what you do ( put your unwashed fingers in your cream, put your washed fingers in your cream, or put your “sterile” spatula in your cream), every time you open your cream outside of a very special sterilized (laboratory) environment (which is pretty much all the time!), you are subjecting it to a bacterial and/or mold contamination just because bacteria and/or mold spores are in the air and are available. Washing your hands before using your cream just reduces the amount of bacteria introduced to the cream. The role of preservative is to kill all the bacteria/ mold introduced to the cream!!! Which is why I was impressed that 72hr later no bacteria or mold grew in the room temp kept samples containing Leucidal Liquid SF ( am I right or am I missing something?!!) I am not familiar with this home bacterial test kit, but just wondering, do you have to incubate it at 37C? It is about 98F! This is the temp most bacterias grow overnight. If 72 hrs later you didn’t detect any bacterial/mold growth at this temperature, this is a good preservative!!!) Of course, there is always a question of how long this preservative can hold its strength?? I am sure it is a subject of another post.:))))
    When it comes to the actual substance of the product, Lactobacillus family of bacterias is my favorite kind!! It is responsible for your yougurt, your cheese and your sauerkraut (the real one!), and your gut digestion since it is actually lives in your gut!!l Lactobacillus can lower the pH to very acidic, and most of bacterias don’t like acidic. Which is why it could be a good preservative. The skin pH is about 5.5, which is why acidic preservatives in your cream can be a very good thing! I am going to stop with the scientific stuff now!!! You are probably bored to death!!! One thing to add though, salicilic acid ( from the comments before) is an aspirin, a very safe drug and I don’t think you have to worry about any of that!!!

    • Hi Tatiana! Thank you so much for sharing all of your wonderful knowledge – it’s a fascinating subject for sure! I didn’t use an incubator, but used the directions for testing samples at room temperature. (Room temperature in my house hovers in the upper 70’s.) That’s great to hear about the properties of Lactobacilus; I find it so interesting to read and learn about! I really appreciate you sharing your perspective as a scientist with us! :)

  50. Marion says:

    Hello, thank you for sharing the results of your experiment, it’s very interesting and extremely helpful. I am a complete beginner so please forgive my ignorance, but some people recommend adding more than one preservative to a final product. I was wondering what are your thoughts on this? For example would you recommend combining any or all of the three winners of your experiment to preserve a hand cream? Thank you :)

    • Hi Marion! That’s something I’m still experimenting with, but I feel it might be a good idea, as long as the total amount of a preservative in a product stays within a good range. I’m about to start a new round of experiments soon and will test some combinations and see how they do. Stay tuned! :)

  51. Michelle says:

    how many batches of lotion can I get from 1oz of the aspen bark used as a preservative? While typing this I realize that you would probably want to know how big my batches would be…
    I guess my real question is, how much use could I get out of 1 oz of the aspen bark. Let’s just say I plan on each batch being about 8oz. I’m just trying to get my math calculations correct, and also price out my materials. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Michelle! Lotioncrafter says that PhytoCide Aspen Bark Extract can be used at 0.2% – 3.0% usage rate, so much of that depends on what rate you plan on using it at.
      Just a note, it’s much easier to calculate lotions & preservative rates in grams instead of ounces, but I’m going to use ounces & type some mental math out loud here & see what we get!
      If you plan to use the max amount of 3%, then for 8 oz of lotion you’d use 0.24 oz of aspen bark extract (This is the math I used to get that number: 8 oz of lotion x .03 usage rate = 0.24 oz of preservative needed)
      0.24 ounces = 6.8 grams
      Since some might spill or get stuck in the package, we’ll round that up to 7 grams (or 1/4 of an ounce) used for every 8 oz batch of lotion.
      Since 1/4 of the package will be used each time, you’ll get 4 batches out of your 1 oz package of preservative — if using it at the max rate.
      When I did my testing, I only used it at 2% and it still did an outstanding job, so you don’t necessarily have to use it at the 3% rate.
      If you only used 2% or less, then you’d get at least another batch out of the 1 ounce packet of aspen bark extract, or even more depending on the rate.
      I hope that helps! Also, be sure to double check the math since it’s not always my strong point! :)

  52. Jacqui says:

    This was very helpful, thank you!

    Do you know if any of these are ok to use in primarily liquid products. I’m making a lot of smudge and room sprays, and I don’t want to use alcohol in all of them.

    I’ll do some research on my own, but I thought I would ask here too :)

    • Hi Jacqui! If you check out the individual listings at LotionCrafter, they should tell you what types of products they do well in. I buy hydrosols that are preserved with Leucidal Liquid, so I know that one is good for liquids – but otherwise haven’t really explored that aspect much. :)

  53. cherie says:

    This is a great article. I would like to ask how long did the lotion with the leucidal liquid SF last? Did you try to test it again after 3 to 6 months? thank you

    • Hi Cherie! I didn’t test that batch of lotion after 3 to 6 months, but have a new batch of preservatives testing going on now that should be ready for a big write up this fall. I want to make sure to test them for much longer this time. Stay tuned! :)

  54. Carolina says:

    Hi Jan! Thank you for the great article! After reading it I decided to buy both Leucidal Liquid SF and AMTicide. I made a lotion using my usual ingredients and proportions, and added 4% each of Leucidal Liquid SF and AMTicide. It has been a couple of weeks and I haven’t noticed any mold or strange things, although bacterias and other nasty stuff sometimes are not visible to the naked eye. But! I noticed some oil separation in the lotion now. Do you have any idea why? It is the same recipe I have been using and never had any issues, and to have the oil separation a couple of weeks later that is just weird. Hope you can shed some light into this. I appreciate all the great info and resources on your website! Thank you!

  55. Paul K. says:

    Indeed interesting article. I have a question about face serum made with only jojoba oil and lavender essential oil. While they are anhydrous but still wondering if I need to put a preservation on them? Because they are likely to be exposed with some air during procedure before bottled.

    Another question. Jojoba oil has 5 years shelf life and Lavender essential oil has around 4 years shelf life. Assume they are fresh just produced a few days ago and I got them mixed today. Can I assume they have 4 years shelf life without any preservation? If so, are they still fresh and potent during that period?

    Thank you very much.

  56. Mary says:

    Wow, very detailed explanations, the best ones i have seen so far. Thank you for not only specifying what you did, but also why you did so. I just killed a plant by diluting soap and water against aphids in a wrong proportions because the article didn’t specify that a stronger soap solution may be damaging for a plant itself.

  57. liona says:

    Hi Carolina & others that tested the combination of Leucidal liquid SF & AMTicide.

    Have you found it a good preservative combination to prevent bacteria, mold growth?

    I did a formula with just Leucidal that failed and don’t want to make another expensive mistake. I’d be grateful for the benefit of your experiences.
    thank you

  58. razlin says:

    Hi Jan, would it be ok if i use Leucidal Liquid SF combined with AMTicide Coconut to preserve my pumpkin mask?

    • Hi Razlin! If it’s made with fresh pumpkin, then I don’t believe that combination is quite strong enough for that. Fresh ingredients like that would be a challenge even for more traditional preservatives. You’d definitely have to do some challenge testing and see what works best! :)

  59. Tatiana says:

    Hi there,

    I just want to say that I have literally spent hours upon hours researching preservatives because I am staring a handmade natural beauty brand.

    This post was AMAZING. It is the best resource that I have come across and I sincerely thank you for putting the time and effort into creating this for people like me.

    AWESOME. AWESOME. AWESOME.

    I actually just started a travel and wellness blog and this is officially the first comment I have left for a fellow blogger!

    Thanks so much!

  60. Joanna Sypien says:

    Hi!
    My name is Joanna. I made some lip balm like month ago. Just noticed:it’s growing mold!!!!!
    Can you help me? What can I add to lip balm to prevent mold??

  61. Leesa says:

    Hello Jan. I, unfortunately, hadn’t thought of a preservative until very recently. Main home made personal item I make is water based perfume with essential oils. I do use aloe Vera gel to help EO’s mix in the water. What would you suggest I use in the mix as a preservative ? Thanks

    • Hi Leesa, Your perfume sounds lovely! I’m not sure of a best one for that use; you’d probably have to test out several samples of each & see which gives you best results. I’m currently favorite Leucidal SF Complete (from Formulator Sample Shop) but am still not 100% settled on any one favorite yet.

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