In this article, you’ll learn about 10 natural and organic-approved preservatives to consider adding to your handmade lotions, creams, and other DIY skin care products.
For years I made my family lotions and creams with no preservatives since I thought all preservatives were harmful chemicals.
What I didn’t realize is that there are lots of natural (nature-derived) and organic preservative options available to the home crafter!
But first, do you *really* need a preservative?
If you’re making something without water, such as salves, balms, lip balm, or body butter, you usually don’t need to add a preservative.
Oil based (anhydrous) products are fine on their own, but once you add water, or a water-based ingredient (like aloe, witch hazel, hydrosol), then you create a cozy place for bacteria and mold to grow.
I was doubtful about this in the past – after all I couldn’t SEE bacteria or mold in my unpreserved lotions and creams and they looked and smelled fine. To get to the bottom of it all, I decided to perform some home microbial tests on my lotions and was pretty shocked at what I found hiding in them.
Video: Testing homemade lotions for mold & bacteria:
Here’s a video of me using at home test kits on my lotions, and the results. Heads-up: If you’re squeamish about seeing mold, a couple of these look kind of gross! Sometimes an ad plays first, but the video plays right after. (If you have an adblocker, you won’t see the video player at all.)
What if you’re ULTRA sensitive to preservatives?
I have a highly sensitive ‘canary in a coal mine’ kid, so I get it. I truly do.
If you can’t tolerate even these mild natural preservatives, make a single small batch of lotion/cream at a time, store it in your refrigerator, and use it up within a few days.
I’ve also successfully frozen tiny batches of face cream, though haven’t tested longevity/success past one or two months in the freezer.
For an in-depth resource about making lotions and creams from scratch, plus loads of helpful information about the best oils, butters, essential oils, herbs, flowers, and other natural ingredients to use for your skin type and needs, be sure to check out my Handmade Lotions & Creams eBook Collection!
10 Natural or Organic Approved Preservatives
Here are ten preservatives to consider using in your natural homemade lotions and creams, plus their use level (recommended amount), maximum temperature to add them, recommended pH, and any relevant notes.
(If you want to sell skin care products as a business, you will need to personally experiment with and then test, test, test to find out the best preservative system or combination of preservatives for your unique products.)
(Preservative ECO, Plantaserv M)
Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerin, and Sorbic Acid
|0.6 to 1%||under 113°F (45°C)||3 to 8||Meets COSMOS and ECOCERT standards; broad spectrum, not for kids under 3 in the EU because of the salicylic acid portion, my favorite for lotions & creams|
|Leucidal SF Complete|
Lactobacillus Ferment, Lactobacillus, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract
|2 to 4%||below 104°F (40°C)||3 to 8; under 6 is best||ECOCERT & COSMOS approved; offers moisturizing & skin conditioning benefits; contains Amticide Coconut|
|Leucidal Liquid Complete|
Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate & Lactobacillus & Cocos
Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract
|2 to 4%||below 104°F (40°C)||3 to 8; under 6 is best||ECOCERT & COSMOS approved; contains Amticide Coconut; add 0.2% NeoDefend for stronger action|
|Leucidal SF Max|
|2 to 4%||below 104°F (40°C)||3 to 8; under 6 is best||ECOCERT & COSMOS approved; offers moisturizing & skin conditioning benefits; should be combined with Amticide Coconut|
Lactobacillus & Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract
|2 to 4%||under 158°F (70°C)||3 to 8; under 6 is best||ECOCERT & Whole Foods approved; not used alone; combine with other preservatives to give them extra mold protection|
|Phytocide Aspen Bark Powder|
Populus Tremuloides Bark Extract
|0.2 to 3%||under 158°F (70°C)||3 to 8||Evens skin texture; add to water phase (under 158°F) or while lotion is still watery; combine with other preservatives at 0.2% to boost their effectiveness|
(GeoGard Ultra, MicroGuard)
Gluconolactone (and) Sodium Benzoate
|0.75 to 1.5%||under 158°F (70°C)||3 to 6; under 5 is best||ECOCERT approved; don’t use in products with L-Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C); can also be combined at 0.2% with other preservatives to boost their effectiveness|
|Willow Bark Extract|
Salix Nigra (Willow) Bark Extract
|2.5 to 5%||under 176°F (80°C)||4 to 7||Used as a back-up preservative; may help in acne or muscle pain products; source of natural salicylic acid-like ingredients; may increase sun sensitivity|
Leuconostoc Ferment Filtrate
|2 to 4%||under 158°F (70°C)||3 to 8; under 6 is best||Organic Compliant (OC); combine with 2% AMTicide Coconut and/or 0.2% NeoDefend|
|Phytocide Elderberry OS|
Sambucus Nigra Fruit Extract
|1 to 5%||under 167°F (75°C)||3 to 8||ECOCERT & COSMOS approved; use in oil-based products such as scrubs, or add to oil phase and combine with another preservative for backup|
Antioxidants versus Preservatives
What’s the difference between an antioxidant and a preservative?
This is a common point of confusion that tripped me up for a long time, because the same misinformation keeps getting repeated around the internet.
What are antioxidants & what do they do?
Antioxidants keep oils and butters from going rancid too quickly. Some examples include vitamin E and rosemary extract – they are effective antioxidants which slow down oxidation so your oils won’t age or smell like old oil sooner than they should, but won’t kill the bacteria and mold that spoils water based products such as lotions and creams, and other cosmetics.
Vitamin E is a terrific antioxidant, but unfortunately it will not kill bacteria, yeast, or fungi. Vitamin E (tocopherols) is not a preservative and will not prevent lotion spoilage.
What are preservatives?
On the other hand, preservatives will outright kill microbes and will prevent water containing products from developing bacteria and mold quickly.
If a lotion or cream contains water, aloe vera, witch hazel, or any other water-based ingredient, it needs a preservative, or it should be refrigerated and used up within a few days.
What about Grapefruit Seed Extract?
Grapefruit seed extract (Citrus grandis seed extract) is often promoted as a natural preservative against microorganisms, but it’s quite controversial. The strength varies depending on the supplier, and some sources can be adulterated with synthetic preservatives or undesirable toxic chemicals. After doing research on it a few years back, I stopped using it for my family and don’t use it in any skincare products, so can’t recommend amounts or effectiveness.
Where to Buy Preservatives
I’ve purchased from the first three shops, and have seen the others recommended for outside of the US. Be sure to read the descriptions of preservatives on a vendor’s website, many will offer formulating guidelines that will help you use them more effectively.
- Formulator Sample Shop
- Lotion Crafter
- The Herbarie
- Voyageur Soap & Candle (Canada)
- Aromantic (UK)
- New Directions (Australia)
What’s the shelf life of lotion made with a natural preservative?
I get this question a lot and the truth is, it’s impossible to give an exact time frame.
The shelf life of homemade lotion depends on many factors including the recipe/ingredients used, the environment it’s stored in, preservative combination, and type of container/jar it’s kept in.
In general, I expect a lotion made with my current favorite preservative (Geogard ECT) to give me at least a solid 5 to 6 month shelf life. I’ve kept some in good shape for up to 9 months, but usually use them up much sooner.
The Leucidal products are shorter lived and I’m happy with a 3 to 4 month lifespan from those.
If I make something for one of my several nurse family members/friends, and it’s critical that it stays germ free a long time, I use Liquid Germall Plus which isn’t natural at all so isn’t listed here, but is highly effective for that particular situation. You should get a 1+ year lifespan using that preservative.
The best way to find out is to make, test, experiment, and keep great records, then decide which combination works best for you and the recipes you like to use!
6 Tips to Help Homemade Lotion Last Longer
- Use distilled water. Tap water can contain contaminants such as metals, minerals, or bacteria.
- Store your DIY products in a comfortable area with even humidity and temperatures. A bathroom, with its fluctuating temperatures and humidity is not a good place to store lotions and creams.
- Sanitize bottles, jars, equipment by generously spraying with 70% isopropyl alcohol and allowing to air dry.
- Use clean hands or gloves and tie hair back.
- Consider using airless or pump style bottles so your fingers won’t contaminate the lotion or cream. Don’t store water based products in metal tins because they can rust and turn your lotion weird colors.
- Aim to keep the lotion’s pH range under 6, or in the ideal range for the preservative(s) you’re using.
I have a lot more tips, recipes, and tricks for success in my Handmade Lotions & Creams eBook Collection!
Comments are currently closed on this article because of the huge amount of spam comments it was receiving each day. Use this list as a starting point to explore preservatives more in depth. Shops such as Lotion Crafter and Formulator Sample Shop have quite a bit of information listed with their preservatives to help guide you further in their use.
Happy Crafting! ❤
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