10 Natural Preservatives for Homemade Skin Care

In this article, you’ll learn about 10 natural and/or organic-approved preservatives to consider adding to your handmade products.

a row of lotion photos

For years I made my family lotions and creams with no preservatives since I automatically lumped those into the “harmful chemicals” category.

What I didn’t realize is that there are quite a few nature-derived and organic compliant preservative options readily available to the home crafter!

Some natural preservative choices for homemade lotions and creams

But first, do you *really* need a preservative?

If you’re making something without water, such as salves, balms, lip balm, body butter, etc., you generally don’t need to add a preservative.

Once you add water, or a water-based ingredient (such as aloe, witch hazel, hydrosol), then you create a cozy place for bacteria and mold to grow.

I was a little dubious 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.

You can read about that in my article:

Natural Preservatives for Homemade Lotion {An Experiment}

You may also find this video (from a link inside the Handmade Lotions & Creams eBook) interesting, if slightly gross (!), to watch.

In it, I test several of the lotion recipes found in the Handmade Lotions & Creams eBook Collection, and compare them to unpreserved lotion.

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 month 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!

image for handmade lotions and creams ebook collection

10 Natural or Organic Approved Preservatives

Here are ten preservatives to consider using in your homemade lotions and creams.

NameAmountTemppHNotes
Geogard ECT
(Preservative ECO, Plantaserv M)

Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerin, and Sorbic Acid
0.6 to 1%under 113°F (45°C)3 to 8Meets COSMOS and ECOCERT standards; broad spectrum, not for kids under 3 in the EU because of the salicylic acid portion
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 bestECOCERT & 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 bestECOCERT & COSMOS approved; contains Amticide Coconut; add 0.2% NeoDefend for stronger action
Leucidal SF Max
Lactobacillus Ferment
2 to 4%below 104°F (40°C)3 to 8; under 6 is bestECOCERT & COSMOS approved; offers moisturizing & skin conditioning benefits; should be combined with Amticide Coconut
Amticide Coconut
Lactobacillus & Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract
2 to 4%under 158°F (70°C)3 to 8; under 6 is bestECOCERT & 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 8Evens 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
NeoDefend
(GeoGard Ultra, MicroGuard)
Gluconolactone (and) Sodium Benzoate
0.75 to 1.5%under 158°F (70°C)3 to 6; under 5 is bestECOCERT 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 7Used as a back-up preservative; may help in acne or muscle pain products; source of natural salicylic acid-like ingredients; may increase sun sensitivity
Arborcide OC
Leuconostoc Ferment Filtrate
2 to 4%under 158°F (70°C)3 to 8; under 6 is bestOrganic 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 8ECOCERT & COSMOS approved; use in oil-based products such as scrubs, or add to oil phase and combine with another preservative for backup

Where to Buy Preservatives

I’ve purchased from the first three shops, and have seen the others recommended for outside of the US:

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.

It 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!

Tips to Extend Shelf Life of Handmade Lotion

  • Use distilled water. Tap water can contain contaminants such as metals, minerals, or bacteria.
  • Store your handmade 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 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.
  • Aim to keep pH under 6, or in the ideal range for the preservative(s) you’re using.
box of preservatives and a jar of homemade face cream
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46 Comments

  1. I may be using old/simplistic reasoning, but isn’t vitamin Ea natural preservative?

    Val Colvin

    1. Hi Val, That’s a great question! I meant to add a note about vitamin E to the article, but forgot – thanks for reminding me! Vitamin E is a terrific antioxidant – it helps keep oils from going rancid too soon, but it’s not antibacterial or antifungal so it won’t keep bacteria and mold from growing in water-based products like lotions & creams.

  2. This information is so helpful! I am a student at Formula Botanica, and I have been learning about preservatives for a while now. Thank you for furthering my knowledge of preservatives. Your guide is the most helpful resource I have found! Thank you for sharing your experiences too!

    1. Hi Wendy! I’m so happy to hear that the information is helpful! Thanks for the kind words about the guide too! ❤

  3. You are the best.
    After many years trying to find a good cream to my face , one that i can aford, I have found you….
    Thanks to you I have now, a best skin ( specially my face) and hair, and just only with natural ingredients.
    You are my Guide

    1. Hi Rita, That’s wonderful to hear! Thank you so much for your kind words and I’m so very happy you’ve found the resources helpful! ❤

  4. Jan, have you experimented with Linatural which is available from Organic Creations? I’ve been using it but would love to hear if anyone else has tried it. It’s supposed to be all natural.

  5. Hi Jan, I want to make a green clay facial. Do you know what the best preservative would be to use with clay?
    Thank you
    Linda

    1. Hi Linda! It depends on the rest of the recipe – Does it include water or oils or is it a dry powder format?
      If you give more details, I can give a better answer. :)

  6. This was so helpful, in a way. Any idea which of these preservatives will be good for making breast milk lotion for my baby. The lotion I’ve made so far, I’ve noticed mold in it and that made me so saaaad.

    1. Hi Isioma! That’s a tricky situation for sure. Milk is very perishable in lotion, so you have to use a strong preservative and use the lotion quickly. BUT, you don’t want to use strong preservatives on babies.
      I’m not sure there’s a solution, other than making the lotion in small batches and immediately freezing it in ice cube trays, then pull one cube out at a time to thaw overnight in the fridge, use within a day or two once thawed. That’s my best guess anyway! 😊

  7. When you say 2-4%, do you mean 2-4% of the total weight/mass? So like 2-4oz per 100oz of final product? Sorry if that’s a dumb question, i’m unfamiliar with this process!

    1. Hi Emily! Yes, that would be 2 to 4% of the total weight of the product.
      So if a lotion weighs 100 grams, then you would use 2 grams preservative for a 2% rate, or 4 grams preservative for a 4% rate.
      As an example using ounces:
      If a lotion weighs 8 ounces, then for a 2% rate, you would multiply the total lotion weight by 0.02 (which is the same as 2%).
      So 8 ounces x 0.02 (or 2%) = 0.16 ounces preservative.
      It’s a lot easier to calculate using grams though, instead of hard to weigh amounts of part-ounces. 😊

    1. Hi June! That’s one I haven’t personally worked with, but it’s my understanding that it’s weak against mold, so if you decide to use it, consider combining it with something like AMTicide Coconut or potassium sorbate. :)

  8. Many year ago I did a aromatherapy course then a add on course to be qualified to make creams but was not told at what point to add preserves and which one can you please advice me as still not shore thanks for any help
    Caroline

    1. Hi Caroline, I’m happy to help!
      You usually add preservatives after the lotion has cooled down to a certain point.
      I usually wait until the lotion is under 104°F (or 40°C) because the preservatives I favor work best under those temperatures.
      If you add preservative too early in the lotion making process, then you risk deactivating the preservative with too much heat, or sometimes the lotion can curdle or misbehave if preservative is added too soon/too hot of a temperature.
      If you check the chart in this article, it has a Temp (or temperature) column and that will tell you the temperature that you want to make sure the lotion is under, before adding the preservative.
      For example, Geogard ECT says: “under 113°F (45°C)” so make sure your lotion has cooled to under 113 degrees F before you stir in the preservative.

  9. So the preservatives are by weight percent or volume percent? Have you tried colloidal silver as a preservative? I think that if you try to add something like copper peptide to something preserved with a natural substance that uses probiotic action for preserving the copper would kill it and make it less effective, so thus Im interested in silver

  10. Hello…I make my own face packs and toners. What preservatives can I use in it to increase shelf life, however I store them in the refrigerator only or freeze the face mask in the freezer and then it lasts for months.

    1. Hi Henna! I would probably lean towards testing out Leucidal SF Complete first, (but with a disclaimer that I’m not familiar with making face packs to know all of their nuances.)
      Any of the preservatives from the list would likely be good to start experimenting with, except for Phytocide Elderberry OS, since it’s oil-soluble. Best wishes with your products – they sound great! ❤

  11. Heyy! I want to make a homemade serum (hyaluronic acid serum to be exact) and I want to add some preservative for my serum but im confused which to use because I can’t find enough information about it online, I have some in my mind which is Liquid Germall Plus and Sodium Benzoate. But is it safe and will it be effective? Thankyou in advance!

    1. Hi Ser! It depends on if you want it to be a more natural product or not. If it doesn’t need to be all-natural or organic, then Liquid Germall Plus is a good strong preservative to use all on its own. (Don’t think you’d need to also add the sodium benzoate.) For a more natural option, you could try out Geogard ECT (my personal favorite preservative at this time.) :)

  12. Hi, I’m making face masks which contain fruit, food, herbs, oils and vitamins what would be the best preservative please? I do refrigerate them.

    1. Hi JC! Those sound nice & I bet they feel wonderful on the skin! They’re going to be super perishable though – I’m not sure there’s a skincare preservative that will safely preserve the food/fruit portion very long.
      Probably keeping the masks frozen for longer term storage (thawing overnight in the fridge before using the next day), or making them fresh as you need one, and keeping it for just a day or two in the fridge would be the best bet.

  13. I wonder if pine pitch (pine resin) or creosote can be used as a preservative since they are antibacterial. How much of pine resin or creosote would you recommend to add to a lotion to use as a natural preservative?

  14. Hi. This is an amazing article. Thank you so much for the information. What would you recommend for an all-natural whipped hair butter and for beard balm (which is packed while still really hot). For the butter, I’ve been using vitamin E and it seemed to be okay for the 4 months it takes to use up the product

    1. Hi Lisa! Does the hair butter and beard balm contain water? If not, and if they are all oil/wax/butter based, then you don’t need to add a preservative.
      However, if you’d like one for extra backup, then you could use the Phytocide Elderberry OS (OS = oil soluble, which means it can be used in oil based products).
      Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which helps oils stay fresh longer, so it’s perfect to add to an oil based butter, balm, salve, etc! It won’t prevent mold/bacteria from growing though.
      It’s only when you add water that you create cozy hiding spots for bacteria & mold. :)

  15. I made a lotion with water, shea butter, coconut oil, safflower oil, and lavender. Can I freeze it in small, individual containers and take it out as needed to use? I plan to refrigerate what I’m using.

    1. Hi Tray! I’ve done that before with a couple of face creams and it works out well – at least for about two months. (I haven’t tested longer than that time period to date.)
      The ones I’ve tried have all had an emulsifier in them though, so if you notice that your lotion separates after thawing, then it may help to mix it really briskly with a fork to get it to return to former consistency.
      I would definitely give it a try and see how it goes! 😊

  16. Hey Jan, I am planning on making a rice water serum with jojoba oil and aloe vera. Which preservative would you recommend and how long would the shelf life be with it?

    1. Hi Kristian, That sounds like a nice serum! If it doesn’t need to be all-natural or organic, then Liquid Germall Plus is a strong preservative with a long shelf life. If you’re aiming for a natural or organic product, then I’d try out Geogard ECT first. I really like Leucidal SF Complete too, though the shelf life is usually shorter than the Geogard ECT. You’ll have to do experiments to see how long the shelf life is for your particular product – it will vary depending on type, age, and perishability of the ingredients, how it’s stored, what type of container it’s in, etc.

  17. Do you have to add a preservative to the oil phase and the water phase separately before you combine them?

    1. Hi Rebecca! Each preservative will have specific instructions on the vendor site, but usually you stir the preservative in after the lotion/cream is made and has cooled a bit.
      A good temperature is below 104°F (40°C) since that makes the preservative less likely to curdle or cause problems.
      There are a few cases you could add preservatives separately – You could add the Phytocide Elderberry OS to the warmed oils, and dissolve Phytocide Aspen Bark Powder in the warm water phase before combining the oil phase + water phase together.
      Or sometimes I add a preservative to oil (Elderberry) or water phase (Aspen Bark), but only to boost the main preservative I’m adding after the lotion is made and cooled.
      You have some flexibility in mixing and matching preservatives, but small test batches will be helpful to dial in good amounts and combos. :)

  18. Hi I’m wondering about using Geogard ECT with things that have citric acid, for example aloe vera gels. Will it have a bad reaction on the skin?

  19. I wanted to note than vegetable glycerin makes a nice preservative. (Food grade for edibles)

    I make face masks with fruit powders, flax and rice and oats so very perishable, but very efficient and am always trying to find new preservatives.

  20. Hi Jan,
    Do each of the natural preservatives you have listed effectively preserve creams made with goat milk? Thank you for your response.

    1. Hi Elizabeth! Goat’s milk lotion/cream is super tricky to preserve, even with strong synthetic preservatives. I’ve seen some recipes using Optiphen Plus or Liquid Germall Plus with goat’s milk, but I don’t believe that the natural preservatives on this list would handle fresh milk. I’ve used goat milk powder (not fresh) before in lotion, and preserved it with Optiphen Plus and it was very nice, but the shelf life ended up at only about 3 months before it went bad.

  21. Hi Jan,
    I own several of your books (which I love) and was looking to begin making lotions so I purchased some preservatives from Formulator Sample Shop. I thought I had ordered two preservatives that would work well together: AMTicide Coconut and Leucidal Liquid SF. When I saw your list here (which I don’t think I found prior to purchase), I realized you mentioned other Leucidals (max, complete), I believe the one I purchased is not on your table. Do you have any experience with Leucidal Liquid SF or can you help me understand if it will work when paired with AMTicide Coconut? I appreciate any help.

    1. Hi Emma! Yes, Leucidal Liquid SF will work in combination with AMTicide just as you planned. I used that combo in the past, then ended up moving on to Leucidal SF Max + AMTicide, since it was supposed to be stronger than the Liquid SF. (To be honest, I didn’t see a ton of difference between the two!) I still like the combo as a mild preservative, but the shelf life of Leucidal preservatives can be pretty short, so I’ve been favoring Geogard ECT because of that. If you plan to use your lotions up within a couple of months & store them carefully (cool place, out of sun & heat), it should work out well though! Happy lotion making!

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