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

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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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Jan
 

Jan Berry is a writer, herbalist, soapmaker, and bestselling author of The Big Book of Homemade Products, Simple & Natural Soapmaking, and Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her family and a menagerie of animals, where she enjoys brainstorming creative things to make with the flowers and weeds that grow around her.

  • Val Colvin says:

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

    Val Colvin

    • Jan says:

      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.

  • Wendy says:

    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!

    • Jan says:

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

  • Rita from Portugal says:

    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

    • Jan says:

      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! ❤

  • Hope from Pennsylvania says:

    Love your articles! Thanks for sharing.

  • Melissa Thompson says:

    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.

  • Linda says:

    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

    • Jan says:

      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. :)

  • Isioma B says:

    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.

    • Jan says:

      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! 😊

  • Emily says:

    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!

    • Jan says:

      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. 😊

  • June says:

    What are your thoughts on phenoxyethanol?

    • Jan says:

      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. :)

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