Formulation Tools & Guidelines

Why is Preservation So Scary?

Written by Mark Fuller

In my day-to-day work, I will encounter numerous Home Crafters and I am able to watch as they advance from more difficult and challenging products as they grow inexperience. Typically, I see clients start out first with Body Butters, which requires Terrified womanfairly simple steps to stabilize. Oftentimes the obstacle for these Crafters that scares them from making simple emulsions is the added need for a Preservative.

Granted, Preservation is a complicated and evolving subject. As a Professional Formulator, I read 4 Journals a month cover to cover. Of that reading, I would estimate 30 or so alone is in the area of preservation as well as new “greener” preservatives. It is a constantly evolving topic.

Let me stress that we as a whole have a responsibility to provide our customers with a safe and stable product. Many of us focus on synthetic ingredients and speak to the incredibly small risk of the ingredients. However, we lose focus. More adverse incidents have occurred from the inadequately preserved products than any of these “dangerous” materials! In addition, one faces the potential of a recall in the case of a poorly preserved product. This will present a huge burden of time and assets to correct. Lastly, I hear Crafters say “It is just for my Family and Friends so I am not worried about a preservative.” I find this mind boggling. These are people who we value and they deserve a safe product jest as much as a final end-user in the Market.

Ok, Ok, I have convinced you that you need a preservative. Where do you start? Let’s start with a bit of very basic theory. What are we trying to keep from growing? Here is our list;

  • An anti-oxidant. While this is not truly a preservative issue, it does impact your product, especially when you are using naturally derived oils. Oxygen likes to oxidize or more simply uses the destructive properties of oxygen to slowly break materials down over time. Steel rusts. Natural oils oxidize and go rancid. Essential Oils can lose their fragrance and vibrancy. What are my options? (Note: I am keeping the list very simple and limited to materials a crafter will likely be able to obtain and not limited to commercial sources).
    • Tocopherol. This product is more commonly referred to as “Vitamin E” although this is somewhat simplistic. Tocopherol (not the acetate base) should be added at about 0.5{2f217b6ef4e944ec449aa2c625e1f0e1f43c0ee840d0a16b8bf46c3ef1173473} NET Tocopherol. This will protect your oils somewhat from oxidation.
    • Rosemary Oil Extract This product is comparable to Tocopherol. It is used less often since it is significantly less due to cost. While it provides no added benefit, many lines prefer it as it looks more “elegant” in an Ingredient list. It is often used in “prestige line” Cosmetics to set them apart from other products.

Ok, an anti-oxidant system is not a preservative exactly, but does add stability to your oils. If you are making anhydrous products (not containing water) this will be all you need.

Now, let us discuss some issues with a water-containing product. This would include our simplest emulsions. Water is life and as such will necessitate a more aggressive approach. In our Preservation strategy. In this case, we must provide a Broad Spectrum preservative. This means it provides coverage for;

  • Gram-Positive Bacteria
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria
  • Yeast and Mold

Gram-Negative and Gram-Positive bacteria are classified in the Clinical Laboratory by a staining technique that identifies the properties of their cell membranes. A comprehensive discussion of these organisms is beyond the scope of this article. Simply, they require different mechanisms to prevent. A Broad Spectrum preservative will provide both Gram-Negative and Gram-Positive protection.

Yeast and Mold are simpler organisms and present additional challenges to your preservative system. The growth of mold will present itself with marked colour changes in your product as the organism grows and develops colonies. This is sometimes seen as a black circle under the closure of your product that is quite visible to your customers. It will be difficult to overcome their negative experience.

Selection of preservatives can be involved and it is my intention to cover the categories of preservatives in a separate post. The selection of a preservative is involved and is based upon many factors. As such, there is really not just one preservative that you can buy and be done with it. For example, some preservatives require a pH between 4-6 to be effective. Could this be used in an Alpha Hydroxy acid peel? Absolutely not as we would expect this product to have a final pH <4. Again, we will cover these in a future post.

Lastly, preservation is not just about adding a preservative, mixing and moving on. In preservation, we should be using “Hurdle Technology” to maximize the integrity of our product.

Mark Fuller is a professional cosmetic formulator and would be happy to help with any formulation needs that you have. Mention that Saffire Blue sent you to save $200 off your formulation advice fees.  You can contact him through his website


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