More and more people are aware of the dangers of parabens, and no longer want them in their cosmetics, which is understandable. Parabens absorb through the skin and can affect the estrogen receptor. They accelerate the damage of skin cells caused by UV rays and sometimes cause allergic reactions.
Even though we all want paraben, formaldehyde (…) free cosmetics, it would be even worse if there were no preservatives at all in the cosmetics we buy.
But the charm of making our own homemade cosmetics is that we have a choice to use what we want and that is natural preservatives. Those are much better for our health than the preservatives widely used in commercial cosmetics.
Why Should You Use Preservatives in Cosmetics
Preservatives prevent the growth of microbes that would otherwise live in your cosmetic preparations, multiply, and cause all kinds of health problems.
If preservatives weren’t used:
- your homemade cosmetics would spoil in a matter of days
- disease-causing microbes would grow inside the product
By not using preservatives, you are risking your health and of everyone who uses your cosmetics.
It is shocking how much recipes there is on the internet that don’t even mention the preservatives, let alone contain it. Always be certain of the quality of the recipe you are following.
Cosmetics without preservatives only last for a few days.
If refrigerated, they can last for a week top. If you will not be using the preservative, keep in mind to use the cream in a few days.
The Nerdy Farm Wife made an experiment on natural preservatives for cosmetics. Homemade lotion without any preservative showed the presence of lots of bacteria and mold after one month, even if it wasn’t visible on the lotion. Even if the preparation looks just fine, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain all sorts of nasties.
When to Use Preservatives
When making cosmetics that contain aqueous ingredients, it is essential to use preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. Preservatives are required in preparations such as:
- and other preparation that includes aqueous ingredients
If you are making preparations with only oils, butters, waxes etc., and no aqueous ingredients, you don’t have to use preservatives because microbes won’t grow there. So you won’t be needing antimicrobial preservative in preparations such as:
- lip balms
- body and facial oils
- oil based body butters
- lotion bars
- and other non-aqueous products
There Are Two Types of Preservatives
This type of preservatives prevents the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast.
Cosmetics that contain aqueous ingredients such as water and hydrosols are extremely prone to spoilage. Often, you can’t even tell your cosmetic formulation has been contaminated with bacteria because the appearance of the cream isn’t changed. But the smell changes, so if you notice the weird smell don’t use the cream.
Antioxidants prevent the oxidation of the ingredients. The result of oxidation is compounds that are harmful and that decrease the quality of the product. You shouldn’t confuse antioxidants with antimicrobial preservatives, often called just preservatives.
Antioxidants don’t prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast so adding an antioxidant to your creams will not be enough.
Which Natural Preservatives for Cosmetics to Use
I will be listing a couple of popular antimicrobial natural preservatives for cosmetics that you might be considering for your homemade cosmetics. I’ve listed their virtues and shortcomings so you can choose which one to use easier.
All of these preservatives are completely natural, but I’ve also listed one not completely natural preservative Geogard 221 that is the most effective so you might want to give it a chance too.
All of these natural preservatives for cosmetics, along with Geogard 221, comply with COSMOS regulations. COSMOS is an EU regulative that was created due to many frauds of labeling non-natural cosmetics as natural. According to the COSMOS regulation, all ingredients must meet specific quality requirements.
Natural preservatives for cosmetics
Essential oils are a great preservative, but unfortunately, essential oils that have the best effect on preventing the growth of microbes also contain compounds that cause irritation and allergic reactions, especially in concentrations that work against microbes. This is why essential oils can’t be used as preservatives.
But essential oils are still used in creating preservatives. Bio botanica has created three natural preservatives for cosmetics using essential oils and other extracts. They developed Biopein, Neopein, and Suprapein.
Suprapein contains essential oils and extracts of oregano, thyme, cinnamon, olive, rosemary, peppermint, lavender, North American plant species Hydrastis canadensis, and lemon. Recommended use level by the manufacturer is 0,45% and it is added in the oil phase of the cosmetic formulation. If you chose to use this preservative, you will notice the dominant smell of peppermint and thymol from thyme. Your creams will mostly smell like that so if you wish to use odorless preservative you’ll probably like some of the others better.
Biopein is the most powerful from the three. It has a strong smell of cinnamon. Only 0.2% is required to preserve the product. It is added to the oil phase and truly effective. An imperfection of this preservative is the presence of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol which sometimes cause allergic skin reactions, and it shouldn’t be used on small children.
Neopein is an enhanced version of Biopein as it doesn’t contain cinnamaldehyde. This resulted in reduced efficiency compared to Biopein. it is used in the ratio of 0,55%, in the oil phase. It is more effective than Suprapein and doesn’t cause irritations as much as Biopein.
Naticide is a natural preservative by Sinerga. It is also based on natural aromatic molecules. It doesn’t contain potential allergens. It must be distributed equally in the aqueous and oil phase so it might be a bit more complicated for beginners. It is used in ratios 0.3 – 1% (preferably 1%).
Silverion 2400 is a water soluble silver salt of citric acid. Silver has been used for centuries in skin care as a mild antiseptic and as a stimulant for the skin regeneration. It is used at concentrations of 0.1 – 0.3%. The main Silverion’s benefit is the absence of any odor. Siverion is added when the emulsion is finished and when it is no longer hot. It is not compatible with hydro dispersible (soluble in water) CO2 rosemary extract and vitamin C because both are reducing agents so they reduce silver ion to elemental silver. Preparations with silver should be stored in dark glass containers.
Grapefruit Seed extract has been popular among natural cosmetic enthusiast for a long time before it was found that most grapeseed extracts on the market contain synthetic preservatives (benzethonium chloride and / or benzalkonium chloride). Some commercial extracts contained up to 20% of benzalkonium chloride, the amount that presents a real health hazard. The natural grapeseed extract is not as nearly as effective (research) so this probably isn’t the best preservative to use. Depending on the manufacturer, it is added in ratios 0.1 – 0.01% in case of a 60% extract.
Leucidal contains salicylates, but in low concentration that is not harmful to any skin type. It should not be used on people allergic to salicylates. It is usually added in concentration 2 – 4%. In emulsions containing the aqueous and oil phase, it should be in a concentration of 3-4%. It shouldn’t be heated to the temperature higher than 70 °C because it becomes inactive.
Leucidial SF is salicylate free. This preservative was found to be a bit less effective than Leucidal.
NataPres doesn’t impart any additional color or odors to your formulation. Recommended use level for cosmetic formulations is 0.5% – 2.5%. Products which are highly prone to mold or yeast growth might need additional fungal protection. I prefer using preservatives which give me the certainty that there are no bad guys in my formulations, so I avoid this one.
Geogard Ultra has an excellent efficiency. It has an organic origin and it contains 74% gluconolactone, glucuronic acid lactone, 25% sodium benzoate, and 1% calcium gluconate.
Benzyl alcohol is an organic compound. It is used typically in concentrations from 0.3 – 2%, which is a lot, but it is a very effective preservative. Therefore, a lot of effort was invested by chemists to find a combination that will allow the reduction of the concentration of benzyl alcohol. And it was found, but it isn’t exactly 100% natural – Geogard 221.
One not completely natural preservative to consider
Geogard 221 is a mixture of dehydroacetic acid and benzyl alcohol. Dehydroacetic acid is allowed in eco cosmetics even though it is petrochemically obtained. Geogard 221 contains 8% DHA, 87% benzyl alcohol and 5% of water. It is used in concentrations of 0,3 – 0,8% and it is an excellent preservative. It is one of the few that is equally efficient as parabens and phenoxyethanol. At such low concentrations, it doesn’t present any burden to the metabolism, even when used on children and on a relatively large area of the body. Moreover, benzyl alcohol has the ability to reduce the itchiness of the skin, which can be useful for skin ailments accompanied by itching.
The Most Efficient Ones?
If you want to use the most efficient one to be sure that no microbes will grow in your preparations, then you will love Geogard 221.
If you definitely want to use only 100% natural preservatives for cosmetics that are also highly efficient, you can consider Silverion 2400 or Leucidal. But you won’t be wrong choosing any of the listed, except for grapeseed extract that I wouldn’t recommend.
How to Test Your Cosmetics for the Presence of Microbes
If you wish to test your cosmetics, there is a microbial testing kit available for purchase on Amazon. It shows you if your preparation is contaminated or not.