One of the most common things we are asked about is product preservation and rightly so – it can be a rather confusing topic!
Thankfully it appears the days of demonising preservatives appears to have passed and most of us now know that for a product to have any sort of useful lifespan, some form of preservation will be required. If you are still of the opinion that preservative free is best then we suggest you watch this video from Humblebee and Me, Marie does a great job of explaining why we need preservatives in our products and debunks some common misconceptions about preservatives along the way: https://youtu.be/YI3lsPJyMgY
What is a preservative?
A preservative is an ingredient that prevents the growth of unwanted bacteria, yeast, moulds and fungi in your product. For obvious reasons, a product that is covered in fuzz or full of bugs like E.coli or Staphylococcus aureus is going to be unusable at best and potentially harmful in the worst case scenario. Unfortunately, many personal care products create the exact environment these nasties thrive in and so as responsible formulators we must find a way to stop them doing just that.
What isn’t a preservative?
Many people think essential oils can be used as preservatives – unfortunately that’s not the case. Whilst it’s true that many essential oils exhibit antimicrobial properties, when added to a formulation they are simply not strong enough to function as an effective preservative.
Another common misconception is that Vitamin E is a preservative. Well it’s an antioxidant, meaning it helps to prevent the oxidation of fats and oils – Oxidation is a process which eventually causes fats & oils to go rancid. However it has no useful effect on microbes, in fact it can act as a food source for some bugs! Stay tuned for a future blog discussing antioxidants.
Honey is also not a preservative. Again, whilst Honey does have some antimicrobial properties (especially high UMF Manuka Honey!) when added to a formula at typically used concentrations it will simply serve as a food source for unwanted bugs. The same applies for glycerine, sugar, salt and vinegar. These all will inhibit the growth of microbes but cosmetic and personal care products are not formulated to contain these ingredients at high enough concentrations for them to be effective as preservatives.
When do you use a preservative?
Preservatives are required when a product contains water or, if it does not contain water but is likely to encounter water regularly – e.g. a body scrub intended for use in the shower.
Microbes require water and a food source to grow, so as mentioned previously most water containing products are ideal breeding grounds for unwanted microbes.
When can you get away without using a preservative?
If your product only contains oil (anhydrous) and is unlikely to encounter any water then chances are you will not need to add a preservative. A good example of this is balms, body oils and face oils as they are made using oils and waxes they generally do not need a preservative.
In all other circumstances we recommend using a suitable preservative in your formulation, click here to view the range of preservatives available on PureNature.
Next time, we will discuss how preservatives work, different types of preservatives, natural vs synthetic preservatives and how to ensure your preservative is safe and effective.