DIY skincare products and how to preserve them

So you want to make DIY skincare products.

If so, you have lots of company. The main question here is how to preserve them. This is even more important if you are thinking about making skincare products using natural ingredients and botanicals. Even DIYers should have a basic knowledge of how to preserve their products if they want them to remain safe and effective over time.

Why Is Preservation Important?

  • The ingredients themselves may have been contaminated by the supplier during extraction or transport.
  • You might inadvertently contaminate the product depending on where and how you create it (airborne particles, non-sterile utensils or containers, etc.)
  • The product may be improperly stored (high heat, improper container, exposure to sunlight, etc.)
  • The product may contain ingredients that require preservation like botanicals, clays and hydrosols, and there is none (more on this below
  • The product may have the right pH level for optimal growth (e.g. between 3 and 8)
  • Which Contaminants Do Preservatives Work On?

    There are three main contaminants – bacteria, yeast, and mold. The most common contaminants are:

    • Staph aureus – bacterium
    • E. coli – bacterium
    • Pseudomonas Euruginosa – bacterium
    • Candida albicans (yeast)
    • Aspergillus niger (mold)

    These organisms have the potential to cause serious problems – even more so if you are making DIY cosmetics which go near the eyes. Regardless of where they go, who wants to spread these little guys on the skin?!

    While there are some chemical compounds that protect against all three – like bleach – these are not candidates for skincare products. What usually happens is that manufacturers use a combination of preservatives that, when combined, effectively prevent bacteria, yeast and mold from growing in a formulation. Basically, wherever you have water, you have the potential to have one or more of these contaminants in your finished product. These organisms love water. Therefore, oil-in-water or water-in-oil emulsions MUST be preserved. Even if your product is refrigerated, the shelf life will be relatively short. You could get around this by using small containers (1 oz or smaller). However, if your product was already contaminated due to the situations mentioned above, these organisms can multiply in a relatively short period of time. Keep in mind that our skin hosts bacteria, so every time you dip your finger into the product, you are introducing contaminants. Why not be on the safe side?

    Which Preservatives Are Effective Against Bacteria, Yeast, and Mold?

    This requires that you do a little homework. There are many alternatives available to DIY crafters, and it’s important to review the details of each and to know the amounts that must be used. You may be asking if essential oils can be used as preservatives. The short answer is “No”. Essential oils are very potent plant extracts, and as such are difficult to standardize. They can also cause irritation in higher quantities, which you would probably need in order for them to work as preservatives. Thus, an essential oil combination that is effective against all three contaminants may be too overwhelming to be used in a skincare formulation. You will find a list of common preservatives in a link in the References.

    How To Prevent Contamination With DIY Skincare Products

    • Make your product oil-based or anhydrous – without water. Organisms cannot grow in an oil-based medium. The balms are all-purpose, super-moisturizing formulas containing antioxidants like Vitamin E and Rosemary oil, but no synthetic preservatives. Check out our body balms
    • Don’t introduce water into your product – whether it is oil-based or not. With oil-based products, once you introduce water, if they are not preserved, then organisms will grow. This is especially true for products like sugar scrubs. Although many are oil-based, if you use them in the shower and get water into them, they have become
    • Use tubes or airless containers for your products. This is becoming more popular among major skincare retailers for their water-based products, and for good reason. Products in tubes and airless containers are not exposed to dirty fingers or outside contamination. This allows them to last longer with less rancidity.
    • Adjust the pH of your product. One of the reasons why bar and liquid soap do not need preservatives is that their pH is generally 10 or above – not a friendly growth environment. The same goes for a pH below 4. It’s important to know what pH your final product is so that you can choose the right broad-spectrum preservative.
    • Use high-sugar, high-salt or glycerin in your products. Most bacteria and yeast need water to grow, and sugar and salt draw water out of product it’s in. Glycerin works similarly, but must be in too high a concentration (70%) to provide a pleasant feel. However, its moisturizing properties make it a popular ingredient in skincare products.

    Making your own skincare products can be instructional and fun. If done properly and with the right preservatives, you can craft something that you can be proud of, while ensuring safety. So whatever the reason for DIY skincare – whether it’s to avoid problematic chemicals like parabens, formaldehyde releasing preservatives, or fragrance, make sure that you do your homework and use techniques that will keep your product contaminant-free.

    Making Skincare website article on preservatives and resources
    Scientific American article on salt and sugar preservation
    Natural News article on parabens

    Prevent dry skin this winter

    Are you looking to prevent dry skin?

    During cold weather months, there is a tendency for many of us to develop dry skin and hair. We can blame this on forced air heating, tightly enclosed spaces, and/or a tendency to drink less water. A combination of factors can result in a humidity level of 40% or less. When this occurs, we risk drying out mucous membranes, as well, which can lead to a higher risk of developing respiratory tract and sinus infections. Our hair can also become drier which can lead to more fly aways or static electricity.

    Fortunately, there are a few things that we can do to prevent dry skin and hair resulting from these and other factors. They don’t require fancy equipment or expensive products, either. Here are a few tips:

    Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

    It may seem obvious, but colder weather often results in more sedentary behavior, diminished perspiration, and a tendency to drink less water. Alternatively, we may also drink more hot coffee, cocoa, or tea which have a diuretic effect. Alcohol has the same effect. The result is dehydration. To counteract this, it’s important for us to monitor our water intake and to drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee or glass of wine that we imbibe. We know we’re adequately hydrated when our urine is the color of light straw. This can also be affected by the foods we eat and drink (e.g., beets, cranberries juice). It is merely a rough measure of our level of hydration. If we pinch our skin and it does not retract immediately, it is also an indication of dehydration. Be sure to take into account the fruits and vegetables with a high water content that can also contribute to proper hydration.

    Avoid hot water baths and showers.

    This removes protective oils that keep our skin and hair pliable. Use lukewarm water instead and apply a barrier balm like our Body Balms or our Dry Oil to skin and hair immediately after bathing or showering. These products contain humectants like candelilla wax (trapping moisture) or glycerin (drawing water) which serve to trap water in the skin. Just lightly towel-dry and apply products while skin is still warm and damp. Natural oils can also help to preserve the skin’s acid mantle which can be impacted by harsh detergent cleansers and shampoos. A small application to dry hair can also help to preserve its cuticle.

    Buy a hygrometer

    It reads the relative humidity in any room. If the humidity level nears 40%, you have dry air that can sap moisture from skin and hair. To prevent dry skin, you can purchase a humidifier. Personal steam inhalers are also becoming popular and can help moisturize mucus membranes. We are undecided on facial mists. While refreshing during hot summer months, they are primarily water, relatively expensive, and the water evaporation may leave skin drier than before.

    Use a natural moisturizer throughout the day as needed.

    Be sure to read labels and avoid products containing silicone and petroleum by-products. These are neither nourishing nor earth-friendly. Products containing glycerin, castor oil, olive, jojoba, argan or other quick-penetrating oil can be beneficial for skin and hair over the long term. Coconut oil, while great to have on hand, can be drying for some when applied directly. And yes, even oily skin can benefit from oils. If you are acne-prone, try grapeseed or pumpkin seed oil. Oils that don’t clog pores (non-comedogenic) include argan and hemp seed oils. Results vary by individual, so you’ll need to experiment; a little goes a long way. Hemp, pumpkin seed, argan, and olive oil tend to become rancid easily, to it’s best to refrigerate them, or buy them in small quantities.

    Moisturize while you sleep.

    Many find it beneficial to use a hand cream or a foot balm with cotton gloves and socks. This gives the product a chance to sink in and soften rough areas overnight.

    With a little effort, you can treat your skin to nourishing oils while preventing dry skin during the cold weather months. (Disclaimer: This information is not intended to prevent or cure disease. See your doctor if you are having respiratory, dermatological, or other symptoms of illness.)