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

    hand washing with bar soap

    Bar soap vs liquid soap – the debate rages

    Have you ever asked yourself about bar soap vs liquid soap for your regular skincare routine? There are many cleansers on the market today, and it can often be confusing to figure out which product is best for you and your family.

    There are a few things to consider, like 1) cost, 2) effectiveness, 3) earth friendliness, and 4) additives. Which is easier to use? Which is kinder to skin? Which ones provide the most skin benefits? The choices may seem endless.

    It’s important to know what soap is. “Real” soap is made by combining a fat with an alkali. IN the beginning, soaps were created by using rendered animal fat and wood ash. The basic formula hasn’t changed very much. What has changed are the ingredients used to make today’s soaps. Commercial soap manufacturers use fats derived from rendered cows or pigs to make their soaps. Manufacturers like WEBA would rather not support the factory farms that produce most of the animal fat used today. Instead, we use organic plant oils and butters, which contain many skin-nourishing fatty acids.

    Companies also make non-soap cleansers which consist of commercially manufactured surfactants, like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which can be derived using petrolatum, a non-renewable resource. They are high foaming and they clean well, which can sometimes result in skin irritation. It is particularly harsh on hair, especially color-treated hair. There are alternatives to this ingredient which area less harsh available on the market today. You can read more about sulfates by visiting Best Health Magazine’s The truth about sulfates webpage.

    Liquid soap, ounce for ounce, is more expensive than bar soap. The primary ingredient in liquid soaps and gels is water. This makes it more wasteful, as it’s hard to measure how much you’re using. This also makes it more likely to grow bacteria and mold. Hence, companies must add preservatives to liquid soaps. They often add other additives, as well, like artificial fragrance and coloring. Some of these ingredients may cause irritation or allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Bar soap does not require a preservative; its high pH provides protection against bacterial growth. However, bar soap manufacturers can use additives, too, so it’s important to read labels to avoid potential allergens or harsh chemicals.

    If the jury’s still out on which soap is better, why not give our bar soaps a try? They are plant-based, synthetic and SLS free, and use pure aromatherapy essential oils for a fresh natural scent that is naturally antiseptic. You can see our selection by visiting our bar soaps store page.