Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Natural" Preservatives

Natalie Woodman of Western Australia wrote this week (and gave me permission to quote the conversation in case it might help someone else):

I often read with interest information on your website. Very informative! Thank you!

I have been making my own skincare for a year and, over that time, have experimented with a number of preservatives. Preferring to use safe ingredients I have found that GRAPEFRUIT SEED EXTRACT seems to work well as a preservative, however I am interested as BENZOIN gum as an alternative.

On your website I read information from Martin Watt, UK.CERT. PHYT. MEDICAL HERBALIST "As a herbalist and essential oils educator, give me a well tried and tested synthetic preservative any day to a natural one, particularly when the safety of the natural one has not been adequately tested. Natural is NOT inevitably safe as many seem to think"

Can you give me some on advice grapefruit seed extract vs benzoin gum as a preservative? Or perhaps another good preservative?  I appreciate any information you can provide.

Yours sincerely
And I wrote back:

Natalie I am not comfortable with either... benzoin is not a true preservative..I think Martin may be a bit 'over the top' with his warnings...although there ARE some people who will react to benzoin every time...  it is not an effective preservative for products with a water phase.  And grapefruit seed extract has been proven all over again to have synthetics added. We just posted a newly released study about it on our FB page...I'll see if I can find the link..

New series of tests on Grapefruit Seed Extract repeat results from a decade ago; it's still adulterated, but with different synthetic preservatives.

We have our lotions and creams made for us by someone who specializes in that, because the whole area of proper preservation makes me nervous...and we don't have the time or energy (or spare person ;) to really become expert on I 'subcontract' to someone who IS an expert.

Two people to contact... Angie at  is a reseller of ingredients... among them a full range of preservatives.  Her website is CRAMMED with information.  I would start reading, and go to her w/ questions. She's a marvelous resource.

The other is a microbiologist in Colorado... Cindy Jones at Sagescript... she does MY product microbiology testing...    something you need to look at. She also makes her own products, don't think she sells ingredients tho..

at any rate...  in my experience and study, I don't believe there is such a thing as a 'natural' preservative.  one goes with the least harmful one can... (ie, avoiding formaldehyde donors, and parabens...)  but a contaminated product is going to do far more damage than 0.5% of a synthetic chemical..  I would LOVE to be able to offer '100% natural" creams and lotions, with totally natural and pronounceable ingredients.  But I prefer to offer products that I know are not going to grow bacteria.  One woman who has had an 'all natural' skincare company for nearly as long as I've been in business buys some of her ingredients from me.  In the past I bought her products.  And recommended them.  Until the day I opened a jar of cream that I hadn't used for a few days...and it had green furries on top.  THAT convinced me that 100% natural wasn't the wisest goal...

hope this helps some!!!

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Another comment, not part of the discussion with Natalie. I often see Vitamin E, (mixed tocopherols) and Rosemary CO2 extract mentioned as preservatives.  They are *not* true preservatives. They are anti-oxidants. As such, they may extend the shelf life of shortlived fixed (carrier) oils. They will do nothing to protect your products against mold or bacteria.


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