All About Preservatives

Some of our most frequent questions are about preservatives, specifically what they are and how to use them. They're easy to work with once you learn some basic guidelines. Find those below. 

What is a preservative?
It's an anti-microbial solution that helps prevent mold and bacteria from growing in your products.

moldy lotion

This lotion did not have a proper preservative. 

What kind of preservatives are out there?
There are plenty of options to choose from. Here are the ones we carry. 

  • Germaben: This is perfect for diluting Bramble Berry Lab Colors - learn how to do that here. It's also a great preservative to use when you're making lotions because it helps keep them nice and creamy. Usage rate: 0.3-1% of the total weight of the recipe. Must be used at temperatures lower than 140° F.
  • Optiphen: Optiphen is a paraben and formaldehyde-free preservative. It's best for oil-based recipes like shampoo, conditioner, scrub, and lotion. Usage rate: 0.5-1.5% of the total weight of the recipe. Must be used at temperatures lower than 176° F.
  • Optiphen ND: If you're making a water-based recipe like toner or room spray, use paraben and formaldehyde-free Optiphen ND. It also works well for diluting Lab ColorsUsage rate: 1% of the total weight of the recipe. Must be used at a temperature lower than 176° F.
  • Phenonip: This is a broad-spectrum preservative that works in everything from lotion to scrub. It can withstand higher temperatures too. Usage rate: 0.5-1% of the total weight of the recipe. Must be used at temperatures lower than 200° F.

All of the preservatives we carry are synthetic. We've tested quite a few natural options and they haven't prevented mold and bacteria growth. We'll continue looking, and if we find one that works we'll bring it in.

What is not a preservative?
An antioxidant is not a preservative because it doesn't have anti-microbial properties. The following products may extend the shelf life of recipes, but they won't prevent mold and bacteria growth.

  • Grapefruit Seed Extract: This is a thick and golden antioxidant that helps prevent oils from going bad. You can use it with the preservatives above, but we don't recommend using it on its own.
  • Rosemary Oleoresin: Also known as rosemary oil extract or ROE, this is an oil-soluble, all-natural extract that helps prevent rancidity in lotions and oil products.
  • Vitamin E Oil: Vitamin E is a thick and viscous liquid that's super easy to mix into lotions, oils, and even bath bombs. It's a wonderful antioxidant and it adds skin-loving properties to recipes.

What products need preservatives?
Any recipe that's made with water or may get water in it needs a preservative. That includes most lotions, scrubs, and some types of body powders. Learn more in the Preservatives Quick Guide article.

Does soap need a preservative?
You never have to use preservatives in cold process or melt and pour projects. They have a pH level that doesn't allow mold or bacteria growth. Liquid soap doesn't need a preservative either, but you can add one to be extra careful or if you plan to sell it.