All About Preservatives

You may be wondering, just what in the heck is a preservative? What am I supposed to use them for? Does my soap need a preservative? Preservatives can be a tricky if you haven’t used them before, but fear not, this post will explain the differences so that you can become the expert on preservatives.

What is a preservative?
A preservative is an anti-microbial solution that helps to 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?
Many people like their products and soaps to be all natural, but sometimes there just isn’t a way to make that happen. Currently there isn’t a good quality, affordable, all-natural preservative on the market for home crafters. Here are some good synthetic options:

Germaben Preservative – Germaben is a fabulous preservative to us when you are diluting Bramble Berry’s Lab Colors, as it keeps mold from growing in your colors (go here to learn how to dilute your Lab Colors using Germaben). It is also great preservative to use when you are making lotions, as it helps to keep them nice and creamy. Usage rate: .3-1% of the total weight of the recipe and must be used at temperatures lower than 140 degrees.

Optiphen – Optiphen is a paraben- and formaldehyde-free preservative. It is best to use in your oil-based recipes like shampoos, conditioners, and some lotions. Usage rate: .5-1.5% of the total weight of the recipe and must be used at temperatures lower than 176 degrees.

Optiphen ND – Optiphen ND is a water-soluble, broad-spectrum preservative. This preservative works best in surfactant based systems, shampoos, conditioners, gels, creams, and lotions. Usage Rate: 1% of the total weight of your recipe and must be used at a temperature lower than 176°F.

Phenonip –  Phenonip is a liquid preservative that helps to suppress the full range of microbial growth in your cremes, lotions, salt scrubs, dusting powders, and liquid soap bases. When making products at a higher temperature, this is going to be the preservative you are going to want to use. Usage rate: .5-1% of the total weight of the recipe and must be used at temperatures lower than 200 degrees.

What is NOT a preservative?
An antioxidant is not a preservative. It lacks the anti-microbial qualities that other actual preservatives have. We believe the options above must be used to truly prevent mold and bacterial growth in your lotion products.

Grapefruit Seed Extract – Grapefruit Seed Extract (commonly known as GSE) is a thick and golden antioxidant that helps to prevent your oils from going bad in your lotions and lotion bars, but it's not a preservative. We never recommend using GSE as the only preservative in your products. But if you are looking for a great antioxidant, GSE is the one to go with.

Rosemary Oleoresin – Rosemary Oleoresin, also known as Rosemary Oil Extract or ROE, is an oil-soluble, all-natural extract that is used to prevent rancidity in lotions and oil products. It helps to extend the shelf life of your product, but it won't preserve it.

Vitamin E Oil – Vitamin E is a thick and viscous oil that is super easy to mix into lotions, liquid oils, and even bath bombs for its skin-loving properties. It is a wonderful antioxidant, but it isn’t considered a preservative because it has no anti-microbial properties to it. Many home crafters use it thinking it will preserve their products, but all it can do is extend the life of the oils in your product.

What products need preservatives?
Any recipe that includes water in it or any product that may get water in it needs a preservative. That includes most lotions and cremes, sugar or salt 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 your cold process or melt and pour projects. They have a pH level that does not allow mold or bacteria growth in your soaps. Liquid soap does not need a preservative either but it doesn’t hurt to add a little just to be extra careful.


Using a preservative in your products is not required, but it is a responsible way to ensure that your products don’t reach your customers or gift recipients containing mold or bacteria.