I saw on another site today yet another soapmaker who doesn’t like preservatives, who thinks they’re evil and so forth. That’s well and good, and I applaud those who firmly believe in creating all natural products and can do so safely.
There’s an easy way to make all-natural products which won’t need a preservative: Make them without water. Such products as lotion bars, soaps and lip balms don’t require a preservative. (Water is part of the soapmaking process, but it’s not in the final product.) Lotion bars, lip balms, lip glosses and body butters (real ones, made with butters and oils) are anhydrous formulations, meaning they contain no water. Since they don’t contain water, they present an unfavorable environment for mold, fungus and bacteria growth and need only an antioxidant to slow down the rancidity of the oils and butters.
Then you come to lotions, creams and yes, even scrubs. These products contain water, which means they present a very favorable environment for the growth of “nasties” – mold, fungi and bacteria. In fact, these “all-natural” nasties can start growing in lotions within three hours of their manufacture without a proven, broad-spectrum preservative. You can’t see them. I once had a soap seller tell me she had been using a bottle of the unpreserved lotion she was selling for two months and it wasn’t growing. It doesn’t have to be visibly growing for nasties still to be present. In fact, they’re microscopic, and because they’re so tiny, they can enter a person’s blood stream through the most microscopic of skin breaks, such as are common in people with diabetes-related edema, and also those one might get after shaving. These nasties can be particularly dangerous to someone whose immune system may already be compromised by other diseases, such as cancer, and can lead to sickness, hospitalization and even death.
Scrubs are slightly different. When I make scrubs, they contain no water, yet still I preserve them. Why? Because they’re very thick and can easily have water introduced into the container. A wet hand dipping into the jar in the shower is enough to contaminate the whole batch. I now make my scrubs with sugar, but when I first started making them, I used salt which, as most people know, is a type of preservative. I opened the jar one day after not using them for a while and the inside was covered with spots of black mildew (a type of fungus). Suffice it to say, that jar hit the trash!
I think everything needs to be a matter of perspective. When I make my lotions, I use a paraben-free, broad-spectrum preservative at the lowest possible effective rate. This comes to 0.8%, or 5 grams of preservative to over 500 grams of lotion, which makes 5 4-ounce bottles. (To give you an idea, an ounce is about 28.4 grams by comparison.) So, you’ve got five grams of preservative over four bottles. What it comes down to is, even with the chemical preservative, my essential-oil scented lotions are still 99.2% all natural. Compared to the risk of killing a customer by selling them a dangerous product, I’ll accept that as close enough.
By the way, I have all my water-based formulas tested for preservative efficacy by a reputable lab before selling them. So far, they’ve all passed with flying colors, far exceeding what even the FDA considers “safe.”