Natural Preservatives

essential oils

Natural Preservatives

The use of natural preservatives can be one way to help your skin care have a longer shelf life.

One of the reasons to use natural skin care is to avoid the use of chemical preservatives that may irritate or skin, or even have harmful effects on your body by introduction through your skin. Some chemical preservatives promote skin problems even if you don't notice a direct sensitivity.

I am convinced, and know from personal experience, that for some people acne problems can be a direct result of chemical preservative sensitivity.

The question is: Are you sentenced to making new formulations every time you use them, or at least every few days?

If you make up a mask or cleanser from grocery items, like fruit and vegetables, then yes, they need to be made up fresh each time you use them. At the very most, you may be able to use half and store half in the refrigerator for the next day.

So what can you do to preserve your natural skin care creams, lotions and oil blends?

Most importantly, when making your natural product, follow these guidelines:

General guidelines for bacteria-free skin care

Make sure that you don't contaminate your ingredients during preparation.

Make sure that your work surface and utensils are very clean or sterile. Wash your hands so that you don't introduce bacteria or any contamination.

Store finished product in very clean dark or opaque, preferably glass, jars or bottles.

This will prevent the degrading effects of sunlight on your formulation.

Store your finished product away in a cool place.

Refrigeration is good, but a cool cupboard is usually sufficient to stop direct heat from damaging your product.

Make sure your container is airtight

Keeping your product airtight will avoid oxidation, which can be a problem with natural products.

Use a clean spoon, cotton swab or other utensil rather than dipping your hands into the jar

Again, this will avoid contamination from any bacteria that may be on your hands.

Make small batches

Natural Preservatives will help your formulations last longer than if not preserved, but making small batches that can be used up within a reasonable amount of time will ensure that your products will stay as fresh as you intended.

Dry bath products

Dry bath products, using salts, sugars, dry milk powder, teas, and bath bombs will stay fresh as long as water is not introduced. The life of scrubs using oils (no water-based ingredients) will be safe, but can be extended by using a natural antioxidant.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are the most natural anti-microbial ingredients you can use. The addition of certain oils will help preserve the bacteria-free integrity of your concoction. These include tea tree oil, lavender, rosemary, rose, sandalwood, thyme, sage, clove, cinnamon, cumin, eucalyptus, caraway and lemon, but there are others.

Check the properties of all essential oils in your formulations.


If you have an oil blend for your face, you can use a bottle with a dropper. For lotions or shampoos, there are plastic bottles with flip-top caps that are light diffusing and convenient.

Mountain Rose Herbs has a full collection of bottles and jars, glass and plastic, suitable for your natural concoctions. Using a pretty container is not only effective as a natural preservative, it's sure to make you feel pampered!

A passion for organics

Using natural preservatives

When will natural preservatives help you?

When your formulation contains water, milk, hydrosols or infusions, you will have use it within 3-4 days, refrigerated, or use some preservative. This not optional, because the water content allows the growth of harmful bacteria, mold, yeast and fungi. You must use a preservative of some type in order to prevent contamination and microbial growth.

So, what ingredients can you use to help preserve your potions and lotions even a bit longer so that you can feel secure that you are not using something on your skin that is bacteria or fungus-laden?

There are some natural ingredients that have natural preservative qualities, and they are:

Borax Powder

Borax acts as an emulsifier, natural preservative and buffering agent for moisturizers, scrubs and bath salts.

From Mountain Rose Herbs:

Borax is found in creams, lotions, shampoos, gels, bath salts, and bath bombs. It is an emulsifier, preservative, cleansing agent, and a buffering agent. Commonly used in bath salts, borax has the ability to soften the water, and suspend soap particles in the bathwater. The result is soft, clean, and healthy skin, which is not clogged by the residue of soap particles. When used in collaboration with citric acid in bath bomb or bath salt recipes, the product will produce a fizzing action. It also forms bath or body gel, when mixed with water and guar gum. In summary, Borax has the following uses for body care products:

  • Preservative
  • Emulsifier
  • Water softener
  • Cleanser
  • Particle suspension
  • Buffering agent
  • Fizzing action (when used with citric acid)

To use: Simply mix borax into the water portion of your recipe, and heat to a temperature of above 75 °C. Stir until fully dissolved, and then incorporate into your recipe.

Rosemary Antioxidant Extract

This extract is the number one choice in natural preservatives, containing romarinic acid and carnosic acid, which are powerful antioxidants, important for preservation and also imparting wonderful antioxidant skin effects! Rosemary extract is concentrated, which will allow you to use if sparingly, preferably around 0.2 to 0.5 percent.

Rosemary extract should not be used while you are pregnant.


Liquid organic lecithin acts as an emulsifier, thickener and mild preservative, as well as having hydrating and moisturizing properties for the skin. In formulations, it can act to suspend ingredients, allowing them to stay blended. For skin, it has the unique ability to penetrate to a cellular level, carrying the benefits it contains, and of other ingredients it's blended with directly to the cells and bloodstream.

Lecithin may be added to any formulation at about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon per 19 oz. batch.

Citric Acid

Citric Acid is obtained from naturally occurring organic acids, and is used for a variety skin and natural preservative benefits, including:

  • Antioxidant and preservative properties
  • prevents rancidity and bacteria growth
  • Astringency and acidity, adjusting PH
  • Readily metabolized and eliminated from the body

Citric acid is the ingredient responsible for "fizzing" in bath bomb recipes. For other body care recipes, it should be kept at a ratio of about 0.5%.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E contains natural antioxidants that prevent rancidity in your products as well as antioxidant and emollient benefits for your skin.

Even with all the benefits, it can be mildly caustic to skin and should be kept to a dilution of at least 50%, and kept in an airtight container out of extreme heat in order to preserve the integrity.

Grapefruit Seed Extract

Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) is a citrus seed based anti-microbial and is one of the most widely applied ingredients for its anti-bacterial & preservative qualities. Blended with vegetable glycerin to make it non-irritating to the skin and mucous membranes, this extract is highly concentrated and should diluted, comprising not more than 2% of any formulation. Use GSE at .5 to 1% to preserve most formulations.

To sum it all up, be as sterile as possible when making up natural care products in order to avoid contamination. When needed, choose one of the natural preservatives to extend the life of your beautiful, natural skin care.

Be natural! Be safe! Be ingredient savvy! And....have fun!

Create Spa Products

Here's a great resource with lots if ideas and recipes!

A great resource for anyone who already makes skin care or would like to begin, Jane Church's e-book The Handcrafter's Companion: Create Spa Quality Products for Profit and Fun, will teach you everything you need to know to make facial masks, bath and body products, butters, balms, lotions and more...

Try Carley's Clear and Smooth skin care for lovely results with natural ingredients. Carley's is amazingly effective for acne-prone skin, and has some wonderful, natural anti-aging skin care products, as well!

Natural Preservatives: Many essential oils have natural preservative properties

Basic Moisturizer Recipe