Article by: Perry Romanowski

We’ve previously written about cosmetic preservatives and for the most part, there are ingredients that are effective for almost any standard condition a cosmetic product will experience.

However, for a variety of reasons standard preservatives are scary to some people. Cosmetic marketing departments have discovered this and have started requesting that cosmetic chemists come up with formulas that are “paraben free,” “formaldehyde free,” or worse, “preservative free.”

They have no idea how difficult this is.

Why use preservatives?

The first thing to consider is why you are using a preservative in the first place. In a perfect world, cosmetic chemists wouldn’t use preservatives because they typically have absolutely no beneficial impact on the performance of the final product. They are an added ingredient which conflicts with the notion of minimalist formulation.

Unfortunately, the real world is populated with microbes, some of which spread dangerous diseases. Gram negative, Gram positive, yeasts, and molds have all been found to grow in various cosmetics. As a formulator, you need to ensure that these things do not grow and that your cosmetics are not dangerous. Not only is it the ethical thing to do, it’s also legally required.

Unless your product packaging is impervious to microbes (e.g. aerosols) and you’ve made the product under aseptic conditions, you need some kind of preservative system.

Why use parabens & formaldehyde donors?

Now that we’ve established that you need preservatives, it’s just a matter of figuring out which to use. By far the most effective, broad spectrum preservatives you can use include

  • Parabens
  • Formaldehyde donors
  • Halogenated compounds

Other preservatives just aren’t as effective against as many possible microbes.

Additionally, these ingredients have been used for many years with tons of safety data supporting their use. Any new or alternative preservative you would use will not have as much supporting safety data. When all these considerations are added together, there is very little reason to use an alternative preservative.

But if your marketing department insists on handcuffing your formulating efforts by limiting your preservative choice, you can consider some alternatives.

Regulatory issues

Before giving some alternatives, you should be aware of the regulations. Things are much too complicated for this blog post, but here is a quick summary of cosmetic regulations.

In the USA, cosmetics are regulated by the FDA. The regulations are that essentially you can use any preservative you want as long as your product remains safe. There are a couple preservatives that have been banned or strictly regulated including mercury compounds, hexachlorophene, bithionol, and halogenated salicylanilides. But the FDA does require that you provide proof that each batch you ship for sale is adequately preserved. This means you have to do microbial challenge testing and demonstrate that your product is not “…contaminated with microorganisms which may be pathogenic, and the density of non-pathogenic microorganisms is low.”

If you’re going to use an alternative preservative, you must prove that it works!

In the EU they are a bit more restrictive. If a preservative is not listed on their Cosmetic Directive 76/768/EEC, you can’t use it. Of course, if you want to use a non-listed preservative, there is a process for getting your system approved. It’s just complicated and expensive.

Alternative Cosmetic Preservatives

But if you’re still not dissuaded from using an alternative preservative, here is a list of things that can work. For many of these it will take a high level to get them to work so they would be impractical for most cosmetics.

  • Alcohol
  • Benzoic acid
  • Boraxitrus seed extracts
  • Copper salts
  • Fragrance oils
  • Glycerin
  • Hinokitiol
  • Honey
  • Japanese Honeysuckle extracts
  • Melaleucol (Tea Tree) oil
  • Perillic acid
  • Salicylic acid
  • Salt
  • Silver Chloride
  • Sodium Gluconate
  • Sorbic acid
  • Sugar
  • Usnic acid
  • Wasabi extract
  • Zinc Salts

Cosmetic preservatives

The most important thing to remember is that your formula MUST be adequately preserved. It’s ok to try out new, alternative preservatives but understand that you are taking a risk. The alternative preservative may not work as well, may break down over time, and may have some unknown health risks.

Are you under pressure to use alternative preservatives for formulating? What ingredients have you tried? Leave a comment below.

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125 comments

  1. Pingback:Natural cosmetic preservative ingredients and strategies – Chemists Corner

  2. Tina

    Hi, I am making my own pressed glitter shadows, from loose cosmetic glitter. But I have heard of mould growing in some people who have tried making these before.. I wanted to ask how I can avoid this.. At the moment the ingredients used are Isoprophyl Alcohol, Glycerin and Aloe Vera Gel. So far I have not noticed or come across any problems. Do you think these are safe to use on the eyes (lid area), or would I need an actual preservative? (as alcohol and glycerin are mentioned above as alternatives?) Thank you!

    1. Perry Romanowski

      If you haven’t done microbial testing then I would assume they are NOT SAFE for use.

  3. Ann Wojczuk

    Great post and conversation. I am impressed by your patience in answering sooo many questions!
    I’m interested to hear your opinion of the use of colloidal silver/ionic silver as a preservative in water/oil lotions? It seems to be used a bit by some green companies in Europe, not so much elsewhere. Lots of blah blah out there about it but not so much research? Can you point me in the direction of any useful info?
    And also a preservative called Plantaserv N which is a combination of Glyceryl Caprylate and Glyceryl Undecylenate

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Colloidal silver does not work well enough in most formulations which is why it’s not used. Other things just work better. And Plantaserv is an alternative preservative that can work in some systems but will fail in most. That’s also why it’t not used often.

  4. Dave

    Oregano and cinnamon essential oils work in lotions. The oregano is not an especially desirable scent (ahem). I haven’t experimented enough with how little/much cinnamon is necessary, but 0.5% seems to be effective.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      I wouldn’t recommend using them as preservatives.

  5. Natalia

    Hi Perry,

    I was making homemade deodorant with beeswax, butter, oil, aloe vera gel, clay, and corn starch powder. Aloe vera gel is 12% of the formulation, and clay and corn starch are 25% of the formulation. Do you think it is possible to be preserved? Maybe with liquid germall plus or optiphen plus? (i was worried because of the incorporation of clay and aloe vera gel in it). I

    1. Perry Romanowski

      You should be able to preserve it. You just might need a lot of preservative. To find out how much you’ll have to test the product.

  6. Mandy

    Hi Perry,

    What is a better or natural alternative to Benzyl Alcohol ? Thanks

    1. Perry Romanowski

      That really depends on a couple of things. What kind of formula are you making? What do you consider natural? Phenoxyethanol works for some people.

  7. Arti Gaur

    Hi Perry, I am new to your forum. I have a small organic skincare business in India. I have been using a combination of borax, benzoin resin, tea tree oil, glycerin and radish root ferment to successfully preserve my products. I have also been reading about grapefruit extract and sodium anisate being used as natural preservatives, yet to try them.

  8. kamal k falor

    which preservative can replace parabens in making eye products.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      that depends on your formula.

      1. Nia

        Perry, you have not answered anybody’s questions properly. You are so vague and I sense you so not even know the answer to anyone’s questions. Where are the specifics??? People are reaching out to you for answers yet you lead them down a path to no where. All you do is give other websites and not your experience and knowledge.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          I answer every question as best I can. When someone asks “what preservative should I use?” no one could possibly answer that question honestly unless they know the ingredients that are in their formulas. When someone asks a question like “what natural preservative should I use?” the answer depends on what they consider natural. Some people consider parabens natural because they can be found in nature. Some people don’t.

          I would be happy to answer questions if given all the information needed to answer the question.

          And sometimes the answer is “I don’t know & you’ll have to test it.” Preservation is complicated and usually cannot be answered in a simple blog comment. If you have a question feel free to post it or post it in our forum so you can get multiple answers.

  9. John

    Hey, Perry, I’m slowly working on beginning a new cosmetics line centered around natural, organic type products. And, it seemed very obvious to me when I began planning, to not use any preservatives, especially synthetics preservatives. But, after reading on your site and the science, I have changed my mind and feel that they are both necessary and safe.

    But, I’m worried about the marketing complications with using preservatives. People who would be in the market for my type of products would most likely not buy products with parabens in them.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      That may or may not be true. You could test it. But there are alternatives to parabens that can be safely used for preserving cosmetics.

  10. Andrea

    There is a preservative available in Germany that is ecocertified and BDIH certified. Read more about it herehttp://www.dragonspice.de/rokonsal-bsb-n.html (use Google translate, page in German). It is made up from: Benzyl Alcohol, Glycerin, Benzoic acid, Sorbic acid. It is used in cremes, shampoos and shower gels. It’s cheap!
    Happy creating everyone!

    1. Gena

      I would like to know your opinion on which (natural) preservative is recommended from this site? and how many drops do you recommend?

    2. Dr. Mohamad Azzam Sekheta

      Thank you Ms Andrea indeed… 🙂

  11. Anne Hann

    Hello
    I am formulating a skin scrub bar which contains cocoa butter, Shea butter, oil (such as almond and coconut), cetyl alcohol, BTMS, beeswax, sodium lactate and fragrance. It’s to be used in the shower. Am interested in your opinion as to whether it needs a preservative (say paraban) to ensure the product is safe from bacteria. Thank you.

  12. Seyi

    Hello, im making a Black soap shower gel, containing Water, african Black soap, camwood, salt, castor oil, olive oil, vit E oil, guar gum, and high level of glycerin and honey. I’ve been using it without additional preservatives for about 2 months now, and its working perfectly for my skin. Now i want to go commercial, and im wondering how long the concentration of glycerin and honey can keep the Product.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      You’ll have to do a Preservative Efficacy Test to determine that.

  13. Tina

    Hi can you tell me me the best preservative to use with hydrolonic acid please to make my own serum ..thankyou

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It depends on what else is in the formula. But parabens are the best choice for most systems.

  14. CJHolder

    Hello, this article is amazing.
    I’m interested in starting a small company that sells hair care products. I want my products to be as natural as possible but I’m aware that this greatly diminishes their shelf life. So now I’m researching some preservatives that will increase the shelf life but will not affect my products’ efficiency and are safe for my consumers.

    The products will be manufactured and stored in my home (in a room dedicated to manufacturing) and the products will be packaged in a plastic opaque bottle with a pump – the bottles will be sanitised. A sample list of my ingredients are distilled water, castile soap, extra virgin oils (olive oil, coconut oil, etc), rosemary extracts, honey, and glycerin.

    Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      I’d suggest you post your specific questions in our forum. http://chemistscorner.com/cosmeticsciencetalk

      In my opinion, you would be better served using standard preservatives. You do not want to take chances with product safety. Not everyone agrees with me on this one however.

    2. TheEnthusiast

      CJHolder, what have you found. I am also researching the requirements for safe, FDA approve, natural preservatives. Have what did you end up using?

  15. Suquished

    Perry, I see that you’re still answering questions on this post long after it was written. Thank you for that.
    Regretfully I’m from a different industry but find myself seriously investigating small-volume, ’boutique’ commercial production of a salt-scrub for use on hands. I believe in the US this would likely be deemed as a cosmetic rather than a soap (although I’m sure you know it would be used like a soap.)
    There is interest in eventual extension to sugar-scrubs but the salt-scrubs have been the point of focus and we have considered this to be an extremely low-risk product.
    Comprised of oil, salt, and fragrance oil, we have very high salt content, a supplier providing body & bath salt whilst the oil supplier indicates that their oil (both their RBD and MCT) has very good shelf life and stability. As you probably know a scrub of this kind is typically dispensed from a jar with a utensil. This has seemed to us possibly the lowest-risk point of entry that we could possibly choose (save for perhaps a pure clay powder sold in dry form?).
    I’ve been reading US explanation of their regulations which do not seem to require pre-testing of the product; I also notice there is a labeling requirement for untested product (i.e. Unsubstantiated Safety warning 21 CFR 740.10) but that this warning is not required if there is enough toxicology data and similar products to consider the product safe … “The safety of a cosmetic can adequately be substantiated by: a. Reliance on available toxicological test data on its ingredients and on similar products, and b. Performance of additional toxicological and other testing appropriate in the light of the existing data.”
    I am aware of one international vendor that does use preservatives in its formulation for international marketing but there seem to be several US producer/vendors marketing in the US that appear to limit their product to oil, salt, and fragrance (or essential oil as a fragrance). We have been looking toward and interpreting the supply chain, the safety of the ingredients, extremely high salt content, absence of water in the formulation, labeled use as a hand scrub, and other similar products currently safely marketed as substantiating. Can you point me to information about the microbial challenge testing you mentioned? And most of all I would appreciate the kindness of your comments about how you would approach a simple oil & salt-scrub product supposing that you were in the employ of a boutique-sized small batch producer ?
    Thanks.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Yes, the product would be considered a cosmetic in the US.
      If you use only ingredients that have toxicological data already and you can get that information for your product dossier then you wouldn’t need to do additional safety testing (beyond stability testing).
      For microbial testing try http://cosmetictestlabs.com
      From the sound of it your product shouldn’t require an additional preservative but see what the folks at Cosmetic Test Labs think.

      Good luck!

  16. Juliet

    Hi, I am making a homemade coffee body scrub. I mixed sugar, honey and cinnamon powder. I am not aware that those are acting as preservatives because my scrub only lasts up to a maximum of 4 weeks. Molds starts to grow on its 3rd week. Please help me what would be the most effective but will certainly not affect the pureness or organic composition of my product? I would like my scrub as natural as possible but its short shelf life is a great challenge that is why I am thinking of adding a safe but effective preservative. Please help me. I am new to this field, I am an IT Sales by profession. I just explored some interesting things that could add up my income that is why.
    I want to give my consumers the best natural product they deserve.
    I will highly appreciate your response. Thank you.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It really depends on many factors like your manufacturing conditions, your raw materials and how you store the products. There is no simple answer especially without seeing the whole formula.

    2. Andrea

      Microbes grow in water. Try not to use wet coffee grounds in your mixture. And avoid water from getting into your package.
      If you only use oil based Ingredients and dried ones (like spices) and you protest your container from water, your production should last long. In fact, as long until the oil gets rancid. No bacteria can grow in oil right?

  17. Tina

    Hi!
    I plan to make christmas gifts this year. And i though about facial cleanser, facial masks, lipbalm, precleansers and facial moist sprays. I would like to use pure shea butter, coconut oil, vitamin E, beeswax and aloe vera in the lipbalm. Hyaleronic acid, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C, Frankenicense, Honey, sheabutter, cocoa, coconut oil and sandalwood in the face cream. Bentonite clay, sugar, honey, tea tree oil, beeswax, vitamin C, Argan oil,aloe vera and honey in the mask. In the cleanser I want to use honey, aloe vera, salisylic acid, sweet almond and jojoba. In the precleanse I would like to use only oils like olive oil, almond oil, sunflower seed oil, castor oil, argan oil, roseship oil, coconut oil, marocan oil, tea tree oil, kernel oil, lavender oil, mandarin oil, rosemary leaf extract. And in the face moist spray I would like to use salisylic acid, citrus oil, lavender oil, sitrus limon fruit oil, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, cucumber fruit extract, arnica montana flower extract, avacado oil. Which preservative should I use in these different recipes? Thanks in advance! – Tina

    1. Perry Romanowski

      That depends on the quality of your ingredients but generally parabens and formaldehyde donors are the most effective preservatives.

  18. Cory

    Would I need a preservative in this (it contains no water)
    Apple cider vinegar, bentonite clay, and 3-4 essential oils? The consistency is like pudding.
    If this needs a preservative what would be the best?
    Would Vitamin C work?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It really depends on the formula. There is water in apple cider vinegar. Vitamin C is not a preservative.

  19. Jasmine

    Hi,
    I am interested in making a body butter – Shea butter, olive oil, coconut oil, sweet almond oil, E-wax, glycerine, vit E, tea tree oil. Unlike most of the questions here i am not looking for an alternative preservative at all.
    I have purchased parabens for my liquid soaps and body lotions however i recently read that they can be inhibited by fatty acids and polysorbates (in the E-wax). I know I don’t really need a preservative for a body butter containing no water at all but i would feel better knowing i had one. Is there any that you can suggest to me that won’t be inhibited in a high oil formulation?
    Thank you.

  20. Van Long

    Hi Perry. I want to preserve herbal powder from mold after dehumidifying. I use them as a face mask or dietary supplement. Do you have an advice for me? Thank you so much.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Use parabens

  21. Nancy

    I’m looking to make baby products such as shampoos but I don’t want to put cancer causing preservatives in them. It seems like that is my only options besides getting expensive extracts and essential oils. Then I found that Burt’s bees doesn’t use chemical preservatives.
    This is the ingredients of their baby shampoo:
    Water, Decyl Glucoside, Lauryl Glucoside, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Soy Protein, Coco Glucoside, Glyceryl Oleate, Surcrose Laurate, Glycerin, Betaine, Glucose, Fragrance, Orange Oil, Anise Oil, Lemon (Citrus Medica Limonium) Oil, Vanilla (Vanilla Planifolia) Extract, Clove Oil, Xanthan Gum, Glucose Oxidase, Lactoperoxidase

    I was wondering which of these actually act as a preservative

    And also for this formula too

    Active Ingredients: Dimethicone 1.25% (Skin Protectant) Inactive Ingredients: Avena Sativa Kernel Flour (Oat), Benzyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Distearyldimonium Chloride, Glycerin, Isopropyl Palmitate, Petrolatum, Sodium Chloride, Water

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Their preservatives are glycose oxidase and lactoperoxidase. Also, they have strict production conditions.
      In truth, there is no evidence that any standard preservative causes cancer. If they did, they would not be legal to use in cosmetics.

      For the second formula they have very low water levels and do not need a preservative because it’s mostly not water.

  22. Charlotte

    Hi Perry,
    Thank you so much for all the information above. Wondering whether you can give me some advice re preservatives and I should state I have no issue with parabens or F-donors so it’s not a question of trying to be ‘natural’ in fact I am trying to be ‘un-natural’ because I want to inhibit bacteria, mold, fugus and various other nasties from developing in my product which they are ‘naturally’ very adapt at doing! So here is the problem, I am putting together a dry mineral make up base (wait wait – I realise minerals in and of themselves do not require preservation) but I also want to add to the mix some hydrolyzed proteins and fruit extracts…I am concerned about them becoming a food source and wondered whether there was a way to add a preservative to a ‘powdered’ product without having to change it’s nature – ie, turn it into a liquid foundation. Obviously keeping the base dry is key, but with constant dipping in and out of the base with cosmetic brushes and fingers etc. it seems unlikely that water would not eventually find it’s way in hence my concern. I also know that the easiest solution would be to avoid using the extracts but that would be my last resort and ,I think, a bit of a shame! Hopefully you may have the answer?!

    1. Perry Romanowski

      This sounds like a good question for our forum. http://chemistscorner.com/cosmeticsciencetalk

      Good question though. I’m pretty sure you can get methylparaben as a powder. You might just mix that in and it should be enough to inhibit bacteria contamination.

  23. mariah

    Hi,
    I’m making herbal face cream and using phenoxyethanol at 0,2% and sodium benzoate at 0,1%. This cream meant to stay for around not more than 6months, and it always kept in the refrigerator. Do you think I’m doing a right thing?

    Many thanks

    1. Perry Romanowski

      That really depends on the results of your preservative challenge test. You can’t just pick a preservative and a level and know whether the product will be free from microbes. It is highly dependent on many factors such as raw material quality, manufacturing conditions, preservative efficacy, microbes present, etc. You have to do the testing to be sure.

  24. Sabrina

    people with cancer need beauty products that doesn’t have the standard preservatives used in many drugstore shelves at drugstore price

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It’s actually more important that people who are sick use only products that are properly preserved. They should not be using risky alternatives and should stick with proven, safe standard preservatives. People in this condition are much more susceptible to infection and need to protect themselves.

  25. tiffanyn

    Hi Thanks so much for all the useful posts on preservatives and I’m looking forward to your naturals class. This morning I overheard a conversation on the “dangers” of parabens. While I get the fear mongering and pseudo science that has surrounded this issue, there was one thing she said that made me wonder….Is there a potential danger from using too many products containing them? By my last count (and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit this but apparently marketing works…) I use 45-48 products every morning….body wash, perfume, shampoo, conditioner, hair gels and thermal protecting hair sprays, lots of different makeup products, eye cream…deodorant.. serums….you name it. If every product contains parabens, could there be a health effect in that the amount on my body is no longer insignificant? Hope that makes sense. Thanks!

  26. Edina

    Hello Perry,
    I also ran into a problem preservative. So far I’ve been using benzyl alcohol with dehydrated acetic acid. I was not happy because of the smell and durability has also been about 4 months. And I learned that associations, Demeter would give me such a product, which have 80% of raw materials from biodynamic agriculture, did not approve. I would like to chose a better way of preservation. I need to durability cream was one year. Please, if it would be sufficient in the cream used 15% spagyric ethanol from certain plants? Ethanol or other general? I also use pure edible extract of grape pips, colloidal silver. Now, I need to finish the final product approval Institute of Medicine, and much advice please.

    Thank you very much

    1. Perry Romanowski

      I don’t think those preservative choices you’re suggesting will work but you can try it. colloidal silver is not adequate for preservation of creams. 15% ethanol is not enough either. You need 20%.

      1. Edina

        Thank You Perry,
        You wrote that alcohol hates some ingredients. Can you, please write the such? When I add eye cream 20% alcohol, it will be enough to preserve the product for 1 year when there is a large amount of E-vitamin, also a 0.5% extract of grape pips, colloidal silver, gold and sulfur? Is it benzyl alciohol good preservation for bio cosmetics? Could I combine alcohol and benzyl alcohol for preservation for one year?
        Should I please have one more question, and it concerns a concentrated vegetable glycerin. I read it in larger quantities can dry out the skin. Is this true? Just today I made a few clients for eye cream that contains 20% glycerol and 20% alcohol. What you think, is it safe?

        I am extremely grateful to You for your advice. No I have not found a better blog and the Czech Republic, I have not found such an expert like you.
        Sincerely,
        Edina

      2. Edina

        Hello Perry,

        because I am afraid of more than 15% alcohol in eye cream, which is 4.5% glycerol (which I would like to replace sodium lactate, but I do not seem to be compatible with alcohol), think insure durability benzyl alcohol and what percentage? If glycerol in this representation play the role of a preservative or only humectant? If sodium lactate is compatible with alcohol, Can I add and in what quantity instead of glycerol?

        I tried to register for the Forums, but I still reports an error and that requires photo. Please could You explain to me how I can insert a photo finish registration?

        Thank you very much,
        Edina

        1. Perry Romanowski

          Hello Edina – I’ve approved your forum application so you should be able to login now. You don’t need to have a photo.

          I don’t think glycerol will be adequate to preserve your product. To be honest you should be using a standard preservative especially if you are creating a product for use around the eye.

          1. Edina

            Parry, Thank you for your response. I’ll try to re-register on the forum.
            From your answers now I have a real mess.
            Please, could you please write the percentage of alcohol can safely be eye cream? And if I can use instead of glycerin, sodium lactate? And if as a preservative would be enough benzyl alcohol in combination with a safe amount of alcohol?
            Thank you very much

      3. Eric

        Perry, you mention that 20% ethanol is sufficient. I have a formulation that is 25% Water and the balance is Beeswax, Castor Oil, Jojoba oil (each approx. 25%), along with small quantities of essential oils. Is replacing 20-25% of the water phase/part with Ethanol sufficient to preserve the entire product? Appreciate your expertise!

        1. Perry Romanowski

          For alcohol to be effective it needs to be about 20% of the entire formula. So if you are putting in that much it may be effective. You have to test it.

  27. Julie Berry

    Can you recommend a challenge lab to use? I am in Houston Texas.
    Thank you-

  28. Manjunath

    Dear Sir,
    We are making Zinc pyrithione 50% fine particle suspension in water.
    We do not want use OIT/ MIT / parabens.
    Kindly suggest alternative, safer preservatives.

    Thanks and regards,
    Manjunath
    KOP Research Centre Pvt Ltd.
    Plot No.36, Jigani Industrial Area,Anekal taluk
    Bangalore, India

    1. Perry Romanowski

      All my suggestions are listed above.

  29. anchal

    i made hebal face pack plz suggest me what kind of herbal preservative use in it.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      There are no effective herbal preservatives. You should use parabens.

  30. Brian

    In your opinion is Pentylene glycol a safe and effective preservative

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It’s safe and can be effective for certain limited applications. But generally, it is not a good choice.

  31. pcbessa

    I forgot to add that I also tested grapefruit seed extract at 0.5-3%. It was effective in liquid soaps supplemented with essential oils (passed challenge tests), but not at all for creams (it protects partially against bacteria but not most molds). Mold still grows in creams preserved with high concentrations of grapefruit seed extract.

    Haven’t tried wasabi or honeysuckle extracts. Tried oregano extracts and extracts from rowan berries, but both haven’t worked. Tried neem oil: didn’t work. Haven’t tried garlic (probably no one would enjoy that one). Honey, sugar, salt, vinegar, at low practical concentrations (up to 5%) do not work.

    Tea tree is not a good preservative. It only protects against a few bacteria and molds. Staphylococcus being one of them, which are skin bacteria.

    Tried also combinations of essential oils, cinnamon, clove and lemongrass were the most effective ones, at a combined total of 1%, but they impart a strong scent and are not exactly totally effective, although they seem to be the second best alternative after the use of alcohol. But I must say it demands a conbination of several oils, and it does not pass challenge tests.

    Glycerin is not really a preservative. It only decreases water activity. You would to go up to 25-30% of glycerin to have some preservative effects. Alcohol only requires 15-16%. Lemongrass becames (only) partially effective from 0.5% upwards, and cinnamon from 0.1% upwards. I even tried some commercial natural preservatives, but they haven’t passed tests.

    Only one that passed tests was alcohol or herbal tinctures at 15-16%.

  32. pcbessa

    This is especially for Perry Romanowski.

    I am both an organic cosmetic producer (running a business) and a past microbiologist.

    There is one effective wide-spectrum natural and organic preservative: that is any sort of organic distilled alcohol like vodka.

    You must use the alcohol at a concentration of 16%. I have extensively done challenge tests against bacteria, yeasts and fungi, and they are clean. Even after a year. The creams can be produced in normal non-sterile conditions, and still preserve well.

    No bacteria or mold can grow at that concentration of alcohol. A few rare yeasts can, but probably they woudn’t get to the cream, and are harmless. Still my challenged creams were perfectly clean even after being purposely infected.

    And people buy it like crazy and they have an organic certification. I never heard anyone complaining of drying the skin. Everyone can use my cream near the eyes and there is no skin change at all. In fact I am not the only one doing it. Weleda, a famous brand of natural cosmetics, use this method too.

    So let’s stop to say that it’s not possible to do cosmetics without synthetic preservatives. There is at least one natural preservative that works, and effectively.

    Only drawback: they are more expensive to do. But still I sell them at a lower price than most organic cosmetics.

    I also tried other natural preservatives and yes I agree they are only partially effective. One example and probably one of the best ones, is lemongrass oil at 1%; it can protect against most bacteria and mold, but not totally. An herbal tincture at 16% is nearly total wide-spectrum preservative.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      There are a few drawbacks to using alcohol. First, it is flammable so when working with it you are supposed to use special equipment. Second, it is not compatible with many important cosmetic ingredients. And third it is regulated as a VOC in many places so you are restricted with how much you can use. Couple that with the odor and that’s the reason it hasn’t been widely used in the cosmetics industry.

      1. Dom

        the organic distilled alcohol we get is odorless.

    2. David

      Don’t your products smell alcohol?

    3. Silvia C.

      Pcbessa,

      I make cosmetics for myself. So far, I’ve been using potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate as preservatives. I would like to try using vodka instead. When you say you must use the alcohol at a concentartion of 16%, you mean organic distilled alcohol will be 16% of the total formula? Forgive my ignorance.

  33. Danay

    Although I have read a lot of your questions and answers i did not find any comments that will help with my conxern but please, excuse me if this question was already addressed…I make my own oil based skin care and use various essential oils but do not use any preservatives. Are preservatives necessary for oil base products?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It depends on the formula and how the formula is packaged an used. Generally, you don’t need a preservative but it is a good idea to have one because if there is any moisture that gets on the formula you could have microbial growth.

  34. ling

    Hi! May I know which is the safer ingredients that can be used in preserving the baby wipes? As I know that formaldehyte and paraben are some of the harmful preservatives. Whereas for phenoxyethanol, I’ve read some studies that it might cause toxicity to our body. Is there any alternative preservatives you can introduce? 🙂 Thanks.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Parabens are safe to use. You have been mislead in thinking they are not.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          Thanks for your comments. You should really check your sources for information about parabens. The science has been thoroughly studied and there is no reason to worry about parabens in your cosmetics. It’s best to pay attention to what Toxicologists have to say on the subject rather than political action groups.

          Here is the science…

          http://www.euractiv.com/health/scientific-committee-endocrine-d-news-528299
          http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/ingredients/ucm128042.htm
          http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/HBI/9

          You can choose not to use parabens if you like but your choice is made using faulty information.

          Hope that helps.

  35. Nigel

    Do you have an opinion on phenoxyethanol for preservating cosmetics?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It can work. It’s not as flexible or applicable as parabens or formaldehyde donors but people have had success with it. It also has an odor that is difficult to cover.

  36. Brad

    Hello, Perry.

    Do you have any experience/insight about using Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate in conjunction with potassium sorbate? I am using it a 3% in a shampoo and conditioner along with .5% ptassium sorbate.

    Thanks!
    Brad

    1. Perry Romanowski

      No, I’m not familiar with it. I’m skeptical it will be robust enough but I haven’t tested it so I can’t say for certain.

  37. Vivienne Tobassa

    Essential oils and many herbal plant extracts have long been a “natural” alternative to chemically derived (e.g. petro chemical based, synthetic specialty chemicals such as paraben esters and para-hydroxybenzoic acid). Presuming you are working on cosmetic or wellness ranges – combinations of these E Oils as constituents can adequately provide the preservative qualities you require and adequately survive tests for anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. Too many to list and as they work better in companion harmony carbon chains rather than sole constituents you can easily identify an optimum preservative solution based on your specific product needs. For example Tea Tree Oil and Lavender are obvious and well known “stand alone” oils that have powerful antibacterial and also anti fungal – but if you are looking for protection against particularly resistant strains of bacteria (such as MRSA causing staph bacteria) you can look to oils such as Lemongrass, and the same Tea Tree family but staph killing anti-fungal and anti-viral oil Cajuputi. You also need to look into locational sourcing as for example lavender grown in Tasmania Australia will be higher in ketones than grown in other areas of the world. Obviously you need to counteract the contra-effects of some preservative oils – again where the balance from companion harmony blends comes in – lemongrass is highly irritant to skin so may not be useful alone in a skin care prep. You can compliment with non EO constituents – e.g. the properties of honey work very well with oils and reduce the amount of honey needed. It is no coincidence that aromatherapists/apothecaries and their neighbours were noted prevalent survivors of the great plague. Tea Tree oil was only replaced by a chemical antiseptic during World War II because of cost of production and labour away – demand could not be filled from war requirements. While it is true that many EOs are now also extracted using a chemical process – the impact and interaction is minimal and it if particularly emphatic you can still source only natural extraction method and organically grown oils – in sufficient variety and quantity to meet your preservative needs.

  38. Regina

    Am currently in development of a product that does not contain any water, if the product is in solid form and contains no water (it’s just lipids) does the FDA still require a preservative?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      You just have to prove the product is safe. If you can do that without having preservatives, then you don’t need them.

  39. hayat

    Iam going to make natural cosmetic ws from herbs and essential oil and i want to know whats the preservstive that i can use to make my product totally natural

    1. Perry Romanowski

      There is no such thing as a totally natural cosmetic. Anyone can call any cosmetic natural if they want to.

  40. Jama

    Hello, I’m trying to look up any studies proving efficacy of neem oil, rosemary extract and willow bark as preservatives. Then I realized I was seriously side tracked from my task. :(. Presumably the willow is black not white. I see many ‘natural’ companies using these as preservatives.
    While I love herbal anything, not having a ‘real’ preservative makes me wonder what they are doing. I read this page and the preceeding page.
    So what say you experts on these as preservatives please?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      These preservatives are generally not effective enough for safe cosmetics.

  41. Judith

    I want to make some cosmetics at home for my own use. Why? Because I have such severe chemical sensitivities that I react to almost every preservative I have tried. Especially potassium sorbate the new “preferred” one. I did not see the question answered about honey and how much would need to be used say in face creams or lotions. They say PS is mile but for me I get itchy bumps. I am looking form something food grade not a chemical.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Honey is not a reasonable preservative for face creams because it would require nearly 90% to make a product. Everything is a chemical so I don’t really know what you mean. Parabens are food grade as they are used in a lot of foods as preservatives.

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  45. Alyssa

    Hi Perry,
    Can usnic acid be used as a stand-alone cosmetic-cream preservative, or would you recommend using it in combination with something like potassium sorbate? Also, do you have any information on the concentration of usnic acid needed if using it as a preservative? (please specify whether the concentration is by volume or by weight – thanks!!)
    -Alyssa

    1. Dene

      Hi Alyssa,

      As Perry has been very busy joggling his way around various cities in France, I’ll answer your question!

      No – usnic acid is essentially only effective against fungi, with no activity against bacteria. Potassium sorbate has relatviely weak antibacterial activity, so this would not be a good preservative to use in combination, as you need to be able to have broad spectrum (ie against bacteria AND fungi) protection for your product. Sodium benzoate would be a much better option, as it is broad spectrum on its own, but works even better in combination with potassium sorbate. make sure your pH is as low as you can possibly manage, as the activity of sodiujm benzoate and potassium sorbate is much higher as the pH is reduced.

      It is always risky suggesting a concentration without knowing the full composition of the product, as many things can have an impact on the levels required but, as a very rough guide, if your product is pH 6, you may need something like 0.4% sodium benzoate + 0.2% potassium sorbate. If you can reduce the pH to 5.0 (maximum), then these may be reduced to 0.3 and 0.1%. preservative efficacy testing is strongly recommmended before launching the product.

      I hope this helps

      Dene 🙂

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  47. Hilario

    Hello, I was wondering if anyone knows if germall plus is an effective preservative and if is considered to be a natural preservative?

    1. Perry

      Yes effective. No, not considered natural by most standards

  48. Dene

    @ Alicia – benzoin is benzoin – it is not at all chemically related to sodium benzoate, it just sounds vaguely similar. A tincture is a solution in alcohol (ethanol). I believe that benzoin is extracted from nature, but I may be wrong (or it may be that it is, but it can also be synthesised).

  49. alicia

    Dene, thank you so much for the comments. Its hard to get to the bottom of regulations.. I’ve found PS maximums that differ an entire decimal place! Did find this info:

    The CTFA Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel has concluded that sorbic acid and potassium sorbate are safe as cosmetic ingredients in the present practices of use and concentration–up to 1.0%.

    The European Commission Cosmetic Directive has approved the use of sorbic acid without restrictions or warning labels at levels up to 0.6%. This is equal to 0.8% potassium sorbate.

    The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare has approved sorbic acid and potassium sorbate for use in hair-care products and cleansing, makeup, suntan and sunscreen, lip, eyeliner, and bath preparations at levels up to 0.5%. This level of sorbic acid is equal to 0.67% potassium sorbate.

    Excuse my ignorance but is Benzoin Tincture a less concentrated version of sodium benzoate? are these considered to be “natural” or nature identical products?

    1. pcbessa

      I have posted below, what I see as the only natural preservative nearly totally effective: an herbal tincture at 16%. I have done the tests myself as I have extensive microbiology background.

      Potassium sorbate up to 0.5-1% is partially effective (just against a few molds) but it also creates irritation is a few people. Same thing for sodiumbenzoate (which is effective against bacteria but not fungi) and also causes irritation but in less people than the sorbate. Those are not a good choice because of that.

      Benzoin is less effective, but I only tested up to 1% (perhaps it is effective at higher concentrations). Same thing for lemongrass, it is partially effective, and better than sorbic acid at 1%, but its drawback is its strong scent.

      Organic distilled alcohol at 16% passed all my challenge tests. All bacteria, all mold, and nearly all yeasts. That’s the natural preservative that everyone looks for. Its drawback is price costs.

  50. Dene

    @ Alicia – I hope Perry will forgive me for answering before he does, but here goes . . . Potassium sorbate is only really effective against fungi, so it would be better to also use something to control bacteria. It is possible to control bacteria to some degree with PS, but you would need a much higher concentration. I would certainly very strongly advise against using PS at a concentration above 0.5% (the legal maximum in the European Union is 0.6% as sorbic acid, but there is no specified limit in the USA). Sodium benzoate would be a useful antibacterial (also having it’s own antifungal activity) to use in combination with PS, probably at around 0.2 – 0.3%.

    1. Alyssa

      Hi Dene,
      Please forgive my ignorance, but when we’re talking percents, are we talking by volume or by weight?
      I have seen an allowance of up to 1%; why is it you advise to stay at 0.5% or lower?
      Also, just double-checking that potassium sorbate works best between pH of 5-6?
      Thanks!

      1. Dene

        Hi Alyssa,

        You don’t need to ask me to forgive your ignorance – no-one knows everything, and the intelligent thing to do is to ask if you don’t know something! It is usual (in my experience) for cosmetic ingredients to be included on the basis of weight, rather than volume. I don’t know where you’ve seen a maximum permitted concentration of 1% for potassium sorbate, but in the EU it is 0.6% (as sorbic acid, as I explained before). The reason I suggest keeping it below 0.5% is because sorbic acid does have a higher rate of incidence of skin reactions (compared to many other preservatives – but I must stress that this is a RELATIVE comparison – the ACTUAL rate of skin response is very low).

        Regarding the pH, potassium sorbate actually works best at pH 1, and the activity decreases as the pH increases, being totally inactive at around pH 6.3. Obviously, you don’t want your product to be pH 1, so it’s a case of compromise between the pH and the concentration of potassium sorbate you would need to use. As a (very) rough guide, for each 0.5 pH unit you increase, the amount of potassium sorbate required doubles. In other words, if your product needed 0.3% at pH 5.0, you would need 0.6% at pH 5.5. It is important to ensure that the microbial challenge that is needed to ensure that you’ve got the correct preservation system is carried out at the high end of your specification, as this will be the worst case scenario. If you do a challenge test at the lower pH and your product is manufactured at a higher pH, you could easily get microbial growth.

        I hope this helps 🙂

        1. Alyssa

          That’s very helpful – thank you very much!

  51. alicia

    Perry do you have comments on preserving with Potassium Sorbate? I was told this is effective for creams and lotions: PS combined with Benzoin Tincture at PS 1.5% and BT 1% respectively. I know pH must be below 5.5. Is it true PS can be used up to a 2% concentration in formulations?

  52. Perry

    @Ren – I do not know of glycolic acid can be produced from brown sugar. I’m not sure why you would want to use it.

    @Elsa – I have never used it so I do not know.

  53. ren

    Hi, I’m going to ask if brown sugar can make a glycolic acid? as what I know brown sugar is derived from sugar cane. (sorry, I’m also poor at English) ^_^

  54. elsa

    what do you think of biosecur?

    1. Rachel

      I have been testing with Biosecur with excellent results. It does lower the pH so care needs to be taken to balance this, but bacterial testing is good.

  55. Dene Godfrey

    It is easy to use honey, sugar, glycerine etc to preserve products. All of these substances (at sufficiently high concentrations) will reduce the water activity to the point at which micro-organisms cannot survive (more or less as Mark stated earlier). The downside is that, at the required concentrations, the skin feel is not good. They are better used at lower concentrations in combination with other substances. They can be used to reduce the amount of “traditional preservatives” required.

  56. Perry

    @Anjali – you can use chlorhexidine digluconate, benzethonium chloride, cetyl pyridium chloride, parabens, and triclosan

  57. Anjali

    What are the preservatives that can be used for Toothpaste?

  58. Perry

    @PJ – I haven’t personally tested sugar as a preservative so I wouldn’t have the data you request. I was reporting on alternatives that people have used as preservatives. Sorry for the confusion.

  59. PJ Lee

    @ Perry – I want to look your testing report using Sugar as preservative.
    – Sorry, I’m very poor at English 😉

  60. Mark Fuller

    I was skeptical also since I came over from Pharmaceuticals. But there is enough hard supported data. However, even so I used another preservative as well.
    It was in a shower scrub and they get man handled in my experience.

  61. Perry

    @Mark – Honey in a cosmetic at a level high enough to be a preservative? Wow.

  62. Mark Fuller

    I have also replicated and tested another Organic product that used honey as it’s primary preservative. I was skeptical, but it passed testing. Supposedly it takes up so much of the free water as to inhibit bacterial growth. I still augmented it with an secondary preservative as well since I wanted to be conservative as well.

    1. Alyssa

      Hi Mark – could you tell me please what was the concentration of honey used in your product? (or is this classified information, i.e. a secret recipe?) I am a home hobbyist still learning some of the formulation principles and have been on the hunt for some time to find effective natural preservatives. I’d be grateful if you wouldn’t mind giving me this information! Thanks! 🙂
      -Alyssa

  63. PJ Lee

    In fact, a large quantity of sugar used as a preservative too seems to be used. Microorganisms at concentrations of 60% has been found. Do you have experimental results?

    1. Perry

      I don’t understand your question. Results from what experiment?

  64. MK

    I perfect agreed to your opinion.

  65. Mark Fuller

    I have used the Campo Plantservative WSR before in several Formulations. One of these underwent a PET test and passed.

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