Home Cosmetic Science Talk Formulating Preservatives without Coconut and Palm (Allergy Reasons)

  • Preservatives without Coconut and Palm (Allergy Reasons)

    Posted by KateCreates on February 14, 2019 at 5:56 pm
    Hi everyone,
    I’ve been working on some palm and coconut free products for people with allergies to those substances. Before I do challenge testing I was wondering if  there is any way to better preserve that I’m missing. 
    Here is a lotion product I have right now:
    Distilled Water 80.50%
    Olivem 1000 6.00%
    Oil Blend 7.00%  (Mango Butter and Sunflower)
    Sodium Citrate 2.00%
    Sodium Lactate 2.00%
    Leucidal Liquid 2.00%
    Xanthan Gum 0.20%
    Citric Acid 0.15%
    Sorbic Acid 0.15%
    (I may add up to 1% fragrance, possibly Lavender EO)
    I know the Leucidal Liquid is a weak antimicrobial but am struggling to find a blend that is stronger AND has no palm or coconut.  :/  Does anyone know of a substitute?  Or any suppliers who will deal with a tiny company who may have such a blend?  It looks like Kem E from Akema might work, but haven’t found an importer yet.  Lincoln fine ingredients looks like it has some, but only in drums and didn’t reply to my email.  I also saw that Making Cosmetics Benzy Alcohol-DHA could work, but it sounds like it’s also on the less preserving power end of the spectrum so not sure it’s worth swapping out.
    In a post by Mark Broussard it was mentioned that Propandiol binds water activity and is corn based, so no coconut or palm reaction, but it looks like sodium lactate can be used in a similar way so not sure there is a point in swapping Propandiol in.  
    I understand the Xanthan gum can help stabilize my emulsion but may weaken the preservative power.  Is keeping it at a low percentage a solid approach to minimizing the potential deleterious effect on the preservative but maintaining stability?
    Is it silly to have both Sodium Citrate and Citric acid?  They are both related weak chelators so I feel like I may be making things complex for no discernible reason.  It looks like there are stronger chelators available that may be preferable as well…
    I am going to go through challenge testing to make sure what I’m making is as safe as it can be, but have concerns about the preservative system and would prefer to improve it before (maybe failing) extensive testing if possible. 

    If anyone has any comments I would be most appreciative!  The forums and articles on this site have already been a huge help.  Thanks for all the public knowledge you guys have put out there!

    PhilGeis replied 4 months, 3 weeks ago 6 Members · 19 Replies
  • 19 Replies
  • Doreen

    February 15, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    Does the preservative system have to be natural compliant?

  • KateCreates

    February 15, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    It does not need to be “natural.”  Just not palm or coconut derived. 

  • Doreen

    February 15, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    I’ve read through some documents of preservative blends of several manufacturers, but unfortunately I can’t find information about the way it’s derived. 
    Maybe it’s an idea to pick some manufacturers and ask them if they have preservatives that meet your demands? 
    Phenonip (Clariant) and Germall or Germaben II (Ashland) for example are good broad spectrum preservative blends. I’ll add some documents, perhaps they may be of help.

    I see you have sorbic acid in your formula. What is the pH?
    FYI sorbates can cause flushing reactions (red, warm skin) for some people (I’m one of them).

    Maybe it’s also an idea to add an anti-oxidant, like tocopherol or BHT. Sunflower oil isn’t very stable and prone to oxidize.

    Instead of xanthan gum you could try a carbomer. It’s my experience that carbomers (and other synthetic polymers) give a much better skinfeel than gums.

    1% fragrance, synthetic or essential oil is quite a lot by the way.

  • KateCreates

    February 15, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    My pH is about 5.  

    Tocopherol is usually palm derived but there are other anti-oxidants I can use.  I actually used sunflower, not safflower, but made an error in typing my formula.  The manufacturer claimed Sunflower contained Vitamin E and I was hoping to get the oxidation protection up.  I’ll look into whether sunflower has the same issue as safflower and consider swapping.  Thank you for pointing that out.

    I double checked the preservatives you mentioned.  Propylene Glycol is an issue in both Germall and Germaben, but I can’t see why I didn’t use Phenonip….  I’ll double check but it may work.. That would be amazing!

    Carbomers are worth trying here.  I think they are fine and I did read Xanthan could increase ability for microbes to act.  If carbomers are less friendly then that alone would be an improvement and even better if they can keep stabilize things with a nicer skinfeel!

    I am aware scorbic acid can cause a reaction.  Maybe the Benzyl-DHA is better to reduce the odds of reaction if I can’t use phenonip.  I may have to order it to test.  Hmmm

    Thank you for the feedback.  I have some more experiments to do now.  :)

  • Doreen

    February 16, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    You’re welcome.

    I don’t see any mentioning of safflower oil?
    There are three types of sunflower oil, the difference between these lies in the fatty acid profile. High in linoleic acid (the one you’ll find in the grocery store), high in oleic acid and medium oleic. These (poly)unsaturated fatty acids oxidize quickly. This is the reason why I never use sunflower oil in my stuff. (Same goes for safflower oil by the way, about the same levels of linoleic- (70-80%) and oleic acid (15-20%).)
    Jojoba oil for example is one of the most stable oils (actually it’s a wax, not an oil). If I use veggie oils, it’s mostly jojoba.

    I forgot about your question about the chelators in my previous post. Dinatrium EDTA for example is a strong chelator. There’s also tetrasodium EDTA, which is usually used in formulations with higher pH’s. In cold process formulations I mostly use sodium phytate (Dermofeel PA-3 by Evonik).

    About the carbomers, most of these are sensitive to electrolytes, so you’ll may want to change some ingredients, like sodium lactate and citrate. Most carbomers need to be neutralized (with TEA or NaOH) and need a pH of about 6 (some are already neutralized). There’s a whole range of other synthetic polymers that can be used for stability, thickening and skinfeel, some of these also have emulsifying properties. (If you would use one of those as sole emulsifier you can make a 0% emulsifier claim on your product.) Some also have a higher electrolyte tolerance, like Sepimax Zen (polyacrylate crosspolymer-6).

    Benzyl alcohol + DHA, like in Geogard 221 smells awful by the way! I found it very hard to mask. But of course it’s personal, some people don’t mind the smell as much.

    Good luck experimenting and keep us updated! :)

  • KateCreates

    February 17, 2019 at 12:59 am
    Thank you so much Doreen! 
    I was getting all mixed up about the oils from a few swaps I’d done.  You didn’t say safflower.  >_>  I’m going to swap the Sunflower to a blend of jojoba and sunflower that I was previously using.  The reasons for reducing the number of oils used are trumped by rancidity risks.  I want to keep some sunflower for skinfeel and marketing if the smaller percentage doesn’t cause issues but we’ll see soon I suppose.
    I’ll probably switch chelators and completely drop the whole sorbic acid, citric acid, and leucidal liquid blend for the phenonip.  I really thought I had checked that one and it had a coconut derivative, but I must have made an error.  Such a relief that there is a solid option.  And it’s less likely to irritate sensitive skin, as you said, which is important for people with allergies.

    Phenonip will work; no allergen found.  I’ll need
    more research when I get to aquaeous solutions of surfactants, but one
    system working would be a solid start.  I don’t know how I missed
    Phenonip.  It was on the preservative guide I looked at and I mistakenly
    ruled it out.  So glad you replied.

    Until I saw your last response I was leaning Benzyl-DHA but smell is important.  My allergic family is a bit finicky.  >_<

    I’m putting an order together now so I can impatiently wait to test a few of the suggested mods and if all goes well send my lotion out for preservative challenge this month!  So excited!
    Also, on the fragrance.  I had only just now gotten a decent laboratory scale and went from a few drops of lavender to 1 to 2% in my last experiments and you accurately predicted the results….   Way too much olfactory power…
    I’ll make a note to report back on results. I would have been hesitant to revive a thread in a few weeks when I have some results had you not asked.  :)

  • KateCreates

    February 17, 2019 at 1:07 am

    Actually, reading the spec sheet, phenonip works with surfactants too.  Win!

  • KateCreates

    February 17, 2019 at 1:17 am
    Sigh.  I found the reason i didn’t use phenonip.  Phenoxyethanol….  Coconut derived.  :/  Sorry for the excited positive post immediately followed by correction.  I still can incorporate the other advice though, so I can still improve the formula based on feedback.  Thanks
  • Doreen

    February 17, 2019 at 10:14 am

    I’m sorry to read that the phenoxy in Phenonip is coconut derived.

    Maybe there’s another way around this. Do you know if all phenoxyethanol is coconut derived?
    Instead of a blend, you could get the ingredients of Phenonip seperately. In the country where I live, there fortunately is one DIY supplier that sells methylparaben, propylparaben, phenoxy, benzyl alcohol etc. etc. as individual ingredients as well. Although I mostly use blends, it comes in very handy sometimes to add a single or two parabens to a tricky formula, or to lipstick.
    Optiphen PO (Ashland) for example is only phenoxyethanol. Schülke has methyl- as well as propyl paraben. You can search for manufacturers on UL Prospector.

    I really hope that you cand find a solution to your problem. If anything comes to mind again, or if I read something, I’ll alert you.

    Best of luck!

  • KateCreates

    February 17, 2019 at 11:37 pm

    Thanks Doreen,

    I haven’t found a readily available paraben blend that isn’t in a propylene glycol carrier yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t if I search a bit more.   I’m too tiny for most of the big suppliers right now but there may be someone redistributing if I keep my eyes open and search more specifically. I can search for the Schülke and see who carries it maybe.  (US based)

    For now I’ve ordered small quantities of several “hurdle” based preservatives and I’m going to make 3 or 4 emulsions in tiny batches.  Then abuse them badly and send out for plate tests.  From there I can see if any fail right off the bat and maybe figure a “best” option for challenge testing.  

    Also, I had a few people test my xanthan gum shampoo blend and they thought the weird jelly texture was a point of difference.  So I ordered the thickener you suggested but also a cationic guar gum and may wind up keeping the “unique” texture in the end. 

    I’ll need the luck.   ;)  

  • Microformulation

    February 18, 2019 at 3:43 am
    So, your assertion is that they are allergic to any raw material that starts as Coconut or Palm feedstock? (initial materials of the reaction).  Reports of immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated coconut allergy are rare and
    only a handful of cases have been reported in the literature in adults
    and children. ost bias I have heard against Palm was due to sustainability, a concern that has been partially dealt with through the RSPO.
  • KateCreates

    February 18, 2019 at 2:18 pm
    Both coconut and palm allergies are rare.  Palm Oil apparently has almost no proteins to react to in the first place and coconut is also pretty low in them I gather.  Most of the information on ingredients without palm has come from people worried about sustainability, though I don’t personally think picking some other crop to mass mono-culture will be more sustainable…
    So far every ingredient that has resulted in allergic reactions in my sister has been a palm or coconut stock derived product.  Presumably there is some constituent that is not filtered out in every instance?  I don’t know.   A sensitization seems to have occurred when she spent 8 hours a day in an environment where palm oil was being used to fry and then the scent was intentionally wafted through the store she worked in.
    I honestly don’t understand the difference between an “allergic reaction,” “sensitivity,” “cross reaction” or something else.  I just know that providing basic care items without palm or coconut derivatives reduces how sick she is.
    Obviously, that wouldn’t justify attempting to actually sell any personal care items and she could keep the products in the fridge in theory. 
    However, after sharing some soaps and lotions I made on a social media account I discovered there is a small group of people who react to coconut or believe they have coconut allergies.  The groups for it are on the order of hundreds, which is not a market that is really worth pursuing by any significant cosmetics company.  And the stuff these people wind up having to use for basic personal care is…  not great.  Pure soap from a specialty manufacturer is probably the best option and harder to get than one might think.  Some “natural” companies make a “shampoo” with no real surfactant and a bunch of citrus extracts.
    So, it isn’t for me to say whether those people’s allergies are real or not, but there are no sufficiently modern personal care products they feel safe using.  I also am going to need to order a minimum of 25kg of the best surfactant option I found to be able to provide my sister with cleansers (besides soap which I’ve also made her but I don’t consider super nice).  And I use that at 20% of my formulation.  I have no need for upwards of 100kg of cleansers.  It’s shelf life will pass before I can use it.  So if, and only if, my products prove safe I will sell them to the people with unusual allergies.  If it pays for materials I need anyway and helps them have personal care needs met then it’s a win.
    So, as a typical engineer, I took the requirements others told me they have and have attempted to meet them.  Then I found other people with related requirements (while off work for my own medical reasons) and saw an opportunity.
    TLDR:  People tell me they are allergic to chemicals made from stock from palm and coconut.  I’m not a Dr, or even a chemist, to make such an assertion just an engineer.  So I tried to make them what they asked for.  But I won’t sell a product that isn’t safe so preservatives have my full attention.
  • Microformulation

    February 18, 2019 at 3:58 pm
    While the Science can be disputed, here is where the Cosmetic Market is different. Is the Science valid? Meh, who knows. But, does a need exist? I think you are making a case for it.
    I draw an analogy to Gluten-free. We could debate the Science (there are old threads, lets leave it to that) all day, but there is a demand. How hard is it to formulate Gluten free? Not hard at all.
    Here I think you will have a harder time. Palm and Coconut are primary feedstock (initial material in a reaction) in many Cosmetic materials. I would simply suggest that you decide how conservative you are. For example, phenoxyethanol being “coconut derived” is a false equivalency as in the final raw materail you have only the phenoxyethanol in solute, neither of which would have a coconut complement.
  • KateCreates

    February 18, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    I definitely hear you on the challenge of it.  I have a list of ingredients I CAN use instead of can’t.  Surfactants have been a particular bear.  XD

    I based the ingredients to avoid off of lists that people are saying they avoid.  Since that is what’s asked for I’m first attempting most conservative and seeing if I can meet quality metrics (preservative challenge, stability, etc). 

    I’m pretty sure you are correct that feedstock doesn’t intrinsically mean final product contamination.  The flipside is that without full knowledge of the production process and/or a way to test for the suspected irritant I face a challenge to assess risk accurately.  I’ve read there are tests, but that’s another layer of knowledge to acquire still.  

    Also, if I know my niche avoids ingredients on a list and I can skip it then it’s easier to market.  If I need the ingredient, but can say it was derived from an alternative source I’ll do that.  And if I must use an ingredient they prefer to avoid and can’t claim not derived I can try testing or educating, but I’m better at science than marketing and I suspect it would be an uphill battle.  Honestly, the only reason I think I have a shot at marketing is that I have yet to find anyone serving the niche with modern products and I do see demand.

    But if the hurdle approach proves adequate there do seem to be people in the same social groupings that want “clean beauty.”  Whether a newb can make something functional with a more challenging preservative approach though?  Guess it will be a few months before I know if my systems pass basic testing.

    There sure are people selling anhydrous stuff but I don’t see any aqueous surfactant products and next to nothing emulsion wise.  Even soaps are limited. 

    I’ve gotten a fairly decent liquid tallow soap produced and there has been enough interest to where I plan to use it as a preliminary demand test (and to prep my batch traceability systems, website, and other stuff).  Soap is just not as good as modern detergent systems though….  But people like it for being “natural” which just proves you’re initial point that it’s what consumers demand.  

    TLDR:  You’re right that marketing/demand matters.  Avoiding feedstock makes that part easier but the formulating a huge struggle.  And I need to up my chops to assess ingredients by a better metric anyway.

  • Bill_Toge

    February 18, 2019 at 11:52 pm

    Sigh.  I found the reason i didn’t use phenonip.  Phenoxyethanol….  Coconut derived.  :/  Sorry for the excited positive post immediately followed by correction.  I still can incorporate the other advice though, so I can still improve the formula based on feedback.  Thanks

    hang on, what? the vast majority of phenoxyethanol is synthetic and has never even been near any coconuts

  • KateCreates

    February 19, 2019 at 12:23 am

    Bill_Toge said:

    Sigh.  I found the reason i didn’t use phenonip.  Phenoxyethanol….  Coconut derived.  :/  Sorry for the excited positive post immediately followed by correction.  I still can incorporate the other advice though, so I can still improve the formula based on feedback.  Thanks

    hang on, what? the vast majority of phenoxyethanol is synthetic and has never even been near any coconuts

    I’ll read up on it more and try and find out why it was on the “avoid” list.  It was on the “allergen” list someone gave me and since some products listed as fully synthetic but derived from coconut stock were attributed reactions I was just staying away from it.  Thank you and I’ll go back and check my assumptions.

  • KateCreates

    February 27, 2019 at 5:45 pm
    So quick update:
    It looks like coconut origin may not be the primary cause.  It seems likely from what little research there is that the sensitization occurs to a few of the chemicals that are typically made from coconuts, so the reaction may have little to do with coconut proteins per se.  I’m going to assume that there is a reason people say they react to the phenoxyethanol for now.  It seems like those getting dermatitis may experience a cross sensitization.  I may have to go back later and research the chemicals that had some medical reference more, but for now using the reported experience.
    I had sent a two samples for plate counts before posting this and just got results.   The plate counts were far from immediate for various reasons.
    One of the formulas I tested came back ok and the other.. not so much.  It was similar in formula to what I posted above, but worse.  The ok one isn’t out of the woods from the preliminary tests so we’ll pass over it, but the “bad” one I’ll share.
    The bad formula:
    78.70% Distilled Water
    7.00% Oil Blend
    6.00% Olivem 1000
    *2.00% Xanthan Gum*
    2.00% Sodium Citrate
    2.00% Sodium Lactate
    2.00% Leucidal Liquid
    0.15% Citric Acid
    0.15% Sorbic acid
    I had higher levels of xanthan gum and I know for a fact I added the sorbic acid and leucidal liquid above the cool down temp that was recommended.  I just got a better thermometer and was checking my steps only to find that my process had been incorrect.  The test that came out badly…  aerobic bacteria.  The leucidal liquid, which I had probably damaged, didn’t keep aerobic bacteria down for the intervening weeks. 
    I’ve made process corrections, fiddled my formulas, and have a few preservative systems to test now.  I may see if I can get a water activity test on a few alternate systems as well.  On the plus side, some of the improvements to make preservation easier also improved how moisturizing the lotion was.
    I figured sharing the bad results could be helpful for some other newbs like me.  Basically main thing was that I should have been more careful about temperature checks and I had used way too much gum.  Once I get more tests in I will update more.
    Oh, the pending further tests formula also has polyquats besides less gum.  I suspect that helped.  Especially as heat doesn’t ruin them…
    • PhilGeis

      January 23, 2024 at 6:39 pm

      Where are you with preservation?

      As stated above phenoxyethanol is NOT coconut derived.

      Benzyl alcohol and DHA is a poor preservative system and you’d be better off with Benzoic than Sorbic acid.

      Leucidal is a WASTE.

      • This reply was modified 4 months, 3 weeks ago by  PhilGeis.
  • Makingprogress

    January 23, 2024 at 12:38 pm

    Hi KateCreates,

    I’m completely new to formulating but after reading your posts here I realized that you’ve been working on creating the exact same thing that I would like to make. I personally am allergic to coconut as well as some other allergens and there are next no options on the market. I would like to follow you if possible as you seem to have way more expertise (and you’ve made more progress). This post seems old so may I ask if you have already started marketing you products yet and how did your tests go?

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