All Natural vs Preservatives

Hello, Friends

The great debate in skin care products seems to center around preservatives and all natural. All natural is a hot button item. What constitutes "natural"?

As a long time soapmaker, I have many times heard things like:

"I want all natural."

"I don't use chemicals."

"I want a preservative free lotion."

Today's subject will deal with the truth about the various bath and body products I offer for sale. You can refer to my other blog posts about handmade soap and glycerin soaps and the great natural preservative free debate. In a nutshell, I offer handmade soap, made from scratch that can be as pure, organic and natural as soap can be and still be soap. For example, my Vestal Castile soap, is made with only 100% certified organic olive oil, distilled water and lye. Lye is not natural but you cannot have soap without lye. 

You cannot have an organic soap because there is no such thing as organic water or organic lye, just a soap made with organic oils. I also sell soap that is made with pure, natural oils and butters, scented with pure essential oils like my Lavender Monet, Peppermint Wow, Hippie Trip etc. These soaps are not as natural as the Vestal Castile because they have colorants that are skin safe but not natural. Then you have my soaps that use fragrance oils along with natural essential oils like Vanilla Buttermint, Connemara, Blackberry Martini, Caribbean Dawn etc. that use natural oils and butters but fragrance oils are not as natural. All the handmade soap is close to nature, the colorants and fragrances are a very small percentage of the total ingredients.

My glycerin soaps, while top quality, are not a natural product. No glycerin soap on the market is just glycerin. There are some organic oils used in glycerin soaps but glycerin based soaps are not as close to nature as handmade soaps. If you are looking for close to nature soap, the best is Vestal Castile. Even glycerin soaps are made with lye. You cannot have soap without lye. No lye, No soap, No lie! If a soapmaker claims they have glycerin soap made without lye, they do not know what they are talking about, find someone who does. They did not use lye, but the soapmaker that made the glycerin soap that they bought, used lye to make the soap. If they don't know this, they should not be offering the product for sale.

The most problematic thing I see on the market with reference to handmade soaps and body care is soap makers who make false claims. Claiming that glycerin soaps are made with just glycerin, not possible. Claiming they make preservative free lotions, not safe.

There is no such thing as "essential" oil of watermelon, cucumber melon, lilac, lily of the valley etc. These are synthetic fragrance oils. Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, mints, sage, tea tree etc come from extracting the natural oils from herbal plants. Essential oils are usually natural, but even essential oils can be processed using chemical solvents. If the oils is pressed or steam extracted I consider them natural. Most flowers, foods like melons and berries, do not have enough oils to make an essential oil, that is why those scents are synthetic. If someone is selling you a product that has these scents and claim they are made with all essential oils, they either are sadly misinformed/uneducated about their products or they are knowingly making false claims. I see ads from companies like Glade that state their products are made with essential oils: rain, apple cinnamon, fresh melon, rose etc. There may be a few drops of essential oils in the product but there isn't an apple essential oil for example. If you think about it, how much oil is there in a cucumber? Citrus fruits have oils in their skin, so there are essential oils of orange, lemon, grapefruit etc. but not stawberries, melon and so on.

You can have soaps made with natural colorants made from herbs and plants but to get the more vibrant colors you need to use dyes, oxides, micas etc. I only use colorants that are FDA approved for skin care but they are not all natural. Oxides are found in the earth, but the natural oxides are not safe for skin care products as they contain heavy metals. The oxides approved for skin care are lab made. Soapmakers should not claim all natural colorants if they are using oxides. These ingredients are approved and safe for use, but if you are seeking natural, stick with uncolored soaps or those that have subtle colors from plant based colorants.

Preservative that are lab proven and do the job to maintain a safe product usually are not natural. Grapeseed extract, ROE and vitamin E are anti-oxidants. They are natural and help oils from becoming rancid but they DO NOT provide the needed protection from bacterial growth to serve as a preservative.

All natural does not equate to safe, ecologically sound and healthy. Bacteria, salmonella, cocaine, and staph germs are natural but I don't want to put them on my skin. Chemicals are not bad. Everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical, oxygen is a chemical, we are chemicals. Synthetic products are not necessarily evil. I do understand customer's concerns about being as close to nature as possible so I offer a range of products fit those needs. I always label my products truthfully, please buy from a soapmaker that is honest.

In order to offer a safe product, some items MUST have preservatives. I only have a very few products that require preservatives. Soaps do not need preservatives. Any and all lotions and creams need preservatives. To achieve a lotion or cream consistency, the recipes are oils/butters, water, emulsifiers combined to make the lotion. Those components can be all natural. But anytime you make a product with water, a preservative must be used unless the lotion will be kept refrigerated and used within a couple of days at most. Water introduced into any formulation creates a breeding ground for bacteria. There is no getting around this. If a lotion or cream is not properly perserved, it is dangerous. Serious infections such as staph and botulism can be introduced with the use of a contaminated skin care item.

I only sell one lotion, The Geisha Silken Therapy Lotion. My Tootsie Heaven glycerin foot care cream, Shea Souffle and Bath Bubbles are products that are properly preserved using a safe, proven preservative in a usage rate recommended by the manufacturer:


If you are looking for preservative free, close to nature products, these few items are not for you.

I make a wide variety of body butters and balms that are not made with water. As such, they can be safe without any preservatives. Of course, the texture of these treats are heavier because there is no water and emulsifiers to allow for the lighter consistency of a lotion or cream. Unfortunately, you cannot have both a light, lotion consistency and preservative free.

I sell pure butters like shea, in both virgin, organic and refined. The most natural is the virgin shea. It is gathered and processed by hand with mortar and pestle. It is clarified by boiling and packaged in its pure state. It does have a natural aroma of the shea, somewhat nutty and smokey. The same shea is further processed through filters that renders it almost white and close to odorless. I offer the refined shea with various fragrances including pure essential lavender oil. The other fragrances are synthetic and essential blends like blackberry sage, lemon verbena, sandalwood etc. If you want organic natural go for the virgin shea, the next purest is the unscented or lavender refined shea and almost natural are the fragranced sheas.

Also, offered for sale in my ArtFire studio without preservatives and any artificial ingredients are coffee butter, avocado butter, hemp seed butter and cocoa butter.


All of my balms are preservative free. Phoenix Tears, Arnica, Muscle Massage, Lip Butters (natural only) are all pure, natural without any artificial ingredients or preservatives. The flavored lip butters have flavor oils and colorants that are FDA approved safe for lips, but again if you want to be as natural as possible, stick with the uncolored, unflavored lip balm. 


Some other natural or organics for sale in my studio are:

Sacred Amber products, Dead sea mud and salts, Lavender wands and sachets, talc free dusting powders unscented or fragranced with essential oils of lavender and chamomile, cherry pit therapy wraps make wonderful comfort gifts:

Bottom line - a few products are not safe without the use of preservatives. There are alternatives for natural, organic and preservative free skin care, just not lotions and creams. Please buy from reputable makers. Do some research to be sure you are getting a properly labeled product as well as a safe item. Sadly, some sellers are not educated or experienced enough to know they are selling something improperly labeled or preserved when needed.

Thanks for visiting,


Reader's Comments

By Guest on 02/13/2013 @ 06:19pmThank you for being so helpful. I am just making goat milk soap, but so fascinated by other products and everything that goes into making them!! Thank you for the extremely knowledgeable advice.

By Soapsmith on 02/07/2013 @ 06:05pmI would have some concern about the milk and spoilage. Even though it is powdered, it would somewhat reconstitute when added to your oils/butters. Then it would be just like having milk in a food product. How long would you leave milk at room temperature? That would be your guideline for how long to keep your cream/lotion without preservatives or refrigeration. It would need refrigeration if you aren't using a preservative. If you are making this for personal use, you could keep it refrigerated and make it up in small batches.

By Guest on 02/07/2013 @ 05:36pmTo clarify, if there is not water added to a cream/butter then no preservative is needed? What would the shelf life be? I am loving a facial cleanser I have been making every other day that includes powdered goat milk. I am wanting to make a cream/butter for my family that incorporates powered goat milk. If I were to do this, would I then have to use a preservative? If not, what would the approximate shelf life be?

By Guest on 09/11/2012 @ 03:47amBonnie, I totally agree that preservatives are needed in lotions and creams. I will not use parabens, but I do use germall plus or optiphen. I have been getting some pressure from a few of my retail customers to make all natural products with a natural preservative that follow the NPA. I was at a county fair as a vendor and another company was selling all natural sheep lotion with only grape seed oil extract as the preservative. I have to say, this really concerns me. If you are a manufacturer and you are making lotions or creams with a natural so called preservative, please have really high liability insurance, because there are some nasty micro-organisms that could actually cause blindness. It's very scary! As for my company, I don't think I want to even venture there, unless they find something that will really protect our products that is natural. As far as I know, they haven't found it yet.

By Soapsmith on 08/21/2012 @ 01:59amGermall plus liquid is a good preservative. It has to be used with products that contain water since it is water soluble so it isn't good for all oil based products or products that will be aerosolized. It is heat sensitive so you have to watch your temps. It is paraben free but is a formaldehyde releaser. All in all, it is a good preservative. Like any preservative, you need to match it to your product formulation.

By Guest on 08/19/2012 @ 12:14amWhat about Germall Plus Liquid? I enjoy making homemade lotions as they are lighter than butters. And I want to use as little as possible but I"ve heard both good and bad things about germall. So do you have any exp. with it? Would you recommend it?

By Soapsmith on 08/15/2012 @ 09:23pmI use a variety of preservatives. For my on line creams, the preservatives are: For the angel glow cream it is: Diazolidinyl Urea, and Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate is a non-formaldehyde chemical based on iodine. It is effective against fungus and bacteria when combined with diazolidinyl urea it creates a broad spectrum preservative. For the Geisha silken therapy cream it is: Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate Diazolidinyl urea used against bacteria but weak against fungi. Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate is used against yeasts and moulds, so the combination of the two creates a broad spectrum preservative boosted by the the propylene glycol. The shelf life of my creams is estimated at 9 months.

By Guest on 08/15/2012 @ 08:32pmCan I ask which preservative you are using in your lotions and what the shelf life is?

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