Do you know what the average shelf life of a water-based product with essential oils is before it starts "going bad?" Even if you refrigerate it? THREE DAYS! That is, if you do not use a preservative! I started using Benzylalcohol-DHA which Making Cosmetics describes as "a broad-spectrum preservative blend consisting of benzylalcohol (aromatic alcohol) (87%), dehydroacetic acid (8%) & water (5%) and is an effective alternative to parabens. It is soluble in water, alcohols & glycols." This is the natural preservative that I chose to use in all of my water-based products. That includes things like hydrosols, aloe vera, and other water-based extracts.
I knew you needed to use preservatives in hydrous products, but I didn't know how fast things start to degrade without it and how prone they become to microbial growth. You can also add antioxidants like Vitamin E Oil and Rosemary Antioxidant (which is a plant extract and not an essential oil) to properly ensure your products shelf life, but they do not act as preservatives on their own. I used to make my own foaming hand soap with a simple recipe using distilled water, castile soap, and essential oils -- without any preservatives. Guess what, that all natural soap I made would be floating with microbial growth in a matter of days!
There are preservative calculators that can assist you in figuring out the correct weight to add to your finished products. I like the one from HumbleBee & Me, but you need to keep in mind that it is basing the weight in grams, which is the standard unit of measurement for making topical cosmetic applications. There are also conversion tools available to figure out the total weight in grams if you are using ounces. One ounce roughly equals 28.3495 grams. Most kitchen or lab scales can be adjusted to switch from ounces to grams as well.
There are many FDA regulations in place when it comes to legally selling hydrous products -- those being products that contain any type of water-based ingredient. I started using Sagescript Institute, LLC in Colorado to test my products. Sagescript states, "The FDA does not require any microbiology testing but it is a responsible thing to do to protect your formula and your customer. The FDA does say that a cosmetic should not be adulterated which is interpreted as meaning it should not contain harmful bacteria or fungus." All this means is that if you are making and selling products, you are liable for them. Pro tip: It is also a good idea to get yourself some business and personal liability insurance. The Indie Business Network and The Handcrafter's Soap and Cosmetics Guild offer discounts as a membership benefit.
Each product will cost between $28 and $32 for microbial testing. You package and label your samples and mail them to the lab, they test them, and then send you the report. The whole process can take about 2-3 weeks. It is recommended that even if you are using the same base ingredients, but make a slight variation to the coloring, essential oils, or fragrance oils that you should also have those products tested too -- even though they will most likely yield the same results as the base products that were originally tested.
Preservatives exist for a reason and the natural ones will conform to your personal or philosophical standards that you may adhere to in your product creation process. There are numerous natural preservatives available on the market in the US, UK, and Europe. When in doubt, if it has any water or water-based products in it, use a preservative!
The term Comedogenic as it pertains to carrier oils and essential oils is a determination of whether or not certain oils with a rating of 0-5 will cause your skin to breakout because of clogged pores. My skin is pretty resilient and I use Coconut Oil and Shea Butter in most of my skincare recipes. Essential oils on their own are non-comedogenic, but in most cases you will be using them with some sort of carrier oil. The types of commonly used carrier oils have comedogenic ratings from 0-5 based upon how likely they are to clog pores and cause breakouts.
Here is a breakdown of the ratings:
Here is a list of the most commonly used carrier oils and their comedogenic ratings:
If you end up with clogged pores and breakouts you can always use a deep pore cleansing mask on occasion and/or sugar scrubs or salt scrubs. The sugar and salt scrubs that I use contain a small amount of coconut oil, which helps prevent the sugar and salt from irritating my skin. The coconut oil can be replaced with Argan Oil or Fractionated Coconut Oil too. I alternate using them throughout the week.
One thing that I enjoy about making my own beauty products and skin care products is that I can customize recipes based on skin type. My skin and hair are both oily by nature, so I can choose from several different carrier oils and essential oils that are beneficial for my hair and skin type.
Essential Oils by Skin Type
Carrier Oils: Coconut oil, Sweet Almond oil, Jojoba oil, Hempseed oil, Sunflower oil, and Grapeseed oil.
Essential Oils: Frankincense, German Chamomile, Geranium, Jasmine, Lavender, Lemon, Neroli, Palmarosa, and Rose.
Carrier Oils: Avocado oil, Sweet Almond oil, Olive oil, and Rosehip oil.
Essential Oils: Geranium, Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Sandalwood, Rose, Helichrysum, Neroli, Rosemary, German Chamomile, Frankincense, Myrrh, Palmarosa, and Carrot Seed.
Carrier Oils: Sweet Almond oil, Apricot oil, Jojoba oil, Sunflower oil, Hempseed oil, Tung oil, and Grapeseed oil.
Essential Oils: Tea Tree, Rosemary, Lavender, Neroli, Cedarwood, Carrotseed, Frankincense, Geranium, Myrrh, Patchouli, Rose, and Ylang Ylang.
Carrier Oils: Jojoba Oil, Sesame seed oil, Sweet Almond oil, and Apricot oil.
Essential Oils: Lavender, Geranium, Tea Tree, Sandalwood, Chamomile, Neroli, and Rose.
Carrier Oils: Jojoba oil, Avocado oil, Apricot oil, Sesame seed oil, and Rosehip oil.
Essential Oils: Frankincense, Lavender, Geranium, Sandalwood, Rose, Myrrh, Carrot Seed, Lemon, and Rosemary.
Most of the time you will be using your essential oils in combination of carrier oils and other ingredients. I usually keep Coconut Oil, Jojoba, Sweet Almond Oil, and Grapeseed Oil on hand in addition to Vitamin E Oil and Vegetable Glycerin. You can find these oils at Whole Foods or online through Amazon.
Carrier oils are usually vegetable oils that come from their seeds, nuts, or plant kernels. Most essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin, so they have to be diluted with a carrier oils. These oils, when combined with essential oils, are also used in many beauty products such as sugar scrubs, lotions, balms, moisturizers, perfumes, and more. Carrier oils are usually odorless except coconut oil.
Apricot Kernel Oil is very gentle and is ideal for sensitive skin and safe for children. It can be substituted for sweet almond oil. It is often used in beauty products for lotion recipes and hot oil treatments.
Argan Oil has benefits range from being nourishing for your hair to repairing split ends and taming frizz. In addition to being an excellent carrier oil for your hair, it can be applied to your skin and nails, or callused feet to improve cracks in heels and to nail, cuticles to strengthen brittle nails.
Avocado Oil is high in essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. It is ideal for sensitive skin or problem skin and eczema. Avocado is usually combined with other carrier oils and not used alone.
Castor Oil is an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal carrier oil. It can be used on irritated skin. It is usually combined with other carrier oils and not used alone.
Coconut Oil has a myriad of uses for hair and skin products. It provides antioxidants that protect against the signs of aging, making it the perfect quick and easy moisturizer for your face and body. It can also be used in moderation for shampoo and nourishing conditioner. It has antifungal and antibacterial properties and can be used for lip balms and lotions. It is solid at room temperature but can melt when in warmer conditions. Coconut oil can be combined with other carrier oils so that it becomes more pliable. Unrefined coconut oil is the best for beauty products because the refinement process uses chemicals to extract more oil, and in turn bleaches and deodorizes the oil. It has a shelf-life of 2-4 years.
Evening Primrose Oil is used for dry skin, eczema and minor skin irritations. It is great for the skin and hair and is said to reduce the effects of aging.
Flaxseed Oil is high in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. It promotes hair growth as well.
Grapeseed Oil is a dry oil so that it does not contribute to oily skin. It's used in hair recipes and skin recipes. It works as a natural astringent, so it is ideal for acne-prone or oily skin.
Jojoba oil has a moderately low comedogenic rating, making it ideal for both oily and mature skin. It can be used to remove makeup while acting as a moisturizer. It also can be used on your nails to improve strength and overall growth and on hair to soften hair follicles and to reduce split ends. It absorbs into your skin easily without leaving a greasy residue. Jojoba oil can clog pores, so it's best used with other oils.
Macadamia Nut Oil is a dry oil like Grapeseed oil, so it absorbs quickly without leaving an oily residue and is great for skin and hair.
Neem Oil is the perfect for sensitive skin because it is rich in antioxidant and fatty acids. It can help to reverse sun damage and to prevent moisture loss. Neem also naturally nourishes the skin while tackling wrinkles and other fine lines.
Olive Oil is available in supermarkets and is a popular beauty recipe ingredient. It has good fats for your skin and hair. It can leave behind excess oil that doesn't soak into your skin right away. It works as an exfoliant and does not clog pores. It works as an excellent makeup remover as well and doesn't irritate the skin in the process. Some people may be allergic to olive oil in which case; it can cause skin irritation.
Rosehip Oil is a fast-absorbing dry oil that helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots, eye bags and fine lines by soaking into the skin easily and without leaving an oily residue. It helps to heal blemishes while restoring moisture to any rough patches on your skin. The fatty acid content also contributes to rosehips ability to diminish scars and other dark marks to promote the production of new cells. Rosehip oil is high in vitamins A and E which are good for your skin. It also has essential fatty acids that promote elastin and collagen production. It's often used in beauty products such as creams and balms for stretch marks, burns, wrinkles, eczema, and sunburn.
Safflower Oil is high in linoleic acid and is great for acne prone skin. It is also often used for cleansing purposes because it removes oil and dirt from the skin and hair without drying it. It lubricates the skin protecting your natural moisture.
Sesame Seed Oil is a lightweight oil that can be used in massage oils. It moisturizes the skin without leaving an oily residue.
Sunflower Oil is often used in recipes to treat psoriasis, eczema, dry skin, or damaged skin. It is a lightweight oil that can be used as a massage oil.
Sweet Almond Oil is perfect for any skin type especially if you have sensitive skin, acne, eczema, dry, irritated, or oily skin; Almond Oil provides a plethora of hydrating benefits without agitating sensitive skin. Not only is it a perfect moisturizer, but Almond Oil also helps to restore the skins natural protective barrier. It moisturizes your skin and is versatile, so it works in many beauty recipes. It is high in vitamins A and E which nourishes your skin. Do not use sweet almond oil if you have a nut allergy.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.