Preservatives in Soap use them or not is often a difficult choice that soap makers and makers of bath and body products face.

On the one hand, most who venture into this craft, do so because of a desire to create something more natural and skin friendly than what is currently available commercially.

This means doing away with chemicals as much as possible.

On the other hand, doing away will all those chemicals can lead to the growth of mould and germs.

We all know that mould and germs applied directly to the skin is not exactly a skin friendly alternative.

Finding a happy medium can be a challenge but, with a little research, you'll be able find the balance that works for you.

Soap Preservatives

Over the years I've religiously used grapefruit seed extract, rosemary extract and vitamin E oil in many of my soap recipes as my choice of preservatives.

For the most part my soaps have lasted quite a long time but during the past few years, I've come to wonder if my soap really needs to outlive its fragrance.

Since I prefer to use my soaps when they are 2 - 6 months old, I now adhere to the following guidelines rather than resorting to expensive preserving additives.

  • Use the freshest ingredients possible.
  • Try to keep the superfat amount down to around 5% - 10%.
  • Always store your soaps in a cool, dry and dark location. Moisture should not be introduced to the soaps until they are going to be used.
  • For cold process soaps, plastic storage containers and shrink wrap are not a good idea. Soap continually loses the water they were made with. If you trap that moisture in, it will settle back on to the soap and over time will cause the soap to have that 'off' smell. Not pleasant. Store your soaps loosely in cardboard boxes or on open shelves in a dry location.

Bath and Body Preservatives

Water based bath and body products are a different matter all together! Many lotion and body butter recipes contain water based ingredients like aloe vera gel, milks, hydrosols and of course plain water. These recipes need to have some sort of blend of broad spectrum or a full spectrum preservative in order to stop the growth of bacteria, mould and fungus.

Don't despair....there are some wonderful choices available today and even though they are still chemically derived, they are by far a better alternative to many used commercially.

Some Preservative Choices

Below you will find a list of natural and not so natural preservatives that are commonly used in the handmade soap and bath and body making industry. Be sure to check the seller or manufacturer for usage rates.

Grapefruit Seed Extract - a natural broad spectrum preservative used to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other nasties. It is not, in itself, a full spectrum preservative and must be used in conjunction with other broad spectrum preservatives to be effective. Note that it can be sensitizing to some individuals. When added to a soap formula, it will speed up trace considerably.

Rosemary Extract - an anti-oxidant that slows down oxidation of natural materials. Oil based recipes containing oils that have short shelf lives can benefit from this product. Be aware that rosemary extract smells like rosemary and may add scent to your final product. Luckily, a little goes a long way.

Vitamin E Oil - another anti-oxidant. Usually a mix of tocopherols blended in an oil. Try to purchase one with at lease 50% mixed tocopherols for better protection. For use in anhydrous products.

Germaben II - is effective at preserving water and non-water based products.  Consists of Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben.

Germall Plus - a broad spectrum anti-microbial preservative.  For use in anhydrous and water based products. Consists of Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate

Optiphen Plus - a world wide approved paraben and urea free broad spectrum preservative that is effective against bacteria, yeast and moulds. Optiphen Plus also imparts emolliency to finished products making it a great addition to lotions and cream rinses.  Consists of Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sorbic Acid.

This information is provided for reference use only and is not meant to substitute the advice of a licensed health care professional.

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