We are asked all the time about natural preservatives for cosmetics. So today we are sharing three broad spectrum preservatives, either derived from natural sources or nature identical, that are readily available, easy to use and carry organic certification.

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When and why do you need to use preservatives?

Cosmetic products need preservation to prevent microbial growth, spoiling of the cosmetic product and potential skin infections. 

Preservatives play a very important function in products containing water; they kill microorganisms and water borne bacteria and prevent the growth of bacteria, mould and yeast.

If a product contains water (including hydrosols, floral water and aloe vera which all contain water) or will come into contact with water (e.g. a scrub used with wet fingers) a preservative is essential to help prevent microbes growing. Preservatives are not generally necessary in anhydrous products which are not prone to microbial contamination (unless of course they may come into contact with water).

You will need to use a broad spectrum preservative which means it is effective against bacteria, mould and yeast.

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the amount of preservative to use; too much or too little could be potentially hazardous.

The only way to know that your preservative working sufficiently is to have a microbiological challenge test carried out by a lab. This is recommended (and in some countries compulsory) if you are selling your products.

Vitamin E, rosemary extract and grapefruit seed extract are not preservatives.

Here are 3 broad spectrum natural preservatives for cosmetics:

The below list are all approved for use in certified organic products. They are either derived from natural sources or are nature identical.

REMEMBER: It is your responsibility to check the efficacy of your preservative system. We strongly recommend having a microbiological challenge test carried out by a lab as this is the best way to be sure that your preservative system is effective.

1) Preservative Eco

Other trade names include Mikrokill ECT, Geogard ECT and Plantaserv M.

INCI: Benzyl Alcohol (and) Salicylic Acid (and) Glycerin (and) Sorbic Acid

(Meets Ecocert and COSMOS Standards)

This is a broad spectrum preservative which contains four different components: Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerin and Sorbic Acid. These molecules are all found in nature in plants such as pine resin, rowan berries and willow bark. It is a non-paraben, non-formaldehyde, non-isothiazolone based preservative system. A liquid that is added to the cooling phase of a cream. It also has a low odour profile therefore ideal for fragrance-free systems. Suitable for use in oil-in-water, water-in-oil and water based formulas so compatible with a wide range of skin, hair and sun care formulations.

Available from Aromantic (UK). Also sold as Geogard™ ECT available from Voyageur Soap and Candle Company (USA) and Plantaserv M available from New Directions (Australia).

It’s usually used at 1% in water based products.

Not permitted in products for children under the age of 3 yrs.

It has a wide pH compatibility of pH 3-8.

2) Geogard 221 / Cosgard

INCI: Benzyl Alcohol (and) Dehydroacetic Acid

(Meets Ecocert and COSMOS standards, NaTrue Certified and Soil Association approved)

An Ecocert approved, multi-use, broad spectrum preservative system that is a synergistic blend of an organic acid and alcohol that can be added at room and elevated temperatures. Dehyroacetic Acid & Benzyl Alcohol are both organic compounds which are accepted for use in natural cosmetics, offering a broad spectrum of stability at a wide range of pH. The organic preservative compound is a non-paraben, non-formaldehyde, non isothiazolone based preservative system.

Available from Naturally Thinking (UK) and Making Cosmetics (USA) and Go Native (NZ).

It is water soluble with an effective pH from pH 2-7.

Typical recommended use level is 0.2-1%.

3) Naticide / Plantaserv Q

INCI: Fragrance or Parfum

A broad-spectrum preservative effective against Gram+, Gram -, yeasts and moulds. Naticide is a vegetable derived fragrance that has a sweet vanilla/almond like scent and this remains in the end formulation. This preservative is popular with natural companies in Australia and New Zealand.

It is effective at a pH of 4-9.

Typical recommended use level is up to 0.3- 1% depending on the type of formulation. Up to 0.6% is soluble in water. Further details can be obtained from the supplier Sinerga.

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