Synthetic & Natural Preservatives For Cosmetics & Lotions

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Preservatives get kind of a bad rap. While they’re perhaps not the most natural of ingredients, preservatives for cosmetics are most definitely, in some cases, extremely important.

They are also pervasive, present in many consumer goods. But why are they important? I’ll keep my ramblings on the subject-specific to diy face care products and bath product recipes to keep this on track and the information relevant.

Adding the preservative

What Are Cosmetic Preservatives And Why Are They Important?

The preservatives in cosmetics are what keep our lovely lotions and creams from going off. Bacteria love these products, as they’re perfect breeding grounds for a whole host of nasty microbes. The three we need to worry about are yeast, fungi, and bacteria.

Now, if you made a cream without a preservative, within little more than a couple of weeks mold, bacteria and yeast will take over and turn your once-lovely cream into a moldy mess. Sometimes the danger is invisible, as bacterial growth isn’t necessarily visible.

Danger may seem like an excessive term to use, but in reality, it’s the right one to use. Just spend a bit of time on the internet using search terms such as ‘dangers of unpreserved cosmetics’ and watch the horror stories roll in.

Women, and men, have been left with awful skin infections due to preservative-free cosmetics. Even worse, I once read about a poor woman who was blinded by one. It cannot be overstated how important it is to properly preserve your homemade cosmetic recipes, when necessary.

But there are still ways of avoiding preservatives, which we’ll discuss on this page. We’ll also talk about the difference between natural preservatives for cosmetics and synthetic preservatives, as well the myths surrounding what is and isn’t considered a broad-spectrum preservative.

measure preservative

When Is A Preservative For Cosmetics Necessary?

Now, to kick things off, I thought we’d take a look at which products require preservatives, and which don’t.

Yup, that’s right! Not all cosmetics require a preservative. So, it would be possible to avoid them depending on your choice of product. Nevertheless, if synthetic preservatives are a worry for you, remember that you can use natural preservatives for cosmetics, lotion and skin care recipes, which we’ll come on to later.

Lotions and Creams

making diy lotion

Preservative: Necessary

Yup, the converted oil in water or water in oil emulsion absolutely must be preserved. All microbes share a common necessity, and that is the need for water. As lotions and creams require water, this is where the problem lies. Thus, a preservative is necessary.

With the correct ingredients, you can make your own DIY body lotions, homemade face cream, and other moisturizers at home.

Body Butters and Anhydrous Creams

making body butter

Preservative: Not necessary

While not strictly necessary, it may be wise to add one if you use body butters immediately after bathing. But more on humidity, condensation and cross-contamination further down.

Here’s the process and ingredients to make your own body butter.

Body and Facial Oils

Step 4: Combine the oils in a separate beaker

Preservative: Not necessary

As body and facial oils do not contain water and are unlikely to suffer from humidity, condensation or cross-contamination, it is very unlikely you’ll ever need to use a preservative in these products.

Top-quality body moisturizing oils and face oil recipes are so simple to create.

Solid Soaps

Pour your soap batter into your mold

Preservative: Not necessary

While soaps do contain both oils and water, due to the manufacturing process, adding a preservative is unnecessary. Soaps have a relatively high PH, which is why they’re so good at cleansing the skin. This high PH also inhibits microbial growth, so you can save your preservative on soaps. Liquid soaps, however, are a bit of a different story.

My cold process soap tutorial with video and the soap calculator with formulation guide will get you started making soap at home.

Humidity, Condensation & Cross-Contamination

Something important to consider when deciding whether or not a cosmetic preservative is necessary is the chance water may enter a product after you have made it. This can happen in a variety of ways, but the most common is through humidity, condensation, and cross-contamination.

Let’s take a pot of bath salts, for instance. Knowing that the recipe doesn’t call for water, you would think including a preservative wouldn’t be necessary. In theory, this is fine, however, in practice, it may not be.

Naturally, you may want to store your lovely bath bombs in the bathroom. When you take your next shower or bath, water enters the air in the form of humidity and then into your bath salts in the form of condensation. This is one-way water can enter a product after it is made.

Now, let’s say you added some of the bath salts to your tub and then got in a usual. However, you’ve found you haven’t added enough of them. So, you grab the jar and take a handful to add to the tub. Without knowing it, your wet hand has inadvertently introduced water into your bath salts through cross-contamination, another way water can enter a product after it is made.

Now, there are some things you can do to avoid this, such as keeping your products in airtight containers, storing them outside the bathroom and being careful when handling them. But really, you could save yourself the worry by adding a preservative to any product that could potentially come into contact with water. The choice is totally up to you!

Here’s a list of some of the products that I’ve found that can often come into contact with water after they’re made:

Are Antioxidants and Essential Oils Effective Preservatives?

ingredients, including the vitamin e, essential oils and the preservative.

The shortest answer I can give you is no. When thinking about a preservative for cosmetics, it’s important to remember that it’s a system and not a single entity. No matter the preservative you choose, it’s likely to contain several ingredients that form a preservative system that is ‘broad spectrum’, meaning it’ll prevent all three forms of microbial growth (yeast, fungi, and bacteria).

While antioxidants are great at preventing say, carrier oils from oxidizing and in turn going rancid, they are not considered ‘broad spectrum’ and so they are useless as a preservative system.

Do not be fooled! Many articles and videos across the web attempt to contradict what I’ve said here. However, do your research! All reputable DIY skincare blogs will say exactly as I have.

The following ingredients are NOT considered to be broad-spectrum preservatives and are not good substitutes:

Vitamin E
Rosemary CO2 Extract
Grapefruit Extract
All Essential Oils (essential oils guide)

Which Preservative Should I Buy?

Savvy Homemade Ingredients Store

A selection of the following preservatives can be found here on Amazon.

Natural Preservative For Cosmetics

Preservative Eco (Geogard ECT)

Inci: Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerine, Sorbic Acid

Recommended dose: 1%

PH: Use in products with a PH of between 3-8

Suitable for use in water in oil and oil in water emulsions, as well as fully water-based recipes.

Preservative Eco is widely accepted in natural skincare. It is paraben, formaldehyde, and isothiazolone free.  Its broad spectrum preservation will keep your products free of bacteria, yeast, and mold for up to 6 months.

Where To Buy: Geogard ECT is produced by Lonza, and can be found at the Formulator Sample Shop more info can be found at Prospector.

Geogard Ultra

Inci: Gluconolactone, Sodium Benzoate, & Calcium Gluconate

Recommended dose: 0.75–2%

PH: Use in products with a PH of between 3-6

Suitable for use in water in oil and oil in water emulsions, as well as fully water-based products.

Geogard Ultra is patented preservative that offers broad-spectrum preservation. It works by slowly releasing gluconic acid, which will ensure efficient preservation. I have only found it in a powdered form.

Where To Buy: Geogard Ultra is produced by Lonza, and can be found at the Formulator Sample Shop more info can be found at Prospector.


Inci: Parfum

Recommended dose: 0.3–1%

PH: Use in products with a PH of between 4-9

As it is only partially water-soluble (up to 0.6%), it is suitable in water in oil emulsions, oil in water emulsions and anhydrous recipes.

Naticide is an interesting preservative that offers broad-spectrum preservation. It is made from essential oil compounds and has a slight aroma (a little like vanilla). For this reason, be sure to take this into consideration when formulating a fragranced product.

Where To Buy: Naticide is produced by Sinerga, and more info can be found at and Prospector. You can also sometimes find Naticide On Amazon.

Synthetic Preservatives For Cosmetics

Germaben II

Inci: Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben

Recommended dose: 0.3–1%

PH: Use in products with a PH of between 3-7.5

Suitable for use in water in oil and oil in water emulsions, as well as fully water-based products.

Due to its ingredients, it is not lip or eye safe.

Germaben is one of the most common synthetic preservatives in cosmetics and personal care products. It offers broad-spectrum preservative and is a must-have for anyone who isn’t concerned about natural preservation.

Where To Buy: You can buy Germaben II On Amazon


Inci: Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben

Recommended dose: 0.5–1%

PH: Use in products with a PH of between 3-8

Suitable for water in oil and oil in water emulsions, as well as anhydrous recipes

An effective synthetic preservative that offers broad-spectrum preservation. However, no matter the usage rate, Phenonip is 100% oil soluble and should only be used in emulsions and anhydrous formulation. Like the previous two examples, its a good preservative to have on hand if you are not concerned about natural preservation.

Where To Buy: You can buy Phenonip On Amazon


Inci: Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Propylene Glycol

Recommended dose: 0.5–1%

PH: Use in products with a PH of between 3-10

Suitable for water in oil and oil in water emulsions, as well as anhydrous and liquid soap recipes

An interesting preservative that has a particularly large PH tolerance range. For this very reason, I recommend this preservative for anyone making liquid soap.

Where To Buy: You can buy Saliguard On Amazon

Is Using a Preservative Enough?

Add your preservative using a pipette

Difficult Products to Preserve

Sometimes a preservative just isn’t enough, especially if you’re looking to preserve naturally. Clay, for instance, is extremely difficult to preserve naturally when wet. Thus, it is important to be careful when making something like a homemade face mask.

My advice, in this case, would be to only make enough for you to use up within 2 weeks. This way, you won’t run into problems with microbial growth.

Alternatively, keep your liquid and dry ingredients separately until you plan to use it. Then, you would simply have to divide a single portion of both sets of ingredients, combine, and then use it there and then.

Making Small Batch Sizes

Even with a good natural preservative for cosmetics, your products are unlikely to last longer than 6 months. While this is fine for an everyday homemade moisturizer, this can become problematic for a product that may be used only once a month.

In this case, I would suggest only making a batch size that can be used up within 6 months. Be mindful of how much you’re making, thinking critically about how often you’ll use it and how much you’ll use each time you do.

Testing Your Cosmetic Products

If you sell products in the EU or certain Asian countries, you’ll know about the importance of testing your products for microbial growth. This is a legal requirement to sell cosmetics in this region. However, if you are making cosmetics for personal use or as gifts, this isn’t necessary.

Microbial challenge testing tests how well your preservative system works, as well as whether or not it is a broad-spectrum. They can, however, be quite expensive. So, in the case of the home cosmetics maker with no intention to sell, I would recommend doing your research. Ensure that the preservative system you’re using is reputable, effective, and used properly in your recipes.