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Ask The Formulator-FAQ & Facts

Where your questions are answered about DIY’ing cosmetics and more. I get real and I get to the nitty gritty. Hopefully with some humor, easy to understand info and Southern charm.

We’re back with another session of “Ask the Formulator”.  And here I go talking about preservatives again.

Hey y’all! I’m Ginger, founder and owner of Neos Skin Care. If you’ve hung out with me here at the blog or on social media, you may get tired of me harping on this but I will shout it from the rooftops and hope and pray eventually at least a few will get it.  In case you didn’t already know from the title of this post or the intro above, today’s topic is preservatives in cosmetics/personal care products and home care products.

Did you know the very nature of the ingredients used in natural and mostly natural products you love to make yourself or buy for your skin or home and the fact that they are food for microbes means those same products MUST have a good preservative system?  A system! That means this is not a simple process with just one ingredient or one of the available preservatives and it varies from product to product. No one can say “This ingredient or this preservative is what you need and want to use. It can and will protect every product that you may purchase or make for yourself at home.” And if they do say this or similar, they are ill-informed and not the best person to be listening to.

Preserving cosmetics is multi-faceted and part of an entire SYSTEM that starts with the first initial formulation process that starts with conception. The entire formula must be taken into account and designed for optimum safety and preservation. It’s not one step…it’s many steps. It’s not one ingredient, it’s many ingredients. It’s not a single rule, it’s many rules. It’s a process and each individual formula as a whole, not “Oh, just add X and it will be safe and preserved properly”. It’s hugely complicated and detailed with so many factors to consider and plan for. A good and safe product doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t even happen in a week. It is conceived, evaluated, R&D’d for months and sometimes years and needs to be tested extensively. It’s a very involved systematic process. Every variable and nuance must be considered and tested for effect. Every possible scenario must be played out and accounted for. Every potential outcome must be looked at. One change in ingredients, be it the ingredient itself or how much of it is used, can effect the final product and its stability. One seemingly insignificant condition or adjustment can change the course and what is required.  

Many want to make their own products at home. I get it. I really do. But here’s the thing. It is not as easy or as inexpensive as you may think or have been led to believe. Likewise, as much as many want others like me to just tell them an easy way or what to use specifically, that’s not doable. It’s not something that can be taught or shared with an easy button or in a social media or blog post, in a short sound-byte, a quick post or article, on a thread in a Facebook group. It’s an entire area of education because it is an entire area of expertise. Expertise comes from an investment of time and expense to get the education needed, do the work and study, research and yes, you guessed it… takes Experience.  A lot of each.  It often takes a good bit of sacrifice….and in my case, brain cells.  And while I’m at it, NO….you will not learn everything you need to know about formulating and using preservatives from a single class, webinar or seminar, whether it’s geared toward that topic of focus or not, either. Ever wonder why the aromatherapy courses don’t teach about preservatives?  It requires a lot of time to not only learn it but try to teach it and actually needs to be a course or topic specific extended class of its own. with many cumulative hours of focused attention. Most aromatherapists and aromatherapy teachers are not knowledgeable or experienced in proper formulation methods and safety protocols in regards to cosmetics or home care products. It’s not their area of study.  Many don’t even know preservative systems are needed and that essential oils will not preserve sufficiently. To put it bluntly, you can’t teach what you don’t know. 

I’m really sorry to disappoint anyone here and it’s not my intention to discourage you. But this is reality. If you want safe products free from contaminants, you are going to have to have a preservative. Not just “A Preservative”….A WHOLE PRESERVATIVE SYSTEM. As much as anyone wants it to be simple with an easy answer, no one, including me, can give you a cut and dried, easy answer on preserving products because to do so would be irresponsible. It’s also really discrediting to formulators and rather demeaning to them and their knowledge and expertise by diminishing it to a single universal answer that wouldn’t be correct anyways. If you want to DIY extensively, you are going to have to learn about formulating and preserving personal care products. You are going to have to invest in what it will take to learn about formulating and preserving properly and research it from all angles with all its nuances and variables. I’m 25+ years in and still not 1/2 as knowledgeable as I would like to be.  So when you ask “What preservative should I use?” don’t get offended if I tell you, I can’t answer that. It’s not as simple as one asking should they use 2 eggs or 3 in a cake recipe, should they use butter or coconut oil in a cookie recipe or would roasted garlic be a good addition to a casserole recipe. Product formulation is far more in-depth, intricate and precise than most cooking or baking. It just is. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not, run the other way. They may get you in big trouble.

I came across this video that may explain it better than I can or have. Watch it and read the comments. Really listen to this fella because unlike me, he’s no small fish in the field of formulation and the industry of cosmetics.  He has more education and knowledge than I will ever have. 

That’s it for this session of Ask the Formulator.  I hope this one doesn’t keep you from reading in the future or asking me questions to talk about in this series.  Send in those questions and if I can answer them, I will.

I’ll see y’all next time.  


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