Make Your Own Lotion: Preservatives

I’m back with another informative lotion making post!  But first, let me answer some questions from my email (so excited that people, however few, are emailing me with questions!)

What do you know about soap making?

A lot actually! I probably won’t do any posts about it in the near future because I think it’s more intimidating and complex than making lotion. But if you’re interested, I can post my favorite original soap recipe.  I’ll get on it!

Do you have a recipe that works well for eczema?

Yup.  My eldest daughter has mild eczema (used to be moderate but has gotten better) and we use a great beeswax based cream.  I will post in my next lotion post.

Why do you use Optiphen as preservative over other options?

I will discuss that in this post!

I am SO happy that these posts about lotion making are helpful.  Please don’t hesitate to email me with questions at  Onto the matter of preservatives!

Firstly, you are not obligated to use preservative in your homemade lotion for personal use.  The final product will still qualify as a lotion even if you don’t use preservative.  If you would like to start selling lotion, you may be required to use preservative.  I will not discuss much about how to go about selling your homemade lotions since that’s mostly legal stuff.

Although you are not obligated to use chemical preservative, I highly recommend it if you want your lotion to last a reasonable amount of time.  So first, let’s discuss exactly what a preservative is.

A preservative is a chemical that slows the growth of microbes a.k.a. germs and molds.  It does not kill the microbes that are already present so you should make lotions under very sanitary conditions and be sure to sanitize the bottles and caps using 70% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.  [This process is easy.  Just pour a small amount of alcohol in the bottle, add the cap, shake it up so the alcohol touches every surface.  Let the bottle air dry, upside down on a bottle tree is best.  When the bottle no longer smells like alcohol, you’re good!]  Preservative is often confused with antioxidant.  The two are not even a little similar though.  Antioxidants prevent oils and butters from decomposing, which would occur with or without microbes.  The process of microbe growth is independent of the process of fats going rancid.  So if a recipe says that vitamin E or any other antioxidant is a sufficient preservative, it should not be used.

I’ve seen many recipes say they use a natural preservative.  The most common natural preservative I’ve seen is grapefruit seed extract.  It is anti-microbial.  However, I have seen conflicting reports.  Some people say that in order for it to have any preservative qualities, the concentration would have to be so high, it would irritate the skin.  I have also seen people say you can use it at the same concentration you would use chemical preservative.  I’ve never experimented.  I can’t say for sure whether it works but I am always wary when reports are so disparate.

I have chosen not to go the natural preservative route.  There are a few reasons why I chose this route despite my hippie ways.

  1. I once made a cream with no preservative and watched it grow moldy before my eyes.  Gross.
  2. Lotion without preservative should be kept in the refrigerator.  I hate keeping lotion in the fridge.  It’s so far from where we use it, it’s extremely inconvenient.  And even in the fridge, it’s only going to last 10-14 days before it gets funky.
  3. Chemical preservatives work fine at a 1% concentration.  That means 99% of my lotion is natural, high-quality ingredients.  That automatically puts my lotion ahead of anything I could buy, in my opinion.
  4. I have full control over what goes on our skin.  I actively avoid parabens and so I can make lotions that use other preservatives that aren’t AS bad.

There are accessible, easy to find preservatives that you can buy online.  The 3 most common ones I have seen are Germaben, Germall, and Optiphen.  I do not use Germaben under any circumstances since it’s a paraben.  You can decide for yourself if you’d like to avoid parabens.  The evidence that parabens are harmful is by no means overwhelming, but it’s compelling enough for me to avoid.  If you’re interested, check this out or just Google it and come to your own conclusion.

Germall is not terrible and I don’t mind it.  I use Optiphen almost exclusively though.  I’ll tell you why.

As far as ickiness goes, I believe Germall and Optiphen are about equal.  [Again, feel free to come to your own conclusions! Always be skeptical and make your own decisions based on evidence.]  They both work at similar concentrations and they’re both effective.  However, most preservatives only work within certain pH ranges and temperature ranges.  Always check to make sure that the preservative you’re using will not be rendered ineffective by pH or temperature!  I use Optiphen because it works at a pretty high temperature meaning I can add it to my lotions while they’re still hot and have not thickened up yet.  Why is that important to me?  That means I can pour my lotions into their bottles while they’re still very easy to pour and then let them cool and thicken in the bottles.  The pH levels are a non-issue for the lotions I make.  I only concern myself with pH when I’m making soaps, scrubs, or hair products since my lotion ingredients mostly fall within a neutral pH range.  [If you’re not 100% sure what pH is, see my post here]

Okay, have I overloaded you?  I’m sorry.  Please email me if you need further clarification at  If you’re interested in getting your family healthier, using more natural products, taking control of what goes on and in your body, I’m here to help!

28 thoughts on “Make Your Own Lotion: Preservatives

  1. Hi hippi,
    I make my own natural home made lotion, but hate to put it in the refrigerator. So i use germal plus at 0.5% to prevent germs, mold, and bacteria. Sofar it work pretty well. I never had a cream that spoil no matter how long it last and i am happy with it. Lately my friend have been pushing me to make it a business and i may consider it. So my question is if i want to sell natural lotion what is the best preservative to use for longer shelf life that isacceptable on the market. Thank u

    • Hi! Sorry for the delayed response. I had a death in my family and am just getting back into the swing of things…sort of. I use Optiphen but Germall gives a great shelf life! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  2. Hi,

    Great reading. I feel better about using germall now. Do you, by any chance, have a post about PH levels?

  3. Hi, just wondering if you can use sugar as a preservative in a homemade lotion (since it is used in food)? If you make a simple syrup and add that to the lotion, will it draw out all moisture from your skin, instead of adding moisture? I know very little about chemistry, especially regarding skin care, and am just curious:)

    • Hi! Simple syrup/sugar in your lotion would definitely make it sticky so I wouldn’t go there. Also, you would need a lot of sugar. Sugar isn’t a practical way to preserve lotion.

  4. Hi!. Do you recommend the use of preservative for body butters (mix of oils, butter, honey and beeswax)?. Excellent blog; love it!.

    • Hi! I usually only use a preservative for products that contain water. Products with no water usually do fine with no preservative as long as they are used up within a reasonable amount of time and are kept clean, cool, and dry. Be sure to use an antioxidant such as vitamin E though to keep oils and butters from going rancid too quickly.

      • Thanks a lot; I have got through my first pot of home made butter and really liked it; but I thought, I better ask before I start with my second!. Cheers.

  5. Hi there, thanks for the article! I am getting ready to start making goats milk lotions, and am debating on whether to use all-natural or chemical preservatives. Way too much conflicting info out there! I personally don’t care if it’s 100% natural, but my husband is pushing for it as he thinks it will sell better. I’m really concerned about selling things that might go bad or need to be refrigerated though. I will look more into Otiphen now. I can’t say “100% natural” but I could say “paraben-free” which will be good for marketing too, would it not?

    • Hi! You could definitely push “paraben-free” and “formaldehyde free.” Also, if this is the only ingredient that isn’t “natural” you could always say it’s 98% or 99% natural because the preservative only makes up 1-2% of the mass of your product. Hope this helps! You can also feel free to email me at

  6. Great post! What would you recommend using for other things, like soaps, shampoos, facial cleansers/toners, etc.?

    • Hi! I soaps and shampoos generally do fine without preservative. For facial cleansers and toners, it would depend on the recipe. Highly acidic or alkaline products don’t require much preserving. If you’d like advice on a particular recipe/product, please email me at

  7. Hi! I am looking to start making and selling home made body butters and I am concerned about the legal side of it. I will be using all natural products but will I need some type of license or certificate or FDA approval? I am really want to get this off the ground but I am not sure which avenues I need to take.

    • Hi, you do need FDA approval if you make any kinds of claims about your product, especially as it relates to medical conditions. To be honest, I try to stay away from those types of questions. I recommend seeking advice from a professional.

  8. Hi, I make small batches like 8oz of body cream.
    1. How do you or how many drops of Otiphen should I put in and when do you incorporate it in?
    2. if i make a liquid shampoo or shower soap with distilled water should I use Otiphen in it?

  9. Pingback: Email Question: New Preservative? | hippie brown girl

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