You know that you really want to go with homemade and you have read almost every book that is available at the local library and bookstores. You may even have attended some professional courses on product-making and recipes. Yet are you still facing some problems?
Let’s look at the common challenges here:
Risks of Synthetic Preservatives and Non-Preserved Products
Preservation is the most important factor for commercially available products. For homemade products, preserving is one of the main challenges because microbes live in natural ingredients, which explains why preservative levels are often doubled when naturally derived ingredients are used in commercial products.
Preservatives are designed to kill bacteria, yeast and mould on a cellular level. That is why they are effective, and at the same time, potentially hazardous—they don’t discriminate between good human cells and bad microbial cells. All living cells are targets. When they enter the water supply they can also contaminate our planet. Using a few drops of powerful preservatives is an easy option, yet this entails a risk to our long-term health and to the environment.
Still, the risk from using unpreserved cosmetics is high too. Bacteria can cause skin and eye infections, toxic shock, or strep throat. Yeast, like candida albicans, can cause thrush, and many other bacteria can result in your products smelling awful, changing colour, or breaking down.
Contamination can come from all angles: The equipment that you use to make your product, or raw materials. It can also come after you create the product, somewhere in the filling process or in the containers themselves. This is one reason why we do not recommend storing homemade cosmetics in your food fridge. It can also arise after you have started using the product, especially if you use your finger to apply the product, because the microbes on your hands can cause contamination too.
How to Safely Minimise the Need for Preservation
Because homemade products are made in small quantities, we have a lot more flexibility in the processes and packaging than mass producers do. There are many ways to eliminate the need to use chemical preservatives and achieve reasonable preservation, naturally:
- Sanitation – The best preservative is good sanitation. This is very important as even a small difference in sanitation can really limit or promote microbial growth. See a step-by-step guide on how to sanitise your equipment and workplace here.
- Control water activity in your formula – For microbes to grow and contaminate your product, they need to have easy access to water and a food source. If you can reduce the amount of water that is available in your formula for microbes to grow, you can effectively prevent contamination even without a preservative. The easiest option is to create a dry formula, which you can then mix with water each time you use the product. For creams and lotions, using water in oil emulsions makes it much harder for contamination to take place because water is essentially trapped. This does not kill all microbes, but it halves your risk. Another way to reduce water activity is by including salts, sugars, and humectants in your recipe, all of which are natural preservatives that can actually be good for your skin too.
- Control pH – Most microbes do not like acidic conditions, so if you make sure your product is below pH 5, that will kill off a large number of microbes. However, especially for leave-on products, do not go much lower than that as it can cause skin irritation. Something too acidic will hurt your cells as well as microbial cells.
- Storage – Handle your homemade products as you would food. Store in a cool, dark place or even refrigerate if recipes indicate. Good choice of containers can also play an important role, learn more details here.
Safe Natural Preservatives
Natural preservatives are not universal pesticides; they are not able to kill a broad enough range of different microbes no matter how much we use and may also not be long lasting. Several tests may be helpful in making sure it will hold up for the period of time we desire. However, this will still not allow the products to last for several years as is the case for chemically preserved products. Therefore, the aim is to prolong what you make as long as nature can hold out. Our expectation should be around six months to one year depending on the product.
The combination of the following ingredients will prolong the shelf life of products:
- Alcohol – Helps stabilise the product and, contrary to general knowledge, it is not a skin irritant. Do not use in leave-on products if you have dry skin, however, as it can further dry you out.
- Beeswax – Known to preserve and prolong shelf life. You may have heard that honey has no expiration date, and this also holds true for beeswax: pure beeswax can be used indefinitely.
- Essential oils – With some antimicrobial activity, cypress, everlasting, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, eucalyptus, peppermint, and orange were shown to be effective against all 22 bacteria tested.
- Herbal extracts – Thyme, rosemary and neem have traditionally been used as antibacterials and antioxidants.
- Honey – Used as a food preservative in ancient times, it has a bactericidal property and preservative nature.
- Jojoba oil and sesame seed oil – Known to contain natural antioxidants and prolongs shelf life. If you have oily skin you may wish to pass on using too much oil and choose alcohol instead.
- Vitamin E – Contains natural antioxidants, great to add into oils to prevent it going rancid.
- Salt and sugar – Absorb water and hence acts as a preservative.
When making homemade products, the most important process is choosing the ingredients. Much like for a chef, no matter how skilful he is or equipped with the best kitchen, it is the ingredients that hold the key to great dishes. Start with the ingredients listed on this website under Ingredients as they are carefully selected based on extensive research on credible studies to ensure the ingredients have established proven efficacies for topical application.
Natural ingredients work slowly with your system and it is important to stay in the same regimen for a certain period of time, except if you show any sign of allergic reaction. While the effect of a product is different for different people, it is generally recommended to stick to the same product for at least 30 days before you can expect to see some results.
Application and home care
If you opt to combat specific skin concern, focus on the ingredients known to aid those problems, incorporate them in two or three products especially in the leave-in products such as face mask, cream, lotion and serum. With natural ingredients there are very few if any side effects to worry about, hence you can also isolate the areas of concerns, such as forehead and cheeks for intensive care or increase the frequency of the mask and defoliant as required.
There are some home care routines to enhance the integrity of each ingredient, and daily facial massage and towel compresses will be good place to start with to stimulate blood circulation for easy absorption. Regular home peeling will aid the natural turn-over of your skin as well.
In cream and lotion, you can control the texture by the amount of liquid v.s. oils. More liquid, the lighter the texture will be. The type of oil mixed will determine the feel on the skin (whether cream or massage oil).
Homemade face wash and shampoo do not typically foam like commercial products. This is because the agent used to make these products foam, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, is highly synthetic, and the foaming action serves no true purpose other than feeling and looking good. SLS is also able to penetrate the skin, and an irritant. While there are some natural ingredients which can aid foaming, the best option still is to use a foaming pump.
For more information about functional ingredients click here.
Although many natural base ingredients such as nut oils or beeswax have a natural, clean scent to them, sometimes we want a burst of fragrance. Essential oils are the only ingredients you would want to add into your products to scent them. There are some essential oils that hold their scents longer (bottom note), while some evaporate faster (top note). Mix essential oils correctly for the purpose of scenting.
4. Too much time and efforts
If you feel either you are spending too much time mixing the products or that you are making them too often to fit your lifestyle, consider the following:
Organise your work station and your ingredients
- Divide the equipment according to the phase: sanitation, production, packaging
- Pre-pack your ingredients
- Arrange your ingredients in different boxes
Minimise the use of creams and lotions
Creams and lotions are the most time consuming product to make, so if you can either minimise or do without then your homemade skincare production will be much easier.
Unless you are in an environment where your skin is dehydrated (dry weather, after sun exposure) or you have exceptionally dry skin, consider the followings:
- Water and oils are the main ingredients of creams and lotion. Apply hydrosol (much more nurturing than water) followed by plant-base oil. Remove excess oils before applying natural powder.
- Add moisturising ingredients into other essential products to compensate.
Resources & Support
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