Friday, October 14, 2011

Product Preservatives Extracts vs. Essentials...Is There a Difference?

Caring for my hair naturally has proven time and again to be a constant learning lesson for me.  I recently posted an article on How-To Liquefy Black Soap.  I had a more than sweet and helpful reader comment named Shelly. She informed me that she researched and found that adding water to any product will serve as  a breeding ground for bacteria in your homemade products unless a preservative is added.  Many of you especially those who sell products (I hope :o) and more savvy do-it-yourself  Naturalistas probably already knew this.   I didn't give it a second thought.  I had heard adding Vitamin E to homemade products served as a natural preservative watching YouTube vlogger naptural85s' how to make flax seed gel video.  When I make flax seed gel, I use it all so there is really no need for me to store it in the fridge more than a few days although I do use rosemary essential oil in the mix.  The only long term product I store would be the liquefied black soap and after much research on natural preservation of homemade products, I'll be adding a preservative.

One of the points Shelly mentioned were how none of the blogs and vloggs shes come across mention anything about the importance of using a preservative agent in homemade products. Even though they appear to have healthy skin and hair the potential hazard of contamination to me, outweighs that it appears to be safe since others aren't reporting any adverse health effects. 
The Importance of Preservatives

If you are formulating something that contains water, milk, hydrosols or other aqueous liquids, you will have to preserve the product or use it within 3-4 days refrigerated. It simply is not optional. Water provides a medium for harmful bacteria, mold, yeast and fungi to grow over time. If used, a contaminated product could cause severe health problems, blindness and even death. Your product must be adequately preserved to prevent contamination and microbial growth. [From Nature With Love]

According to this same source above there is really no "natural" preservative. At least not that would allow your product to have the same type of shelf life and protection from bacteria found in products that use commerical or synthetic preservatives.   The most harmful bacteria that natural products get is called pseudomonas. Psduedomonas: a genus of gram-negative rod-shaped motile bacteria including some that produce a greenish fluorescent water-soluble pigment and some that are saprophytes or plant or animal pathogens[Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online]. Natural preservatives cannot protect products from this form of bacteria unless it is used is very concentrated doses.  There are other ways however to help aid in reducing the need to use harmful synthetic preservatives.

 Preservative Free, Product Preservation
There are several things you can do to prevent the necessity of using harmful preservatives in your homemade concoctions.  Here are a few tips from the site listed above:
  •  Sterilize utensils and hands to eliminate the chance of contamination to your product.
  • Store your mixes in dark or non see-through containers to avoid the harmful effects of sunlight.
  • Store your product in an airtight container.  Air causes bacteria to form.
  • Store your product in a cool dry place. Heat can cause bacteria to form.
  • When applicable use a bottle with a pump dispenser to access use of your liquid or gel type products. Avoid placing your fingers/hands inside of the natural product  you've made.
What's the Difference?
Liquid extracts are typically used for cooking, perfumes or as a part of medicine.  Exapmles include vanilla extract,  which is often used in baking, citronella extract used as an insect repellent in lotions, and grapeseed extract used by herbalists to treat heart conditions. Essential oils are generally used for therapeutic purposes.  They may be used in aromatic difusers, in massage oils, compresses, spritzers or in therapeutic baths. Read more []
    1.Extracts can be used internally and externally, whereas essential oils CANNOT be used internally.
    2. Essential oils are more potent and carry medicinal properties.
    3. Essential oils are used mainly for aromatherapy and therapeutic purposes.
    4.Extracts are used for cooking and in perfumes (may also be used for aromatherapy however the benefits are not as potent).
    5. Extracts are obtained through a process where a part of the plant (stem, leaves, etc) is cold pressed and most commonly soaked in alcohol to "extract" a quality or flavor from the plant.
    6. Essential oils are obtained to the distillation process. The liquid that forms from the process is called the plant "essence". It takes a large amount of plant parts to get a very small amount of oil which is why essential oils are more expensive then the extracts.
    According to Andee, a soap maker from [The Sage], essential oils ARE extracts. An extract is defined as "through a special process being able to remove or take part of the original source" Distillation is a process to extract the volatile (readily vaporizable at a low temp) oil from a plant source. Oil soluble extracts allow the oil soluble (including essential oil) materials to be taken from a plant source. Alcohol is also used to extract constituents from a plant source. These are alcohol soluble constituents. There are also water soluble extracts, we often call them tea or teas. Rosemary Oil Extract is the rosemary plant constituents that are oil soluble (dissolvable in oil) and are removed from the rosemary plant. Not all constituents that are oil soluble are part of the essential oil. In the case of vanilla extract, the goal was to get the flavor and odor from the cured beans to be carried in alcohol and water. This extract is often added to foods. If you consider that fixed oils are sometimes called carrier oils, they are also known to be extract carriers. They carry the oil soluble constituents from the plant material to the body for treatment. Think of extracts as having the carrier and the plant product together and essential oils being only the volatile oils from a plant.  
    Synthetic Substitutes
    Although the shelf life of homemade products will not be as long as when synthetic preservatives (often carcinogens) are added there are natural ways to preserve a product.  Sometimes essential oils which are used as preservatives they can evaporate from the preparation when left uncovered.  Some EO's can cause reddening of the skin and dermatitis if strongly concentrated .  When large amounts of EO's are used for aroma therapeutic purposes like in foam baths, soaps, bath oils, and massage oils, they do not need the addition of synthetic preservatives because of the antiseptic properties of essential oils.

1.Essential oils: natural substances that are powerful preservatives, but are not extensively used to preserve cosmetic products
2. Neem oil:  anti-fungal, anti-bacterial.
3. Vitamin E: is a powerful antioxidant used in preserving oils.
4. Honey:  highly stable against microbial growth because of it’s low moisture content and water activity, low pH and anti-microbial properties.
5.Rosemary Extract: powerful antioxidant. It also helps to minimize the oxidation and of some vitamins and amino acids.
6. Grape seed xxtract:  Natural Antibiotic, Antiseptic, Disinfectant and Preservative. This is a preservative that is used by many DIY's in products that contain water.

For the above mentioned and for the intended purpose of adding a preservative to my liquefied black soap and water diluted Knot Today spritz, grape seed extract I feel, is the best choice.  However, since I don't have any grape seed extract yet, I will add rosemary essential oil to my liquefied black soap and make only 1- 8oz bottle at a time, usually lasting a week. Fortunately, my bathroom is set up in a way were my cabinet is not in the bathroom and is more like a vanity area in my master bedroom which is cool and dry so I wont be storing in the fridge. This was truly an eye opener for me...



  1. Hi Amber, Shelly here again!!! Thank you SOOO MUCH for shedding some light on this situation! I can tell that A LOT of time & research went into your posts & I REALLY appreciate your thoughtfulness & attentiveness to your readers!!! Thanks so much, you've answered all my questions I believe!!! Happy liquefying! Blessings!


  2. Awesome Shelly...Without feedback from readers like yourself I wouldn't learn from my mistakes. I really do luv my kynxx, not just the name of this blog. My love for my hair and all natural hair keeps me constantly wanting me to know all I can. I dont have time to research extensively all the time but a topic such as this I felt I needed to learn all I could about preventing harmful things from happening to myself, my family and anyone who reads this blog and follows tutorials I post. Continued Blessings to you Shelly!! ~Kynxx

  3. That was very helpful! I make my own natural handmade soap and will be applying this knowledge. Thanks! Val

    1. You're welcome Val..thank you for reading.

  4. Shouldn't it be grapfruit seed extract instead of grape seed extract? Are they the same?