PART II: Do you need to use Preservatives in your Aromatherapy Products?

Welcome to Part II: About preservatives in your DIY aromatherapy products.  In last week’s post I discussed what preservatives are and why we need to use them in our DIY skincare and aromatherapy products. 

In this post I’m going to cover two really important practices you can easily implement as you are making your DIY skincare products in your kitchen, or your home office or studio, to ensure their safety and shelf life.

Plus see below a list of 3 preservative systems that I use, when making products that include water as one of the ingredients.

It’s important to emphasize that if your recipe includes water as one of the ingredients, it’s highly recommended that you use a preservative. Especially if you plan to sell the product retail, or make large batches of it.

Here are the 2 important practices to implement as you are making your own skincare products to keep them clean and safe.

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Hurdle Technology

These simple procedures will help make sure you keep your ingredients, materials and blending tools in proper order so that the aromatherapy products you are making stay safe and fresh.

Good Manufacturing Practices.

Simply, a “good manufacturing practice” means that the products are manufactured in a well organized, hygienic and safe environment, using ingredients that are stored properly and purchased from reliable and genuine vendors and sources.  If a good system for organizing and working with raw materials and ingredients is not in place, there runs a great risk of contaminating the products being manufactured.

For example, to implement proper GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices), you should do the following:

  • Have a system for receiving materials: What this means is that every time you receive a raw ingredient from a supplier, like a carrier oil, essential oil, butters, waxes, emulsifiers you should:
    • Create a “receiving” log and record the date you accepted the ingredient into your possession, along with the ingredient’s expiration date, and its organic status.
    • Make sure the product arrives with the proper paperwork, like a SDS (Safety Data Sheet) and  Certificate of Analysis.  If the product doesn’t arrive with these accompanying documentations, contact the supplier and request them.
    • Having these documents easily accessible, makes it very easy for you to quickly reference each ingredient’s status if you need to.
  • Have a system for storing all materials so that they are away from direct light and heat, and in a clean organized space.
  • Have a system for dispensing and using the materials: Make sure each time you scoop, pour, weigh out any of the materials that you create a sanitary procedure to do so.  For example, make sure that whoever is dispensing the ingredients is wearing gloves, has hair pulled back, and portioning out the ingredients on a clean sanitized workspace.

These are just a few examples of what GMPs entail.  For a full detailed list, you can reference here.

Hurdle Technology.  What is it?

Hurdle Technology is simply the implementation of specific preservation tactics you follow as you are making your products, that can inhibit and prevent the growth of microorganisms.

These specific preservation tactics include GMPs, as listed above, along with certain ingredient and packaging choices and blending techniques that can help support the longevity and safety of the product.

Examples of Hurdle Technology in practice:

  • Choose self-preserving ingredients:  What this means is that you want to choose ingredients that have a long shelf-life due to their chemistry.  For example, Jojoba oil is a very stable oil because its chemistry resembles that of a wax rather than lipid rich oil.  Other ingredients like Sunflower Oil, Olive Oil, Cocoa Butter, Beeswax, all have very stable chemical compositions, so when you include them as one of your ingredients, they help to “self-preserve” the product you are making.  Make sure you know the chemistry of your ingredients, so you can choose oils that won’t spoil quickly.
  • Avoid using water:  Water breeds microbes, mold and yeast. And when it is included in a product it increases the chances for microbes to grow.  That’s why we need to add a preservative system when water is present to inhibit the growth of these microorganisms.  Rather than have to use a preservative, which is a complicated process, you can opt not to use water at all!  Choose instead to make anhydrous products like butters, balms and salves that use carrier oils, waxes and butters – which tend to be self-preserving.
  • Choose packaging that reduces oxidizing and bacterial growth:  The right packaging can also help increase the shelf life of your DIY product.  You want to use dark glass or PET plastic, that have either fine mist sprayers, airless pumps, regular pumps or foaming pumps.  By using these kinds of dispensing caps, you reduce the chances of the ingredients oxidizing and capturing microbes..
  • The product’s pH:  Understanding the pH is also an important indicator of whether the product will have a long shelf life. Checking and measuring a product’s pH requires a bit of experience, and knowledge, but if you are just starting out, I’d recommend purchasing pH strips like these, and make sure your finished product falls within the 4-7 range.  Anything above or below can compromise the stability of the product.  Checking pH levels is really only necessary when your product includes water or hydrosols, as ingredients.  It’s not necessary to check it when its an anhydrous product (all oil / butter / wax based).

Download Free Guide about 3 Preservatives recommended for DIY-ers:


Make sure to always carefully read the directions and recommendations from the supplier about how to blend the preservative, its percentage and at what pH is recommended.  If you have questions, just contact your source and they will be happy to advise you.

** A side note about DIY Aromatic Mists:

As an aromatherapist you may find yourself making aromatic mists, to be used immediately, as a one-off product for yourself, or for a single client.  In these instances, although using a preservative is recommended, it may not be totally necessary.  

What’s an aromatic mist?  It’s a simple recipe that is made with distilled water and essential oils, and delivers the olfactory experience of the essential oils through a spray mist. 

My reasons for saying this really come from years of making one-off aromatic mists for myself, my family and my clients.  What’s key however, in order to avoid having the spray spoil, is to always keep the bottle tightly capped, and make sure the atomizer (the sprayer) is always covered.  Another recommendation is to only use distilled water. If the bottle is opened, and re-opened, and the atomizer is removed, chances of the product getting compromised is much higher.

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