Preservatives in shaving products

Today we have another guest writer, it is Krissy Yoder of the artisan soap maker Prairie Creations, who has written this fantastic article about some of the chemicals that go into our soaps, creams and balms. It follows on from an article I wrote here earlier “Chemicals you don’t want in your shaving soap or cream” but obviously Krissy is far more expert on the subject than I will ever be:

The use of preservatives has always been a hot topic among many different groups of users. There are many people on each side and everyone has their own opinion on them. The media has taken a story and someone ran with it and twisted the truth. I have yet to read anything that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt to prove that parabens in products cause cancer. Even the cancer society doesn’t say that it causes cancer saying there isn’t enough evidence. So I will quote:

“There are no strong epidemiologic studies in the medical literature that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, and very little scientific evidence to support this claim.

In fact, a carefully designed epidemiologic study of this issue published in 2002 compared 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women without the disease. The researchers found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, deodorant use, or underarm shaving.”

Preservatives are necessary in cosmetics just like in food to keep them from spoiling. To prevent the growth of mould, yeast and bacteria. Anything that contains water or will have water introduced into the container needs a preservative. This is extremely important for your safety. That means, lotions, creams, sugar/salt skin exfoliating scrubs, aftershave balms, aftershave milk, and even some shaving creams. All these items need to be properly preserved.

There are several types of preservatives on the market for use.

Most commercial companies used multiple preservatives so their product will almost have a shelf life of next to forever. Most of the preservatives that they use are paraben preservatives. Not that paraben preservatives are bad, because we use them often in many commercial products that we use day to day. Shampoo, Conditioner, Laundry Soap, Dish Soap along with all the other household cleaning products that contain water. Glass cleaner, surface cleaner and any other cleaner used.

Then you have those that make cosmetics and they have choices on the preservative that they want to use. There are several choices and some are paraben based while others are not. Not all of these preservatives are created equal. They have different usage rates and they have different ways they are used. They are added at different times during the process and others have different requirements as far as oil percents or are pH sensitive.

Here are a few common examples:

Germaben II : (Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Methylparaben (and) Propylparaben ) This is a paraben preservative and requires less than 25% oil in the product that it is put in. This preservative needs to be added to the water in the formula prior to being emulsified with a temperature of 140` or lower.

Germaben II E (Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben ) This is a paraben preserviate and requires more than 25% oils in the product that it is put in. This preservative needs to be added to the oils prior to being emulsified with a temperature of 140` or lower.

Liquid Germall Plus (Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate) it also comes in powdered form which does not contain the propylene glycol. This is one of the most common preservatives with good reason. It has a good history of being effective and is one of the most universal preservatives. It does not have an oil requirement and can be used in almost anything expect products that are put into contains that will mist the product into the air. It does have a temperature requirement that the product needs to be 122` of less so it’s added at the end. It’s also paraben free for those that are concerned about that.

Phenonip (Phenoxyethanol (and) Methylparaben (and) Ethylparaben (and) Butylparaben (and) Propylparaben (and) Isobutylparaben ) is another popular preservative but it contains parabens. It can be used in both products such as oil based scrubs or lotions but it must be added to the oils before being mixed with water. It is also pH sensitive with a pH between 3 and 8 so you need to check that to make sure it will be effective.

Optiphen Plus (Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid ) is another popular choice by many. It has been noted that it preforms best when used in products with a pH that is below 6 but has also been proven with a higher pH as well. One thing you won’t hear often about this preservative is that it does have a short shelf life. So it might be expired or close to being expired when it’s delivered from the supplier. So make sure the supplier orders it in small amounts themselves to ensure they are sending out a fresh product. One other issue with this product that has been noted by several users including a supplier is that mould can form on the top of the product if condensation forms inside the jar. This would be a concern for me because many people might get natural condensation forming inside the jar after it’s delivered just because of the conditions that it is stored/used in.

There are many people who believe that natural preservatives are better. I have never seen a lab report to prove that these are better. While I have seen lab reports to prove the chemical preservatives are effective and do what they say they will do. I do believe that if there was a natural preservative available to crafters that was proven to be effective than no one would be using a chemical one.

Potassium Sorbate is a commonly used one. This is not a cosmetic preservative but has been approved by the FDA as a food preservative. They are not interchangeable. There are many suppliers that do sell potassium sorbate as a preservative but they clearly state that it is not meant to be used alone as a preservative and needs to be used together with a chemical one. It is also very pH sensitive so proper equipment needs to be used to check the pH. (litmus paper isn’t accurate enough for testing for this) I shall quote lotioncrafter a popular supplier “While it shows some activity up to pH 6 (about 6%), it is most active at pH 4.4 (70%). At pH 5.0 it is 37% active. As sorbic acid, it is considered to be active against mould, fair against yeast and poor against most bacteria.” While potassium sorbate does occur naturally in nature the potassium sorbate that is purchased can not be considered natural because it’s manufactured synthetically from gas ketene.

I’ve even seen my share of sellers claim they are using citric acid as a natural preservative. This is very scary because it’s not an effective preservative it will only adjust the pH but it won’t prevent mould, bacteria or yeast from growing.

Another product commonly called a preservative is Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE). Like the Potassium Sorbate it simply is not effective enough on it’s own. The quality of the product itself makes a difference and most what is sold simply isn’t strong enough to be effective.

Others claim they are preserving their products naturally by essential oils. Like the others they might have some properties to be effective but the reality is for them to be effective they would need to be used at levels that are unsafe. This includes the grapefruit seed extract.

There are a lot of people who get confused when it comes to antioxidants and preservatives. An antioxidant is used to keep the oils from going rancid sooner to give the product a longer shelf life. They do not prevent mould, bacteria or yeast from growing in the product. It’s important to know the difference.

Rosemary Oleoresin (ROE) is a common antioxidant but it does have a strong herbal scent but only a small amount needs to be used.

There are two types of vitamin E. They are much stronger than what is purchased in local stores down the vitamin isle. Many people buy the capsules and open them, and they are not as effective as either of these. Vitamin E Acetate (tocopheryl Acetate) this has been used a long time in the cosmetic industry but it is the synthetic version and is lab made. The natural version is darker in color and is called just Tocopherol. This is more expensive but it is natural and you use less.

I hope this explains preservatives a little more and why it is necessary to use the correct one for the product being made.

Krissy Yoder

Prairie Creations


  1. Lots of smoke, not much clarity. Why no discussion of those chemicals that are prohibited or restricted in the EU, Canada, Japan, and the USA? Why no mention of triclosan, ethylenediamine, or boric acid? On a practical basis, did any reader learn anything useful here? Yes there was mention of when preservatives are introduced, the temperatures involved, the oil content of the product, etc. But did this detail REALLY help resolve the problem? For one guy at least, the answer is no. Why would anyone expose themselves to a potential (if unproven) risk when there are a few safe choices out there?

  2. @Craig
    If you look at the opening paragraph it says that this article follows on from an earlier article here “Chemical’s you don’t want in your shaving soap or cream”
    The two articles together give a more complete view.

    Also to do the subject justice would take a book, so one article can only cover a relatively small area. I am sure that we will revisit the subject again in the future.

  3. Hi Krissy and Bruce, so firstly thanks for taking the time to write this up and put it out there. That’s great, and does its part to keep the discussion going in general.

    I would echo Craig Bell’s comments, however, in the sense that there’s a lot of info here, but in some way in writing on this sizable topic one really needs to set up some sort of framework of articles, state purpose and then work down the levels of abstraction.

    I suspect that many readers would be interested, ultimately, in practical information like if one is likely to use up, say, one 100ml pot of shaving cream in two months, it need not have this or that type of perservative/antitoxidant.

    Contrast with commercial products sold through traditional channels, which for THEIR OWN REASONS require a very long shelf life, and you can see why there are so many strong chemicals used in modern products.

    So my off-the-cuff micro-conclusion – for myself, of course – is to buy smaller amounts of product more often, but demand fresh product each time, and very low preservatives/antitoxidants, or none at all!

    Personally, I like to try and ensure as much of the price I pay goes to the producer, so I have something of a direct commercial relationship with them often, which helps as far as information goes, and cuts out the middle-man who is often the party who wants the longer shelf life.

    Anyway, thanks again for your efforts. I hope this turns into a larger series of articles/discussions that can be made available on a wiki or something.


  4. Bruce – i do understand your earlier comment, and had previously read our article — which I thought was more informative. Here is what I’m getting at. Back in the USA a few decades ago, there was a big scare about diet soda giving you cancer. It was based on a study involving lab rats. Then some astute soul pointed out the relative quantities involved — a human would have had to drink several cases of soda EACH day for MANY years in order for the problem to be significant. Is that’s what is happening here? Are we worried about nothing? Or is there a real threat? I am more interested in practicalities than in the science lesson — which I agree is important all by itself. Thanks for all your efforts.

  5. @Craig.
    You will be pleased to know that Krissy is planning more articles for here. I am sure that she will read your comments and take them on board when planning what to write.

  6. Bruce – thanks for the feedback. I am not suggesting the Krissy is not knowledgeable. I guess I would just like to see a focus on the practicalities that interest me. My apologies if I am being self centered.

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