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Understanding Preservatives

With so much misinformation out there about preservatives, it is no wonder that we receive a lot of inquiries from customers confused about what is safe and what is not.

The main question we want to help you answer is: What is a preservative doing in an organic or natural product?

Being a company committed to natural and organic body care, you might be surprised that Bath By Bettijo whole-heartedly supports the use of preservatives, but before you jump to a quick conclusion, the company's founder, Bettijo B. Hirschi explains the logic and sense that give preservatives a place in natural and organic products.

Do all products need a preservative?

No. Only products that contain water need a preservative. Dry or powdered items need no preservative. Products that contain only oils also do not need to be preserved. There are some ingredients, such as honey and vinegar, that when used (without the addition of water) are self-preserving. Handmade, natural soaps that are made using the old fashion process will list water on the label because it is included during the soapmaking process; however, this water is used up in the process of soapmaking and does not exist or need to be preserved in the final product. Also, high amounts of alcohol in a product (such as perfume) act as a preservative, needing nothing additional.

Why do products with water need preserving?

Water is one of the friendliest substances on earth -- vital to the life of many creatures. Therefore, a product containing water with no preservative would over time "naturally" become infested with bacteria, yeasts, fungi and molds that will make a home and flourish in the water-based environment. As you probably assume, this infestation would make the product unusable and perhaps toxic to you.

Even if a product does not list water as an ingredient on the label, there are other words that indicate the presence of water such as "Aloe Vera Leaf Juice," "Distillates" (water infused with herbs or botanicals), and some "Extracts" (other extracts that are alcohol-based would not need to be preserved).

The contamination process of water happens much quicker than you might expect, taking only a couple weeks. It is the reason that many of your refrigerated foods eventually go bad. What is most frightening to me is that an unpreserved product that has gone bad might look and smell just fine, but be filled with microorganisms that are dangerous for your skin and health. These products may look okay, but when they are micro-tested, the bacteria, yeast, fungus and mold counts are off the charts. Other times, the signs of contamination are more visually obvious -- a rancid odor or discolorations could be indications that a product has gone bad.

To be safe, a water-based lotion or cream with no preservative would need to be refrigerated and tossed after a week or so, much like you would do with the leftovers from a homemade soup. So clearly unless you're planning to make the lotion at home, this refrigerate-and-toss-after-a-week idea doesn't work. That is where a preservative comes in.

Isn't there a natural preservative that can be used?

Many natural substances offer some antibacterial benefits -- certain essential oils, like Tea Tree, and some vitamins, like Vitamin E, are antioxidants and can help reduce some forms of bacteria when used in high concentrations and in ideal conditions. Unfortunately though, your bathroom, purse and car are not ideal conditions. Steam, heat, direct sunlight and other adverse conditions help encourage bacterial growth and most "natural preservatives" can not be used in strong enough concentrations to fight contamination without running the risk of skin irritation or allergic reactions. Other natural ingredients are useful only against certain strains of contaminants and for limited amounts of time. For example, Vitamin C will slow bacterial growth, but if you leave a glass of orange juice on the counter for a few weeks, do you still want to drink it? And while Vitamin E and Rosemary Oleoresin Extract (ROE) work wonders at keeping oils from turning rancid, they don't protect against all forms of bacteria which would be common in unprotected cosmetic products.

Why do other brands not use a preservative?

We are often asked why other brands don’t use a preservative. We believe there are five possible answers to this question:

One: The preservative-free product might fail certified challenge testing and grow yeast, mold, bacteria and fungus.

Two: Some companies may hide the preservative in the ingredient itself. For example, they may use an Aloe Vera Juice that was already preserved, and then on their label they only disclose the use of the Aloe Vera but not the preservative.

Three: Some companies simply do not fully disclose their ingredient list as required, leaving off those items that they think "look" bad. Their products do not fail micro tests but show the amazing abilities of broad-spectrum preservation even though there is no ingredient listed that has any preservative properties at all.

Four: They could be using extracts in one or two different methods. Tinctures used at the right percentage create an effective preservative option because they have such a high content of alcohol, but this alcohol also makes them very drying to the skin so not very useful in moisturizing products. Also be aware that many extracts are made in a propylene or butyl glycol base and preserved with parabens, triclorisan and urea but not disclosed as they manufacturer is only required to list it as an extract. These extracts used at high enough levels could preserve the product, but without fully disclosing the other ingredients the product would appear to be preservative free.

Five: They might be using ingredients that do not require preservatives. As we explained above, a product that does not contain water does not require preservatives. Our company also does NOT use preservatives in products where it is not necessary.

How does Bath By Bettijo preserve its products?

I am familiar with the "natural" preservatives on the market, and based on testing, research and development have chosen a broad-spectrum preservative system that uses Phenoxyethanol and Caprylyl Glycol, both of which are derived from natural sources, safe and effective.

Bath By Bettijo products containing water are preserved using a very small amount of this preservative (less than two percent) along with other natural inhibitors and antioxidants to help with preservation. The miniscule amount of broad-spectrum preservative boosts the preservative action of the natural ingredients, providing effective, necessary protection against bacteria, microbes, yeasts, fungi and molds.

By combining the healing and nutritive benefits of plant extracts and whole food ingredients with the advances of science, we are able to create products that are safe, effective, healthy and gentle.

The bottom line: Bath By Bettijo's preservation system guards against natural impurities and supports the healthful actions of nature's finest botanicals.


Phone  (877) 528-1584
Fax  (501) 637-2961

Bath By Bettijo is based in Phoenix, Arizona.