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....that is the question.

Rose Lotion

For quite some time now, we've been struggling with the idea of preservatives in lotion.  We have come to a decision that we are at peace with for now, but we have been asked about it many, many times so I wanted to share our thought process with you.

Initially all our products were 100% natural.  We started the business with that in mind and every time we had to make a choice, we would return to that underlying decision and use it to guide us.

Lotion has always been a problem for me.  Like soap, I have a hard time using what is available in a grocery store or drug store.  My face in particular was in issue.  My skin is very dry and very sensitive and anything with a fragrance was literally painful to apply.  For many years I was stuck using a dermatologist-recommended lotion that I had to buy at a pharmacy.  Very expensive and full of ingredients that I couldn't read or pronounce if I tried.

It was an easy step for me to being making natural lotions.  I used my skin and face as a test to see how things felt to me and how my skin felt after using them for a period.  After quite a bit of trial and error, we found a recipe that seemed to work.

After doing a significant amount of research on natural lotions, I became quite concerned about customer safety.  The short version is this: natural lotion is a mix of oil and water.  It is moist on purpose and is kept in a closed container.  People apply it to their skin by taking their fingers and dipping it into the lotion, then using fingers and hands to apply to to their skin.  Unfortunately, this means there is no way to avoid introducing bacteria.  Most of us know that if you add bacteria to a moist, dark place, it will thrive.  Bacteria heaven.  Also fighting against us was the idea that this bacteria is not always visible.  Sometimes you will see the mold, other times it will just live in the lotion and you may not realize it.

It's hard for us to say our goal is to be natural because it's healthier for us and the environment if our choices are exposing people to anything potentially harmful.

With that in mind, we made the decision to include some sort of preservative and moved on to decide what would be the best option. We've spent several months trying desperately to find something that worked for us. We had finally decided on pottasium sorbate only to find out that it  would not truly protect from bacteria and that it was significantly changing the texture of our lotion.

After contacting fellow natural care product sellers and much hesitation, we chose to use Liquid Germall Plus. It's not what I would like to use in an ideal world, but it honestly appears to be one of the better options. We chose it because it is paraben free and the minimum amount required for effectiveness is very low (.5%).  The perservative is made up of: Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, and Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate.

For anyone who is interested in researching the contents of cosmetics (I highly recommend's an eye opening experience), the Skin Deep's Cosmetic Database is a fantastic resource.  If you were to search each of the preservative ingrdients mentioned above, the item of concern to most people is iodopropnyl butylcarbamate.

As I mentioned, Liquid Germall Plus is .5% or so of our lotion recipe.  Of that .5%, 0.002% is iodopropnyl butylcarbamate. To put that number in perspective, we make everything in small batches and at most pour 16 ounces of lotion at a time. In that entire batch, we add less than 0.01 ounce of the preservative which means that we're adding approx. 0.0003 ounces of iodopropnyl butylcarbamate. That batch makes 8 jars of lotion.

As soon as someone releases a natural preservative with proven effectiveness, I plan to switch even if it means changing our formulation.  In the meantime, our only other option is to discontinue our lotion line completely, which we discussed many times, but I truly feel that having a lotion that is 99.9% natural is a much better alternative than the commercial options available.

I hope this open dialog helps to clarify the decision we have made.  If you have any questions or concerns, we would be happy to answer them.

Comments (4)

  • Emma
    February 16, 2012

    It’s so easy to mantain a product well preserved without the use of petroleum and formaldehyde. You just never tried enough.
    First, change your packaging, a jar is not safe and clean at all, you should choose a bottle with an airless pump. You don’t seem to use water in your lotions, without water, the risk of contamination is reduced. And third, to improve shell life you can use rosemary extract and vitamin E, and to prevent bacteria and mold, just pure essential oils can help, there are plenty of antibacterial oils that are even effective against antibiotic resistant bacteria! But if you don’t believe enough in what earth has to offer to you, so in that case you should change your company name because terre is not so belle for you after all, there is a company called Active Microsystems or something that makes preservatives that are just extracts, like aspen bark extract. As you see, it is easy, maybe you don’t have enough experience, I don’t understand why you have a company like this.
    By the way, I’m not trying to be rude, as a consumer, I like companies that sell me something that is real and pure and don’t greenwash their products.

  • Julia
    February 19, 2012


    Thank you for your comments, your concerns and your obvious commitment to all things natural.

    First and foremost, we would like you to know that we are in the process of discontinuing the line of lotions referenced in this article. After some work, we have formulated a whipped shea butter that we are proud to sell. It is 100% natural and composed of ingredients that are 99% certified organic. Because it is water-free, preservation is not required.

    Secondly, the decision we made to use the preservative was not an easy one. We considered many of the options you mentioned but after much research and discussion with many other bath and beauty vendors just did not feel comfortable enough with a natural option to proceed. We have outlined that decision making process in the post above.

    I am sadden to read that you feel we “didn’t try enough.” We feel completely confident that if every company on the planet held themselves to the same standards that we do, the earth would be a more beautiful place. Remember, the ingredient in question accounted for .5% of four products out of a line of over fifty products in total.

    Regarding your suggestion of green washing: if we were attempting to green wash our products why would we publicize our use of a preservative? Not only did we post here explaining the situation, but we linked to this post from each of our shop listings, our facebook page, and made a point to explain to each and every customer that came to our booth that we did have one product in our line that was not completely natural. We chose to do this because we believe that if we can’t be honest and transparent in our business, then we should not be in business at all.

    I hope this addresses some of your concerns. I wish you the very best in all your pursuits.


  • jonna
    August 15, 2011

    I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your blog entry regarding germall. My husband and I raise dairy goats in the Texas HIll Country, and we make goat milk soaps and lotions. I completely feel your pain and frustration at the lack of options available when it comes to a natural preservative. Bees wax and honey just don’t always cut it. We also use Liquid Germall Plus in our lotions and butters.

    Keep makin’ good stuff! And thanks for sharing your plight.

  • Julia
    August 15, 2011

    Thanks for the kind words Jonna. We reached out to as many people as we could while making this decision and thought it would be good to share our experience with others. We’re hoping soon to have a more natural option available, but in the meantime this definitely feels like the safer choice. We’re jealous of your goats. :) ~ Julia & Wayne ~

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