Do I Need Preservatives for DIY Essential Oil Recipes?

Essential oils are used for a variety of purposes and recipes, including cosmetics, fragrance, and skincare. Preservatives are used to extend the shelf life of cosmetics and personal care products. They help to prevent the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms. When choosing a preservative for your DIY recipe, be sure to select one that is compatible and will provide adequate protection against microbial growth. Keep reading to learn more.
Do I Need Preservatives for DIY Essential Oil Recipes? Do oils need preservatives? by Loving Essential Oils

I love making DIY Essential Oil Recipes for skincare, wellness, and cleaning purposes. The fact that I can avoid chemicals and synthetic fragrances from store bought products really excites me. What doesn't excite me is microbes in my DIY recipes, yuck! Find out how to avoid these unwanted guests in your essential oil recipes.

Preservatives and Essential Oils

There are some essential oil topics that not everyone can agree upon. I also think not enough research has been done to give us clear answers. This is one of those topics.

When researching this topic, I found conflicting information and recommendations. It can be somewhat overwhelming but I want to share what I have learned.

Through this research, I choose to stick with my aromatherapy training and what was recommended by them, as well as an article from Tisserand Institute.

What are Water-Based Products?

Water-based products include body mists, room sprays, cleaning sprays, lotions (that include water), linen sprays, and any recipe that contains water. Hydrosols, witch hazel, and aloe vera are also water based ingredients.

Recipes that do not use water, like a body butter made from oils or a roller recipe, are not included. There are many oil-based recipes and since they do not contain water, they do not need preservatives when using for personal use.

A preservative is necessary to help water-based products prevent microbial contamination and growth. Microbes cannot be seen with the naked eye, so it is hard to know when your homemade product is contaminated.

I don't know about you, but I don't want my natural essential oil sprays I make to be contaminating my environment when I am trying to accomplish the opposite.

Essential Oils and Preservatives - Do I Need Preservatives for DIY Essential Oil Recipes? by Loving Essential Oils

4 Mistakes Made with Essential Oil Recipes (water-based)

1. Selling Water Based Products Without Preservatives

Do not make these type of recipes for resale unless you do your research first about the best preservative to use for your product. At Loving Essential Oils our recipes are for personal use and not formulated with retail selling in mind.

Formulating recipes with preservatives is a complex process which has many factors involved. This formulating goes well beyond what is covered here and would require additional training.

When selling products, you may have better results with anhydrous (no water) products. Things like body butters, salves, lip balms, beard balms, massage oils, etc. These are all oil-based and generally require no preservatives!

2. Making Large Batches

It may be tempting to make large batches for you water-based DIY cleaning products or skincare items to save time, but this puts your recipe at risk for microbial growth because it will take you a lot longer to use.

Make small, fresh batches for your natural water products that you can use within one week. Even if it "looks fine", at a microscopic level, it may not be.

3. Thinking Essential Oils Will Preserve

I have to admit, when I first started with essential oils, I thought that they would preserve my recipes. I have since learned that essential oils are not preservatives. While many essential oils have antimicrobial properties, none have been proven to be effective preservatives at dilution rates safely used in aromatherapy and DIY essential oil recipes.

I also thought that ingredients like salt, citric acid, cheap vodka, and vitamin E would preserve my products too. It turns out they will not.

Vitamin E, citric acid, and Rosemary extract are frequently mentioned as natural preservatives, but they are actually antioxidants. Antioxidants will slow rancidity of natural ingredients, but will not preserve water based products. Are they better than nothing? Maybe.

4. Keeping It Too Long

It is not clear exactly how long water-based recipes without preservatives will last as there are various factors. I would love to see some studies on this topic so I could see scientific proof specific to essential oil recipes and growth rate of microbes.

If using water-based products without preservatives, use within one or two weeks of making. If you want your product to last longer, using a preservative is required.

Be sure to place a date on your bottle or have a day of the week that you make a fresh batch of your DIY products with water.

Preservatives for room sprays by Loving Essential Oils

Essential Oil Recipe Guide for Water-Based Products

From my aromatherapist training, here is what I learned is the best practice when it comes to water-based essential oil products:

  • Do not sell your water-based recipes, unless you've had training in formulating blends with preservatives
  • Make essential oil recipes under sanitary conditions
  • Utilize a dishwasher or boiling water for utensils and glass containers (not plastic parts or lids), some dishwashers even have a "sanitize" settings
  • Clean your work surfaces and utensils (spray them with grain or rubbing alcohol and allow them to air dry) 
  • Put products into sanitized containers (spray them with grain or rubbing alcohol inside containers and allow them to air dry)
  • Use distilled water only when making water-based recipes
  • Keep your hands and fingers out of your finished product by using the right containers (like pump top bottles or spray top bottles) or by using spatulas to scoop out products rather than risking contamination every time you use it
  • Store products in a cool, dark place, the refrigerator is best if able
  • Make water-based recipes in small, fresh batches and use in 1-2 weeks
  • Throw out if you see any signs of spoilage (bad odor, color off, texture changes, stuff floating in it, cloudiness, or separation)
  • Add grain alcohol (like Everclear®) to spray recipes as a preservative if you want your product to last longer than one week

How to Use Grain Alcohol as a Preservative

Preservatives prevent bacteria, mold, yeast, and other microbes from growing in products that contain water. Grain alcohol (ethanol) is a simple product that can be add to essential oil spray recipes with water. It acts as a preservative. It is recommended that you buy a minimum of 120 proof in order for it to be effective against microbes. I buy mine from a local liquor and beverage store. 

Here are the exact recommendations from Tisserand Institute:

To properly preserve your water-based spray: the alcohol used needs to have a minimum of 60% ethanol content. In other words, it must be at least 120 proof grain alcohol (proof=twice the percentage of the alcohol). While less proof grain alcohol can kill microbes on surfaces, the objective here is to prevent microbial growth in your spray, not to kill microbes on contact with a surface.

Everclear® is one of the most popular grain alcohols available here in the states (not sure about international availability). One problem is that some states have banned high proof alcohols, so in California I was only able to purchase the 120 proof Everclear bottle.

120 proof grain alcohol is the minimum level suggested by Tisserand Institute for preserving. They recommend using a 25% of the total spray formula. So for a 4 oz spray bottle recipe, you would use 1 oz grain alcohol and 3 oz distilled water.

We all know that water and essential oils don't mix, not by themselves. Grain alcohol is able to solubilize (dissolve) essential oils into water based sprays so they can be blended without separating. For this to happen, it is recommended to use a minimum of 150 proof grain alcohol, which as I mentioned may not be an option where you live.

Is cheap vodka an OK substitute?

More than likely cheap vodka will not have a high enough proof to be effective as a preservative or to solubilize, read the label to see what proof it is.

Here is the conclusion from Tisserand Institute:

For the at-home DIY enthusiast making sprays, colognes, and similar products, using grain alcohol (ethanol) is a simple, cost effective way to safely prepare a water-based product such as a room spray. It’s kind of a “one-stop shop” in terms of both preserving and mixing, which means you don’t have to learn about more involved preservative systems. However, at least 60% (120 proof) alcohol is needed for preservation, and at least 75% (150 proof) for solubilizing essential oils.

At this point, we are taking this information as the best practice for spray recipes. This is the recommendations that we are following for our spray recipes and are updating our posts to reflect this recommendation.

*Be sure to keep grain alcohol bottles and spray recipes out of reach from children.

More Resources on Essential Oils and Preservatives

- From Nature With Love has an article on preservatives, as well as a preservative finder to help you pick one depending on the product you are making.

- Learn more about formulating and preservatives, Aromatic Studies offers a course that goes over product formulation, including preservatives. You can also read an article they wrote on preservatives, click here.

- Read more about grain alcohol for aromatic blending from Tisserand Institute.

- Read more on using preservative in beauty products from Soap Queen

What is a therapeutic grade essential oil?

Therapeutic grade is simply a marketing term that any company can claim. No government agency or organization “grades” or “certifies” essential oils in the United States.

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Essential oil as preservative - which essential oils are preservatives by Loving Essential Oils
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Rollerball Remedies

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31 PC Deluxe Essential Oils Kit: Aromatherapy Supplies
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31 PC Deluxe Essential Oils Kit - This Aromatherapy Supplies set includes a variety of tools needed for making DIY products with your essential oils. Use this kit to make roll on blends, inhaler blends, massage oils, face serums, and body oils. 31 PC Deluxe Essential Oils Kit This 31 piece deluxe kit is a great starter set that will give you the key essential oil bottles you will need to bring your essential oils to life. Here are the 31 pieces included in this kit: x12 10ml Blue Glass Roll Ons with Stainless Steel Rollerballs x4 Blank Aromatherapy Inhalers (color varies, may receive black or purple inhalers) x3 1oz Glass Bottles with Dropper Bottles (1 blue, 1 green and 1 amber) x3 1oz Glass Bottles with Black Caps (1 blue, 1 green and 1 amber) x5 Disposable Plastic Pipettes x3 Small Funnels (clear plastic) x1 Tablespoon for Measuring Loving Essential Oils brings you the right supplies you need to create homemade products with your essential oils that are safe for use on yourself and your family.
Tranquility Essential Oil Blend - 10 ml Roller Bottle with Orange, Tangerine, Patchouli, Lime, Blue Tansy, Ylang Ylang, Lavender, Citronella
Tranquility Essential Oil Roller Blend 10 ml - Orange, Tangerine, Patchouli
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Tranquility Essential Oil Blend is perfect for those who want to relax, unwind, and create an atmosphere of peace and serenity in their home or office. By combining these therapeutic oils, this roller blend can be used to reduce stress, anxiety and emotional distress, while promoting relaxation and peace of mind. TRANQUILITY ESSENTIAL OIL BLEND INGREDIENTS Handcrafted Blend by Aromatherapist Jennifer Lane - Orange, Tangerine, Patchouli, Lime, Blue Tansy, Ylang Ylang, Lavender, and Citronella in a base of fractionated coconut oil. The oil blend comes in a 10 ML Roll On Bottle, made with 100% pure essential oils. Roller bottles are made of cobalt blue glass with stainless steel rollerballs and a black cap. Essential Oil Blend Highlights Volume: 10 milliliters Shelf Life: Should be used in 6-12 months Shipping: Items ship from California. US shipping only, no international orders. Safety Precautions: Made for ages 12 and up. Essential oil roll-ons come ready-made at a five percent dilution in an organic fractionated coconut oil base. Do not use if allergic to any ingredient, test on skin before liberally applying. Do not ingest. TRANQUILITY ESSENTIAL OIL BLEND BENEFITS The blend is made with Orange, Tangerine, Patchouli, Lime, Blue Tansy, Ylang Ylang, Lavender, and Citronella, which each have their own unique benefits. Together, these essential oils work synergistically to calm the mind and body. Orange and tangerine essential oils provide a sweet, bright aroma that is uplifting and calming. Patchouli oil helps to reduce stress and anxiety and can assist in calming the mind. Lime essential oil is known for its energizing and calming effects, and its ability to help with concentration. Blue Tansy is a powerful oil that can help to reduce feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress and can help to promote a sense of peace and relaxation. Ylang Ylang is a sweet and floral oil that helps to soothe the mind and promote feelings of inner peace. Lavender oil is known for its calming and soothing properties, and its ability to help induce sleep. Citronella is a powerful oil that is known for its insect-repelling properties and can help to create a peaceful environment. ORGANIC FRACTIONATED COCONUT OIL Fractionated Coconut Oil is a beneficial oil with a variety of uses. It is derived from coconut oil and is odorless, colorless, and has a longer shelf life than traditional coconut oil. It is also always in liquid form. Fractionated Coconut Oil is known for its ability to deeply moisturize the skin and dilute essential oils for safe topical application. NEED A CUSTOM BLEND? Contact me, I can customize this blend to your needs! How to Use Rollerball Blends Simply roll on the oil blend to your wrists, arms, upper chest, back, temples, feet, or neck. You can use to specifically target an area of concern, like applying to neck for tension or belly for upset stomach. For generalized aromatherapy purposes, apply to arms and chest to enjoy topical and aromatic benefits. The best part about this product is it can be used anywhere - at home, before heading out into the world, or taken with you for on the go use! With its pleasant aroma and powerful effects, Tranquility Essential Oil Blend is a great choice for those who want to experience a sense of inner peace. In addition, the blend can be used to help promote restful sleep, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and improve cognitive performance. Want to DIY? Learn how to make roller bottle blends! *Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information provided here is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease, nor is it a substitute for medical advice.
Stress Relief Essential Oil Blend - 10 ml Roller Bottle with Lavender, Orange, Ylang Ylang, and Cedarwood
Stress Relief Essential Oil Roller Blend 10 ml - Lavender Ylang Ylang
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This handcrafted Stress Relief Essential Oil Blend is a combination of four soothing oils, Lavender, Orange, Ylang Ylang, and Cedarwood. By combining these therapeutic oils, this roller blend can be used to calm the mind and body, while promoting strength and peace. STRESS RELIEF ESSENTIAL OIL BLEND INGREDIENTS Handcrafted Blend by Aromatherapist Jennifer Lane - Lavender, Orange, Ylang Ylang, and Cedarwood in a base of fractionated coconut oil. The oil blend comes in a 10 ML Roll On Bottle, made with 100% pure essential oils. Roller bottles are made of cobalt blue glass with stainless steel rollerballs and a black cap. Essential Oil Blend Highlights Volume: 10 milliliters Shelf Life: Should be used in 6-12 months Shipping: Items shipped from California. US shipping only, no international orders. Safety Precautions: Made for ages 12 and up. Essential oil roll-ons come ready-made at a four to five percent dilution in an organic fractionated coconut oil base. Do not use if allergic to any ingredient, test on skin before liberally applying. Do not ingest. STRESS RELIEF ESSENTIAL OIL BLEND BENEFITS This stress relief essential oil blend can be used for a variety of reasons. It contains lavender, orange, ylang ylang, and cedarwood essential oils. When blended together, this mixture creates an aroma that is both calming and uplifting. It can help to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and tension. It can also promote feelings of wellbeing and relaxation. Lavender oil is renowned for its calming, relaxing, and anxiety-relieving properties. Orange oil is known for its uplifting and soothing qualities, and its sweet, refreshing scent. Ylang Ylang oil is an exotic and sweet-smelling oil that is known for its calming and sedative properties. Cedarwood oil is a grounding, woody, and calming oil that relieves tension and stress. ORGANIC FRACTIONATED COCONUT OIL Fractionated Coconut Oil is a beneficial oil with a variety of uses. It is derived from coconut oil and is odorless, colorless, and has a longer shelf life than traditional coconut oil. It is also always in liquid form. Fractionated Coconut Oil is known for its ability to deeply moisturize the skin and dilute essential oils for safe topical application. NEED A CUSTOM BLEND? Contact me, I can customize this blend to your needs! How to Use Rollerball Blends Simply roll on the oil blend to your wrists, arms, upper chest, back, temples, feet, or neck. You can use to specifically target an area of concern, like applying to neck for tension or belly for upset stomach. For generalized aromatherapy purposes, apply to arms and chest to enjoy topical and aromatic benefits. The best part about this product is it can be used anywhere - at home, before heading out into the world, or taken with you for on the go use! This Stress Relief blend can be used to help relax your mind and body after work or before bedtime. Additionally, it can promote a night of deeper and more restful sleep. Want to DIY? Learn how to make roller bottle blends! *Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information provided here is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease, nor is it a substitute for medical advice.
Essential Oil Roll On Bottles - Blue 10 ml Set of 4 Blue Roll On Bottles
Essential Oil Roll On Bottles - Blue 10 ml Set of 4
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Introducing our Blue Essential Oil Roll On Bottles, designed to elevate your aromatherapy experience. These bottles are an essential tool for any essential oil enthusiast and DIYer. Glide on your favorite essential oils with ease, unleashing their goodness with each roll.  Key Features: Set of 4 Blue Glass Roll On Bottles with Black Caps Rollerball inserts made of durable stainless steel Size: 10ml Neck size: 16/410 Each roller bottle is made of stunning blue glass, chosen for its ability to protect and preserve the delicate properties of your precious oils. The blue glass shields the oils from damaging UV rays. Our Essential Oil Roll On Bottles feature stainless steel rollerball inserts, ensuring a smooth and consistent application every time. The stainless steel material offer durability, preventing rusting or corrosion over time. Black caps are designed to prevent leaks or spills when screwed on tight, allowing you to carry your oils wherever you go. Benefits of Using Essential Oils in Roller Bottles: Convenient and mess-free application: The attached rollerball allows for precise application without wasting a single drop. Portable and travel-friendly: The compact size of the roller bottles makes them perfect for on-the-go use, allowing you to enjoy the benefits of essential oils anytime, anywhere. Dilution control: By mixing your essential oils with a carrier oil in the roller bottle, you can easily control the potency and concentration of your blends. Targeted application: The rollerball allows you to apply your oils directly to targeted areas, ensuring maximum efficacy for specific concerns. Extended shelf-life: The blue glass and black caps protect your essential oils from sunlight and oxidation, preserving their potency for longer periods. Promotes emotional well-being: The act of rolling on essential oils can be a soothing and calming experience, helping to alleviate stress and promote relaxation. Discover the endless possibilities of aromatherapy with our Essential Oil Roll On Bottles. Elevate your self-care routine or create personalized blends for friends and family. Experience the convenience, elegance, and efficacy of these exquisite roller bottles today! Remember to securely tighten the lids to keep the rollerball in place and prevent any potential leakage. Store the bottles in an upright position. We cannot be held responsible for any damage caused by leaks from roller bottles. 
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