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Preserved or self-preserving? That is the question

“The answers exist in nature, we just have to try and get them into the product in the right concentration.” Daniel Campbell - cosmetic scientist and product developer


Self-preserving versions of Ocean Salt face and body scrub, Dream Cream hand and body lotion and Mask Of Magnaminty face and body mask sit alongside the preserved formulas in shops and online, allowing customers to pick and mix.

So how did we do it? It took 98 different formulations to create our current self-preserving Dream Cream formula, and that formed a building block for future self-preserving lotions. Cosmetic scientist and product developer Daniel explains, “Micro-organisms like to sit on the interface between oil and water. What we’ve been able to do is to restrict microbes’ access to water by reducing the water content slightly and adjusting the quantities of oil and the glycerine and cocoa butter. Consequently, we’ve made the emulsion tight enough the microbes can’t get between the oil and water, but crucially still light enough that the natural ingredients will penetrate the skin.”

What about Mask Of Magnaminty? This required a slightly different approach. “We aren’t forming an emulsion when we make Mask Of Magnaminty,” explains Daniel, “so there’s no need to bind the oil with water. Instead, we are dispersing honey, water and glycerine through clay and so we hide the water inside the clay. We also experimented with bentonite gel to give the product the same feel as much as possible.  When it comes to making that product it has to be very well mixed -  if you whack it too much with a mixer the water can leak back out again and become available for bacteria.”

Reformulating Ocean Salt depended on successfully making the most of salt’s natural antimicrobial properties. Daniel says “Salt is great for skin and it also disrupts the osmotic potential of micro-organisms” - the ability of water to pass from a low salt concentration to a higher one. He explains “If you create a situation where there is more salt on one side of the cell and less on the other side, any water that you have inside a micro-organism will be pulled out, in a similar way to how methylparaben punches a hole in the cell wall. It’s essentially like using a hoover to pull out the innards of the microbe. Using salt means that the material that is antimicrobial is also of benefit to the skin. It’s just one example of how using self-preserving ingredients creates a really great product.”

“To create the self-preserving version of Ocean Salt, we use silken tofu as an emulsifier to hold the oil and water together. Because the product itself has quite a waxy base and contains a surfactant called sodium cocoamphoacetate to help clean the skin, that combination holds the product together. In the original version, which has a higher water content, we need another emulsifier called triethanolamine because the tofu isn’t strong enough to hold the product as tightly together as it needs to be.”

Spot the difference 

Aside from the fact that they don’t contain any synthetic preservative systems, these self-preserving recipes are made of a different concentration of ingredients which might give a different texture, consistency and feel on the skin. The effect they have is the same; the main difference is in how they feel on application. You may find for example that Mask Of Magnaminty dries on the skin, whereas its self-preserving counterpart doesn’t. This is due to the higher quantity of honey in the latter, which draws in and retains moisture. 

There’s no need to choose between them if you really can’t pick your favourite - why not find the formula that feels best for the particular time of year? Dream Cream self-preserving, for example, has a balmy texture which can feel particularly comforting during winter, when cold weather and central heating can leave skin grateful for a hydration boost. The reduced water content gives this more concentrated product a luxuriously rich texture, which feels beautifully protective on the skin. You may then prefer to switch to the original formula, which feels lighter on the skin, for the warmer summer months, or after a morning shower when you need to get dressed straight away. You can also always layer a dusting powder on top of either if you prefer a silky, matte finish too.

In every other respect, the two formulas are exactly the same — apart from Ocean Salt face and body scrub. As an added bonus, self-preserving Ocean Salt is also vegan, because we’ve removed the lanolin and synthetic emulsifiers, and replaced them with silken tofu and Japan wax.

Choosing between preserved or self-preserving simply comes down to personal preference.

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