All the recipes in this book include a preservative or antioxidant, where necessary, to prolong the life and freshness of the products—in some cases up to a year or more.
I’m sure many of you, however, will want to make fresh natural products using the minimum of chemical additives, so this section gives guidelines on storage and shelf life without preservatives.
A good starting point for prolonging the shelf life of your homemade products is to create a super-clean working environment, using equipment specifically kept for product making that you do not use for cooking. I like to use metal and glass, as they are easy to keep clean and less likely to harbor bacteria.
Before you start work, wipe your equipment and countertops with isopropyl alcohol, or rubbing alcohol, which is available from most pharmacies. You could decant a small amount into a spray bottle to mist surfaces and wipe with paper towels; make sure the bottle is clearly labeled and kept in a safe place, as alcohol is flammable.
Creams, gels & lotions
The key thing to remember when working out how long a product will last is whether or not water has been added in any form (this includes bottled spring water and hydrolats, or floral waters). If it has, then the finished product will need to be kept in the refrigerator and will not last for more than a week or two at the most; treat it like a dairy product. The life of a cream or lotion will also depend upon its packaging: if it is in a jar that gets opened every day and has fingers dipped into it, its shelf life will be shorter than a product kept in a bottle with a pump dispenser, which not only keeps fingers out but also prevents air from being sucked back into the bottle. You can buy airless pump dispenser packaging from some ingredients suppliers.
If you are adding herbal ingredients to your products (especially infusions), this will also reduce the shelf life, since they are a great growing medium for bacteria. If you notice mold growing on the top, thinning or separating of the product, strange smells, or changing color, throw it out!
Lip balms, butter & salves
These are products that have no water added and are simply made from oils, butters, and waxes.
Balm-type products do not grow mold and fungus, but they will eventually go rancid over a period of time, depending on the oils used.
If you notice a product growing mold, it means that some water has somehow got into it.
So, in future, make sure your bottles and jars are completely dry before use.
To gauge how long your product will last, check the expiry dates on the ingredients used and go by the one with the shortest life to be on the safe side. Some oils last a year or two but some, such as rosehip and borage, will turn rancid within a few months if an antioxidant such as vitamin E has not been added at the time of pressing.
It is a good idea to buy these oils with an antioxidant already added, if possible. The action of heating the oils and butters during the process of making your products, as well as adding 0.5–1% vitamin E oil (which all the recipes in this book contain), will be enough to lengthen the life of your body butter, salves, and balms to 1–2 years, as long as you are using oils that are within their expiry date.
Face & body oils
These are similar in nature to balms and butter in that they will not go moldy but will oxidize over time and go rancid. As you are not heating them, they will not last quite as long as balms, but they should last a year or so with 0.5–1% vitamin E added (depending on the shelf life of the base oils used).
All reputable suppliers should include an expiry date on ingredients; if they do not, then contact them to check. If making your own macerated oils with fresh plant material, then they should last 6–12 months, but don’t forget to add vitamin E as an antioxidant.
Bath bombs and salts
Bath bombs and salts will not go off but should be stored in moisture-resistant containers to keep them at their best.
If bath bombs get wet, they will start to dissolve and salts can sometimes go a bit solid, so it is best to keep them in airtight kitchen storage containers.