Before learning about essential oils, I was not one to make my own anything that I couldn’t buy in a store. But essential oils opened up a new world for me. Some of what I made was great, some was questionable, and some was downright dangerous. I was armed with recipes from the internet, empty containers, and spray bottles as well as essential oils, olive oil, witch hazel and liquid Castile soap. What could possibly go wrong?
I was freaking out about “toxins” and “chemicals” that people were talking about at the essential oil parties I was going to. As a mother, I was the one that bought products for our home and I now felt responsible and guilty for every artificial anything I had ever purchased. The first thing I wanted to learn how to make was soap, since we used it every day. This was years before the internet and YouTube were popular. So I headed to the library and got every book on the subject. I used the proper safety equipment and quickly learned the ins and outs of soap making, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Soaps are made by combining fats and lye mixed with water. I also added some beautiful essential oils to create a pleasant smell. The end result was a stable bar of salt that we call soap. This was a great DIY because I focused on learning everything I could about the ingredients, process, and safety first.
Later, I began going to and hosting my own “make ‘n’ take” parties that were a lot of fun. We made household cleaners, bug sprays, linen sprays, body butters, sugar scrubs, and roll-ons to name a few. I added to this repertoire of favorite DIY’s after becoming certified in aromatherapy. The ones with just oils and essential oils are actually self-preserving. So they were basically safe and can last up to a year. Later on I learned that they can, however, go rancid. If something starts to smell like crayons or old nuts, its probably time to chuck it. This includes vegetable oils, butters, and essential oils. They are basically stable for months and even years if stored in cool, dry places. Unless in a huge container, the products could be easily used up before rancidity set in, which happens to oils in heat and/or light. Essential oils will not prevent rancidity. They can also oxidize with exposure to air. This can lead to them being a skin irritant.
What I did NOT learn from essential oil parties given by business representatives or from aromatherapy classes, was preservation, safety, and stability of products and why this was important. I can understand why the subject did not come up in the parties, because I was taught that all things from a laboratory were synthetic, which equaled toxic and bad. Nature=good, laboratory=bad. If we made it from stuff we could eat, certainly it was safe to use, right? We weren’t using all that toxic stuff. Aromatherapy classes for certification, on the other hand, were geared to learn the chemistry of essential oils and their effectiveness in certain situations. The goal was small batches to be used quickly by a client, so not much need for preservation. Stability was not really an issue either for the same reason.
Then there is the category of “I can’t believe I did that.”
I have recently been interested in formulations for skin care. As an aromatherapist, I have an understanding of how essential oils can benefit the skin, but they ideally need a vehicle to make that happen, like being an ingredient in a cream, lotion, cleanser, etc. Using only vegetable oils, honey, and beeswax is an option, but what if my goal is hydration? Water is the key ingredient in many hydrating products Also, many products come in contact with water when you use them. Water is the key to life, especially microbial life in a skin care product. Water is the source of an incredible amount of contamination. When those nasty microbes enter – especially in a formulation with lovely vegetable oils – they feast on the buffet of edibles.
Preservatives are a must. There are some good preservatives out there for formulators to use, but one must take the time to learn about them and the appropriate amount. Years ago, without the knowledge I have today, I would have shut my eyes and stopped my ears to hear anything about something so un-natural and synthetic. I did not understand that without a proper preservative, bacteria, fungi, and other microbes could enter your skin through cuts, scratches or other irritations. Even liquid Castile soap and aloe vera contain water. I made a liquid foaming soap several months ago. It had some essential oils that tend to be germ fighters, hence why I added them. Here is a picture of it. Notice the biofilm and separation of ingredients on the top. It was not stable (separation) and not preserved. Here I was, trying to make an all-natural cleaner for my family, and I inadvertently gave them something unsafe to use.
My wish is that you learn from my mistakes. It is not enough to get a recipe off the internet and make it in your kitchen without knowing what you are doing, especially anything that contains water. There is no such thing as a natural preservative. Essential oils, vitamin E, and grapefruit seed extract cannot do what needs to be done to make a products safe. With the plethora of information available today, it is not difficult to learn about what makes a product truly safe and stable.