Shelf life expectations.

The other day I was talking to a friend about my business. I like to do this as I recently realised they’ll start making associations so by the time I’m good and ready to launch they’ll already be anticipating. I also like to get opinions, solutions, ideas, etc. Anyhoos, the issue of shelf life has been thrown around and in many forms especially in reference to

mass production, stocking in supermarkets, ability to forget about keep product at home for extended periods of time and so on.

If 90 – 100% organic is your style, It might be best to stick to water-free products completely. With that said, these products are highly susceptible to rancidity although the addition of antioxidants like vitamin E and rosemary oil, citric acid (for water based products) can help to extend the lifespan of products. Also the shelf life of your oil based product is equivalent to that of any ingredient with the shortest life span. Oils like hazelnut oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil (3 months), evening primerose oil (6 months), etc have a shorter shelf life so consider this when formulating. Freezing oils can help to extend the shelf life especially if left unopened after buying (assuming your supplier has stored it for an appropriate time and in good storage conditions).

For water containing products, in addition to considering rancidity of any included oil, adequate microbial preservation is also expected. Water based natural cosmetics, known to contain plant extracts, essences, and herbs, are nutrient rich and can greatly facilitate the survival of microbes. That is why commercial cosmetic products contain little to none of these as they have unusually long shelf lives made possible with the addition of paraben and formaldehyde producing preservatives. Natural based preservatives on the other hand cannot deliver long term microbial preservation for exactly these reasons but they work well enough. Think of that cabbage you saw on facebook, that wouldn’t burn; think of that McDonald’s happy meal that wouldn’t rot after 2 years and think about leaving your food, fruits and vegetables out of the fridge for 4 days maximum and decide what should happen to a product that is packed full of plant extracts in 3 months.

Stability of a product is needed for aesthetic and functional reasons. We are accustomed to pearly white lotions and creams,  perfect fragrance, silicon texture, etc. Natural formulators have to compete with that standard even though coconut oil is liquid in Nigeria (you know what I mean?) so your shiny whipped butter or scrub deflates before your customer gets a chance to experience the buttery fluffy texture of your product. Therefore, it’s important to consider the climate of your client’s residence in your formulations as it’s not uncommon to see flocculation, separation and aggregation. In formulating natural cosmetics, I like to use the keep-it-simple approach and do not see the need for including fillers and carbomers, while commercial products remain stable in all conditions by the help of these stabilizers. This is one of the reasons I prefer to formulate on demand so that the client gets the product at time stamp 00:00:00 and not half way through it’s useful tenure.

I still believe though, that customers should manage their expections on shelf life (and aesthetics) if reaping the benefits of using natural cosmetics is what they really want. With that said, I would propose that 3 – 12 months be the shelf life expectancy of a natural cosmetic product. I think the aesthetics of the product can be controlled and improvements can be made but … .

Let me know your thoughts.

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