Formulation Myths & Misconceptions: Vitamin E–No, it’s not a preservative!

Formulation Myths & Misconceptions: Vitamin E–No, it’s not a preservative!

I enjoy formulating ‘all natural’ (completely natural) or ‘as natural as possible’ products (which are mostly natural, however they contain minimal but necessary synthetic or lab derived ingredients). Although most aromatherapy, herbalism, and all natural skin care books and courses contain some good basic recipes, there are numerous formulation mistakes, since most aromatherapists, herbalists, and natural skin care crafters are not cosmetic scientists (personally I am a qualified aromatherapist, qualified herbalist, natural perfumer, cosmetic formulator, and environmental/plant scientist). 🙂  Some of the biggest mistakes I see are in regard to preservatives, antioxidants, essential oil solubility, emulsifiers, solubilizers, shelf life, measurements, and more!

So I decided to clear up some of these formulation myths and misconceptions. One common misconception I often see is that vitamin E is a preservative! This pops up in a lot of authentic aromatherapy, herbalism, and all natural skin care resources.

Vitamin E is not a preservative; it's an antioxidant!
Vitamin E is not a preservative; it’s an antioxidant!

The truth is: Vitamin E is not a preservative. In other words, it is not antimicrobial, and it will not prevent products from getting contaminated with gram negative bacteria, gram positive bacteria, mold, and yeast.

However, just because it’s not a preservative, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. It is a great ingredient! Vitamin E is an effective antioxidant. Antioxidants are often added to products to help prevent the carrier oils and butters from going rancid. Vitamin E can help extend shelf life of oil based products by preventing oxidation, so they will stay fresher for longer! You can add vitamin E to anhydrous (waterless, oil soluble) ingredients and products, including balms, salves, lotion bars, oil based perfumes, carrier oils, butters, herb infused oils, aromatherapy facial and body oils, and more. You can also add vitamin E to natural based creams and lotions since it will help prevent rancidity of the oils and butters in them.

Vitamin E is oil soluble and there are different forms of vitamin E. It can be naturally derived or synthetic. The most common group used in cosmetics to protect against rancidity are the tocopherols, including mixed tocopherols, d-alpha tocopherol, and dl-alpha tocopherol. Vitamin E is available in various concentrations, so it is best to check the manufacturer’s or vendor’s recommended percent concentration for usage. It is generally used in very low amounts (typically 0.1% to 0.5% or sometimes slightly higher), so use a scale to measure it!

Vitamin E is not a preservative but it’s a great antioxidant, so add it to your oils, butters, anhydrous products, creams, and lotions!

Want to learn more about cosmetic formulation?

If you want to learn more info about preservatives and antioxidants, check out my ‘when you should use a preservative’ article!

Learn about carrier oil and butter storage and shelf life from my carrier oil storage article!

Check out my article on how to choose a scale for measuring small amounts of essential oils and other ingredients (like vitamin E) in products!

If you have any questions about vitamin E, please ask them in the comments of this article! For more information or if you have questions about herbalism, natural perfumery, aromatherapy, formulating, and eco living, please join Plant Alkemie Institute of Holistic Botanical Studies’ Facebook group and also Plant Alkemie Institute of Holistic Botanical Studies Facebook business page.  And check out more articles here on Plant Alkemie Institute of Holistic Botanical Studies’ website:

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