How Formulating with Honey, Clay, Water and NO Preservative is Possible

Today we're going to look at a cosmetics formula that might seem to defy normal formulating logic – a honey and clay mask that not only contains water, but has NO preservative added.

You: That's impossible! It would be a teeming mass of bacteria and microbes in a second and could never ever pass a challenge test.

Like, ever!

That's a perfectly understandable knee-jerk reaction.

But guess what.

This honey and clay mask passed challenge testing.

Want to know how? Read on to get the dirt! (little teensy pun intended)

The Clay and Honey Mask

Cosmetic chemist and Realize Beauty blogger Amanda Foxon-Hill created her 'Simple Honey and Clay Mask' formula (link below) last December for one of her cosmetics-making workshops.

The formula includes:
  • food (honey)
  • clay 
  • water (or other liquid as desired)
  • no preservative
Not only was the mask made during a workshop full of students (without gloves, hairnets etc), but Amanda subsequently used the product and then left it standing out in her hot (Australian) office for a couple of weeks.

She then proceeded to ship the mask off to be challenge tested.

It passed.

But How? 

Because of the way this formula is designed, it is self-preserving. Read: there is no need to add preservative.

How is it even possible to create a self-preserving formula?

The answer lies not in one thing, but in several things, and the method is called hurdle technology.

Hurdle Technology

Hurdle technology involves using a combination of techniques to control (or completely eliminate) pathogens from a product.

In short, necessary 'hurdles' are 'placed' to successfully inhibit unwanted organisms.

It might involve heat-treating some ingredients prior to use, using specific combinations of ingredients, employing a particular set of methods during production, keeping a specific pH, and can even include the packaging (think airless containers or containers where the product is pumped out and not exposed directly to fingers during use).

Hurdle technology has its roots in the food industry.

It would be awesome if there was a 'one-size-fits-all' way of employing hurdle technology to our cosmetics formulas but unfortunately, it doesn't quite work that way.

Creating a successful self-preserving formula requires in-depth knowledge of the ingredients you are using, how they react (or don't react) with each other, formulating experience, and testing.

If you're interested in learning a bit more about hurdle technology, check the links below.

Meantime, find Amanda's self preserving Clay and Honey Mask right here.

Do Tell

Have you ever employed hurdle technology in your formulations? Were you successful? Please share in a comment below.

Find More Info

Realize Beautys Post on Overpreserving with her Honey and Clay Mask Formula 
Preserving Botanical Formulations Naturally- Part 1 - Botanical Formulations
Preserving Botanical Formulations Naturally Part 2 - Botanical Formulations
Self preserving cosmetics containing honey and water is possible - Botanical Formulations
Honey - Botanical Formulations
How is this Formulation Preserved? - Formula Botanica
Hurdle Technology (wikipedia)
Effect of Hurdle Technology (pubMed)
Principles and Applications of Hurdle Technology (SpringerLink)
Hurdle Technology (sample chapters)
Overpreserving - As bad as Underpreserving (this blog)
Why Honey Never Goes Bad (this blog)
How to Sterilize Clay for Your Cosmetics (this blog)


Anonymous said…
Hi Lisa!
Very interesting! but I can't see water in the formula, the only liquid seems to be oil.
LisaLise said…
Hi Anon - check the part with ‘actives of your choice”
Ilhem said…
I've just read the articles. It's very interesting. Thank you for sharing!
LisaLise said…
HI Ilhem - Thanks for your comment! :)
Unknown said…
Thanks for sharing! Do you think this technology can be used in a toner? I see many natural toners on the market with no preservatives and I just thought they weren't disclosing the full ingredient list.
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
LisaLise said…
Hi Kim - a toner would need a very high percentage of alcohol for it to be self preserving — and that would probably make the product an irritant. I’m having a hard time envisioning a self preserving tonic to be honest.
Unknown said…
Interesting. Thanks, Lisa. :)
Ursula Rudd said…
Hi Lisa,

I just gotta say I LOVE YOUR VIBE!!! You are so Iinformative, down to earth, and such a supremely diligent, factoid based researcher ...I am honored to be learning from you every day. We should count our lucky stars to have you sharing this earth with us and teaching us ways to live more healthfully and organically.

I am eager to learn your favorite face-body lotion? Butter? Recipe....I. Have played with such things but certainly not nearly as much as you, thus my admiration!
LisaLise said…
Hello Ursula and thank you very kindly for your lovely comment! I have been at this so long that I have an arsenal of notebooks full of favorites! Have you visited the How To page on the blog? There are scads of favorites and formulas to be tried. Have fun!
Maya said…
Hello, Lisa,

Strangely after reading your post here, hurdle technology seems to creep up in my readings.
Check this one out:
I would love to hear you thoughts.

LisaLise said…
Hi Maya - thanks for the link! I will indeed check this out! (I plan on a few more posts about this technology so this may be included) Thanks again!
Laurie said…
I made this honey clay mask and love it. Only thing for me is when I use water as the active it gums up into this weird sort of unusable paste. But when I use glycerine or a botanical extract made in glycerine no problems at all and I love it. Maybe it is the hardness of my water maybe?
LisaLise said…
Hi Laurie — interesting about the water bit! I haven’t tried making this formula so I can only guess at what it might be. I would probably be inclined to try making it with the same botanical in the different solvents Amanda lists. That would show if it is the solvent or botanical..
Unknown said…
I also had the same issue it clumped up and wasn't ideal. I'd love to tweak it for a more ideal consistency. If anyone else has had success I would love your feedback