Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Question: Why can't we use tea in our products?

I'm asked all the time about how to make infusions or steeped teas for use in our products, and I generally give the same answer - don't. I know it sounds like a great idea to use something like green tea - both plentiful and inexpensive at the local grocery store - but inexperienced formulators can make a really lovely product turn bad in a few short days if it isn't well preserved.

Botanical ingredients are harder to preserve than non-botanical ingredients, and you definitely want to use a good broad spectrum preservative for any products in which you're using powdered or liquid extracts. (Even though most hydrosols and other liquid botanical ingredients contain preservatives, there's only enough for that ingredient, not your entire batch.)

Think of it this way. Would you drink a cup of tea you'd steeped seven days ago? No. Because it would be contaminated with all kinds of nasty things that would make the tea taste horrible and your stomach feel queasy. It's the same way with the infusions. You simply can't remove all the bits and pieces from the tea or infusion, and those bits and pieces attract contamination. Even if you can remove every last molecule of the tea leaf, you'll still get bacteria and fungi that can't wait to swim in that lukewarm broth. This works the same way with an infusion of lavender or calendula or other botanicals we find in our suppliers' shops.

It is possible to make an infusion with those lovely herbs and flowers, but you need to be an experienced formulator who uses preservatives at the maximum level and has access to testing facilities or supplies. You need to know how to infuse, store, and preserve the products well to ensure you won't see a layer of brownish goo floating in your tea a few days later. (You do not want to hear the story of the bottle of unpreserved aloe vera I once bought from Wal-Mart! Let's just say it was a good example of why we preserve our products! Ick!)

If you're a novice, please just buy the extracts or hydrosols and enjoy them. Then find someone who has a lot of experience in the area of making infusions and ask them for help (that person isn't me, by the way) so you can learn how to do it right. I know it sounds lovely to steep some green tea and use that as the liquid in that body butter or facial cleanser, but if you don't do it right, you're bathing in bacteria!


Madeaj said...

Excellent post. It came at the right time. I have been considering extracts and how well they would do in personal care products. I am off to do some more extensive research. I keep seeing products with Ayurveda Extracts and I wonder how well they are preserved and if I could use the extract for personal use. I am not really to make anything for sale.

Thanks again Susan

carolanlorraine said...

Hey Madeaj and co. Did you have any luck getting more info on extracts in cream. I'm thinking Germall plus would be a good preservative......any thoughts?


Charlotte said...

I am so glad I read this. I recently became interested in making soap and lotions at home (for fun). I was interested in infusing herbs, but now I won't. There's so much contradicting information out there. I watched a video on YouTube that demonstrated how to do infuse Calendula flowers that was provided by a major online herbal supply shop. They also sell sell the finished product online. Do you think it's safe?

Little Lad Soap Co. said...

Hi susan,
Are you referring to water infusions only, or are you also referring to oils infused with dried botanicals. I was curious to try some calendula infused coconut oil in a lotion, but perhaps that is unwise. ( I will of course be using a broad spectrum preservative in the lotion.)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Little Lad Soap! I wrote an updated post, which you can find here. I wouldn't infuse anything dried into an oil given the possible problems that can come from something like the botulinum pathogen.

Rose said...

Hi, I've seen on many of your posts that you are against using tea/infusions, which makes sense, but wouldn't using powdered extracts in water be the same thing as an infusion? I am interested in buying Chamomile and Green tea extract from Voyageur Soap & Candle, but not if I will get contamination.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Rose. No, using a powdered extract isn't the same because it is designed to be used in cosmetics. The extracts are cleaned and sterilized so as to not introduce contamination. Having said that, strawberry extract is very hard to preserve and you always want to preserve your products at the maximum level when using any botanical ingredients.

nicPesante said...

Hi Susan, thank you so much for this wealth of information you've given us. I have 2 questions about extracts.

1.) How do you feel about a 'natural' colorant like spirulina or dandelion infused in olive oil as a colorant in CP soap. Brambelberry states that "... the pH is too high for mold, bacteria or microbes to grow in." However, I've gotten recipes from BB for infusing herbs into oil for use in products before, so I'd like your opinion.

2.) I noticed you use some extracts from Brambelberry, and I'm curious about those specifically, they are the only extracts I have purchased. I find it a little odd that they are all (Avocado, carrot, chamomile, etc.,) virtually clear and odorless. Can you confirm they actually provide any benefit? I have asked them directly, but would really appreciate your opinion.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi nicPesante! I don't know much about soap making, so I can't really comment. I know that the pH in soap is high, but I don't know what impact that would have on botanicals and mold. Having said that, I know people have been using natural colourants for years successfully, so I figure they know what they're doing!

I feel very strongly about infusing oils, and I don't recommend it unless you are being instructed by an experienced infuser.

The extracts I have purchased from Brambleberry are oil based, generally in fractionated coconut oil. I think they offer benefits as they contain the oil soluble bits of the plants while the powders or w/s extracts contain the water soluble components of the plants. It's like using an essential oil versus a hydrosol or distilled floral water. For instance, the green tea extract contains the oil soluble parts of green tea, like the phytosterols, which are of great benefit to our skin.

nicPesante said...

Gotcha. Thanks for the reply. I'm really getting into the chemistry side of things, but I don't have a background in it. You are my go to source!

Christine Ebadi said...

Hi Susan, thank goodness I stumbled upon this post before exploring my new recipe. I just purchase some dried chamomile flowers (whole), from my supplier. I guess I won't be using those. I was planning on steeping them. They are not per chance cleaned the way botanicals are, are they?

Thank you so much for all the wonderful info and handwork that you put into your posts :)