Body Butter Preservatives

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Apr 6, 2010
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So i have been making small batches of butters for myself over the past few years. I usually would make them on a weekly basis, and would use them so quickly that I never really had time to see if they would go rancid.

With the winter months here, and the fact that my life has gotten kind of crazy, I have resorted to making larger batches once a month. I usually store them in a ziplock tupperware container downstairs where it is cool and dry. (No room in fridge with 7 roomates). I have noticed that over time, the butters in storage have started to smell rancid. I have also noticed that the batches I am using are going rancid quicker. I suppose it is due to exposure to air and water in the bathroom where I use them?

What kind of preservatives can I use to keep the oil from going rancid? I have tried adding antimicrobial EOs like Tea Tree, Clove, and Cinnamon at small amounts to keep bacteria down. But bacteria and rancidity are two different beasts.

The blends usually consist of Beeswax, Coconut Oil (Unrefined), Shea Butter (Unrefined), and Cocoa Butter.

Any help is appreciated! Thanks
I am wondering if the unrefined coconut and/or shea is the culprit? B/c usually those are long-lasting oils! They shouldn't be going rancid after a month. Is there anything else in there? FO? EO? Herbs?
I would use ROE (rosemary oleoresin) to slow down rancidity. It works really well, and a tiny bit is all you need. My notes say 0.2 to 1.0 g ROE for every 1000 g oils (0.02% to 0.1% ppo). I would hit the middle (0.5 g ROE for 1000 g oils). You can add ROE to your butter when you make it, but an even better way is to add it to your oils/fats when you first get them. That way they're protected while in storage too. This is not rosemary EO, by the way.

I am also wondering like Dixie why your product is going rancid so fast. Maybe your oils are already on the edge of being rancid, and then when you use them in your butter, the odor is more obvious? If you are whipping your butter, that will introduce oxygen into the fats, and that might also accelerate the process of rancidity. Just guessing here....

Some people will suggest tocopherols (vitamin E), but they don't seem to be effective for this purpose. I really recommend ROE.
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I agree with Dixie and DeeAnna- that is strange that they would be going rancid so soon. My own kokum/meadowfoam seed oil body butter lasts for several months at room temp. However, when I make it I always package it in a sanitized container (I like to use StarSan to sanitize), and I always use a clean, plastic, cosmetic mini-spatula each time I take some out to use. I also make sure to keep it away from water. It's my trifecta of protection since I don't add any preservatives to mine.

Are any of your roommates perhaps dipping into it?

IrishLass :)
Are they actually going rancid or are they growing funky things? If they're truly going rancid, I agree with the above posters about adding ROE to your oils.

If they're growing nasties then you need a true preservative like Phenonip
I'm also wondering how old your base oils are? I've never had coconut oil sit around long enough to go rancid. But I did have a batch of shea butter & hemp butter that didn't get used up quickly enough . . . hooey did they both smell rank!
Just out of curiosity, what type of oils are you using and how much? I ask because I plan on making my own butters and I certainly don't want to have to deal with this type of thing. Thanks for sharing your experience too!!!
Sorry for the late reply as this fell off my radar. Work has gotten crazy.

As for the oils, usually I order from a place like Garden State Naturals. I am thinking that this batch, which was made from what I could find in the grocery store, might be the reason why it is going bad:

This Shea:

This Coconut Oil:

This Cocoa Butter:

Unrefined Beeswax from local beekeeper - which has never caused a problem until this batch.

Recipe ratio is usually 2 Parts Coconut, 1 Part Cocoa, .5 parts Shea, .25 Beeswax

All three oils were purchased and opened at the same time. I have made 2 small batches from these - with the same smelly results over time. The oils smell fresh in their original containers.
The EOs vary. But they all have small amounts of clove, tea tree, cinnamon, and lemon to keep the microbial count down.

As for the rancidity - it just smells funky - like stale rancid oil. Ive also noticed that I had a small container and that one ended up kind of smelling like musty towel with a slight fishy scent. In either case - all of the batches start off smelling nice and sweet, but as i use them they go bad - and quickly - like within a month.

We did have a mold problem downstairs last year. The entire basement was gutted and we had new drywall put in. Not sure what it is.

Ive always thrown my butters together as a treat to myself and have been experimenting over the years. There is alot to learn and I want to put a more serious effort into it all as its now becoming a deep passion for me.

(As for whipping - i have tried whipping a few times but it always seems to harden solid - even without beeswax - which i just attribute to temperature)

I wonder if i am not heating them long enough or for too long? I melt them in a pot. I put the beeswax in first because it takes forever and generates the most heat. I turn the heat off once its melted and add the Coconut, Shea, and Cocoa. I dont boil them per se because the heat from the beeswax melts them quick and I dont want to destroy any properties the base oils have with higher than necessary heat. Then i transfer them into a sterile metal mixing bowl and use a hand mixer for a few minutes. Off the freezer to cool a little - then mix again. This gets repeated until the oils start to become opaque but not solid. Then I add the essential oils. (I fear adding them when the batch is so hot will destroy their properties as well)

One batch usually fills two containers:

First, the mixture gets transferred into one of these containers (which i buy new, wash with bleach, fill, and throw out once used):

Whatever is left goes into one of these:

Both are going bad.

(Yes I know, they should be in darker containers but they stay in the basement away from light - Plus i havent found darker colored containers that wont leak on me! But would that be the culprit?)

Thanks for all of your help!
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I'm stumped. No quibble with your containers -- they should be fine. You're storing the unused portions in a cool, dark place -- sounds good. You say your unused fats still smell fresh -- that is good too.

So the only thing I can think of that could cause trouble is what's left -- your EOs. EOs will oxidize and that can lead to oxidation and rancidity of fats. Lavender is a prime example of an EO that can cause rancidity if it's oxidized. One of my batches of soap dramatically proved that point to me awhile back. Citrus EOs are another group of EOs that oxidize fairly fast.

Sometimes you can smell an off or rancid odor in bad EOs so that's the first thing to try, but it's not absolute proof one way or the other. If you want to check, put a drop of an EO on a strip of unused coffee filter or unscented paper towel and check the scent as time goes on. If you are really familiar with the EO scents, you may be able to tell if any have an unusual odor especially after the main notes fade a bit.

The real proof would be to make a batch without any EOs (or use fresh EOs) and see if you get better results, but I admit that a time consuming experiment.
It may be time consuming but it seems necesarry. I've never bought oils or shea butter from vitamin shoppe so I cannot speak of how they are. I do want to know how do the shea butter and the coconut oil smell. I'm more suspicious of shea butter being the culprit. Also, what color is the shea butter?
I think it may be the shea butter as well. Sometimes unrefined shea can have a very earthy smell to it and is hard to cover up with EO's/FO's. I just recently switched over to refined for my body butters due to this issue.
This is reaching - but have you used this type of container before? Is it possible the EOs are damaging the plastic? I've had some EOs chew up plastic measuring spoons.