Tuesday, January 27, 2015

US Lavender Conference 2015

What a great few days I had with other lavender growers in San Antonio last week for the United States Lavender Growers Association (USLGA) meeting. I have to say that lavender grower meetings are the most fun meetings I get to attend. USLGA is a relatively new organization, officially formed April 27, 2012 after more than a year of hard work by an organizing committee. I am proud that I was part of that organizing committee, a founding member and a founding board member of USLGA.

So let me tell you a few things I learned while there. Photographer Scott David Gordon gave a great talk on tips for taking farm photography as well as using social media such as Instagram. I think its great that Johnson’s Backyard Garden, which is actually a quite large farm in Texas, hires Scott to take farm pictures on a weekly basis. His work there has helped the farm grow and be more successful.

I went to Robert Seidel’s (of the Essential Oil Company) talk on distilling. He has traveled the world observing and consulting on distilling projects of every kind and had great stories to tell. Aromatherapist Mindy Green talked about some of the properties of lavender essential oil and about making claims (or not). 

Another good talk was Mary Bergstrom talking on the importance of taking measurements; a definite weakness of mine. However, taking measurements in any type of business is important so that you can grow your business. Mary is the President of USLGA and has an extensive background in project management and business solutions. For someone like me with no business background her information is always welcome and I constantly get good ideas from her about how to track and measure outcomes in my business. So if you are not recording any measurements in your business yet, start today. Once you start its easier to add more measurements and understand their importance.

Did you know that there are hundreds of different varieties of lavender? And yes, they look rather similar. Andy Van Hevelingen talked some on distinguishing these varieties. The photo above are some of the bunches he brought.

There were also round table discussions on growing, advocacy, weather related issues, and more. No one went away without new ideas and inspiration.

If you are a lavender grower or enthusiast, I hope you will join USLGA.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What is the Best Preservative?

I repeatedly get asked “what is the best preservative to use in my natural product?” so I thought I’d address it here. Basically, there is no ‘best’ preservative and preservatives will behave differently in different formulations. So, unfortunately, there is no way to predict whether or not your preservative will work. It really is a matter of trial and error.

Preserving a product means to inhibit growth of microorganisms. These microorganisms are broken up into two categories; bacteria and fungus (including yeasts). For identification purposes, bacteria are categorized as either gram positive or gram negative. This is dependent on their ability to take up a certain dye which is determined by characteristics of their cell wall. Some preservatives work better at inhibiting one or the other. The term broad spectrum means that the preservative is effective at inhibiting a wide range of microbes in both categories.

Some of the new preservatives, although considered more natural, need to be used at much higher concentrations than some of the ‘tried and true’ preservatives. This may increase the possibility of irritant reactions due to the higher amounts. So please try to use the lowest amount possible that will work in your product.

That said, I’ll go over some of the preservatives that I use for natural products.

Trade Name

Geogard Ultra (sold by Lotioncrafter as Neodefend)

Sodium Benzoate and Gluconolactone
Broad spectrum
Approved by ECOCERT. Activity is higher in an acid environment (pH 6).
Sodium Benzoate
Sodium Benzoate
0.1- 1%, lower amounts work fine w low pH
Primarily anti-fungal with less anti-bacterial
Its activity increases in a more acid environment. The most effective pH is around 4, at higher pH levels more sodium benzoate is required.
Biguanide 20
Polyaminopropyl Biguanide
Cationic broad spectrum but sometimes weak on fungus
I like it for clear products like distillates, toners. Do not use with xanthan gum or liquid soap.
Leucidal Liquid
Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate
Broad Spectrum
Approved by ECOCERT. For me this has not worked well in many formulas. I’ve had some luck using it with rather clear toners though.
Potassium Sorbate
Potassium Sorbate
Primarily Anti-fungal
Most active at pH 4-5, use more above that.
Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol
Use between pH 4-8. Broad Spectrum
Has worked well in most products for me
Optiphen ND
Phenoxyethanol (and) Benzoic Acid (and) Dehydroacetic Acid
Works best below pH 6, broad spectrum
Works well in most products
Optiphen Plus
Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid
Works best below pH 6, broad spectrum
Works well in most products
Most active against gram negative bacteria
More soluble in oil than water which is why it is often sold in a combination.
Plantaservaitve Wsr (Honeysuckle)
Lonicera Caprifolium Extract, Lonicera Japonica Extract
Broad Spectrum, Must be neutralized with citric acid first.
Has worked well in some situations.
Phytocide OS
Sambucus Nigra Fruit Extract
Broad spectrum
This is oil soluble and I’ve found it to work in limited products.
Linatural NLPO
Citrus Aurantium (orange oil), Cymbopogon Citratus (lemon grass oil), Sesamum Indicum (sesame oil)
Broad spectrum
Has worked in some products. Has a quite citrusy aroma.

There are other so called natural preservatives besides these including aspen bark, willow bark, and various fermentation filtrates as well as preservatives based on essential oils.
Some products are just harder to preserve than others, particularly those that contain a lot of herbs and nutrients. Bacteria and fungus love herbs and nutrients as much as we do.

I never recommend silver or Tinosan products. I fear that it builds up in the environment and will cause problems with time. Perhaps I’ll be proved wrong but I am just not comfortable using a heavy metal.

There are many other so called natural preservatives that you can learn about initially by browsing supplier’s websites. If you want to try several, you’ll just have to buy a few, use them in your product and see what happens.

Before paying for expensive challenge testing, try challenging them yourself initially. To do this, make your product, split into several jars and use a different preservative in each jar (measuring each carefully). Stick your dirty fingers into the jar daily over several days and let it set for several weeks to see if visible fungus develops. But remember, just because visible fungus doesn’t grow does not mean your product is not contaminated. The word microbe is short for microorganism. These are things that cannot be seen with the naked eye, sometimes they are even too small to see with a standard microscope. But that does not mean they are not dangerous.

Remember that preservatives are necessary to make a safe product. You don’t want your customers rubbing bacteria and fungus on themselves.

Learn more about Sagescript microbiology testing here.http://www.sagescript.com/microbiology

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blogging Challenge

I may be getting in over my head but I just signed up for blogging coaching and strategy through my professional network “Indie Business Network”. I have been blogging here since 2007 and two years ago I started a second blog dedicated to my brand of skincare products, Colorado Aromatics. Keeping two blogs is a challenge and differentiating between the two is also challenging. Being part of the ‘Blog Your Brand’ group has several requirements including that 

1.   I post weekly to my blogs (yes, every 7 days!!)
2.  Make comments on other blogs (should be fun)

Donna Marie of Indie Business Network has a lot of good reasons we should blog,  including that it will develop entrepreneurial discipline. I’ve already learned that marketing and selling takes more of my time than to actually make products. I hired help to make products several years ago because I had run out of time to do both.  Believe it or not, she also says it will make my life easier – I can’t wait to see how that will work. Sometimes life can be hard for an entrepreneur who wears so many hats. 

Donna Marie says that blogging will help organize my thoughts which is something I desperately need. Thoughts are constantly whizzing through my brain at sonic booms speeds.

Blogging helps improve mood and decrease stress. Who doesn’t need that?

Most importantly she says that a blog increases visits to your site and increases search engine optimization; something that we all hope will translate into increased sales. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of blogging is that unlike Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media platforms, we own our blogs and the content on those blogs. So whatever paths Facebook or the others decide to take (along with our followers), we will still have our blogs.

Have you ever participated in a blogging challenge? Tell me about it below.

You can read more about why Donna Marie Johnson of Indie Business Network things blogging is so important here.


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