Best by dates; Working with Natural Products

Best by dates; Working with Natural Products

As staff formulator and herbalist, I get asked a lot about the natural variations that inevitably show up in our products. I wanted to address some of these permanently, and much of this blog post will make its way into our FAQ as well.

Natural Variation:
Because we are working with botanicals and naturally sourced ingredients (as close to their original state as possible, with minimal processing), there is going to be color, texture, and smell variations in our products. This is a good thing!

We are not making your products in a factory and demanding the farmers provide us with consistent ingredients. Most of the time, in order to get the freshest, most potent, and local product, that would never be possible. Farmers are not processors, most of the time. We get botanicals and ingredients (like shea butter or propolis) in a natural state, raw and unrefined.

There is no need to be alarmed if your beloved product changes color or has a slightly different texture or smell. We assess all ingredients as they arrive for quality and use them if they meet our standards. We never use anything inferior, but we do use things that differ from one another in appearance.

We source from several places. A plant's color, leaf size, smell, and indeed, phytochemical content will vary based on the conditions under which it grew: soil, sun, moisture, neighbors. Variation within these is natural and will happen. You may have noticed different sizes of leaves in your Best Damn Tea.

We source from the same international distributor for our Shea butter. They work with several producers in multiple locations across Africa, and ALWAYS develop fair trade relationships with those producers. But some of the Shea is white, some is yellow. You may have seen this reflected in a batch of Mag(nificent) Lotion.

Minimal Preservatives:
We use minimal preservatives and only non-toxic ones at that. That means our products do have a shorter shelf life than something you picked up at Walgreens or Target. Our products are not competing with those and here's why:

When you get a bottle of lotion from Walmart, it's usually HUGE (like 250 ml/8.5 ounces or more). It's also old, possibly years old, before it makes it into your cart. The manufacturer makes and packages the product and it gets shipped to a manufacturer's warehouse. Then that box of lotions makes its way to a distributor's warehouse, then a retailer warehouse, then a store, then the shelf, then your cart.

It could take years for this process, so what does a manufacturer do? They load the product with anti-fungals, preservatives, shelf stabilizers, homogenizers, and preservatives. This is the nature of mass market, big name products. They have to do it to participate in national distribution chains. Lots of times, they know you do not want all that. So instead of being honest on their labels, they list all that yuck under the legally proprietary term "fragrance"- which by law, they do not have to disclose.

Do I have to tell you that all of those chemicals are toxic, kill your microbiome, get into your bloodstream, and are usually packaged in plastic (which toxifies the product, contributes to pollution and microplastics in your body)?

So how are we different?
  • We never package in plastic. Glass, metal, and paperboard are our packaging of choice.
  • We use non-toxic preservatives and homogenizers like Vitamin E Oil, plant ferments, and probiotics.
  • We package our products in containers small enough that you can use it before the shelf life is likely to expire.
  • And we pre-sell products that are highly perishable, like Precious Face Milk and our Whips. We only make what is pre-ordered during these pre-sales.

We made the switch years ago, and we think everyone selling truly natural products should too. We package in glass, metal, and paperboard. We hope to find completely plastic free packaging one day, but currently spray tops are plastic, as we have not yet found alternatives. If you find  a source, please reach out- we want to know!

We also switched some of our packaging sizes to smaller packages because it was necessary to keep the product fresh. Our Pit Paste for example- we recently made the switch to a smaller package, because we want you to use it up in a month. Not because we are greedy, but because we want to provide the freshest possible product to you.

Best By Dates:
All of our products have a batch number assigned to them as well as a "best by" date. We do this because maybe there's a forgotten product at the back of your medicine cabinet that may need replacing. You contact us with a batch number, and we can tell you.

And if anything out of the ordinary happens with a product, we want to have folks check for their batch number and the quality of that product. (Is this a single product or an entire batch? It's never happened before that we've had to replace an entire batch, but we want to be pro-active.)

Please note though- once a product leaves our hands, we have no control over what happens to it. We see this sometimes with rough handling during shipping (and will replace broken items, of course). The way you store a product can prolong its shelf life or accelerate its demise.

Storage of Your Perishable, All-Natural Product:
Here are some tips on products and how to store them:

Tinctures: While these have a long shelf life, they should be stored away from light, heat, with the dropper lid tightly screwed on.

Syrups, Elixirs, Oxymels: While there are some natural preservatives in them (sugars, alcohols, vinegars), prolong the shelf life by storing these in the fridge (after opening) with the cap tightly screwed on.

Soft Lozenges:
These come in a tin that is not safe from moisture. Keep away from heat, damp, and humidity (so NOT in the fridge).

We ship these in light-proof tins with a snug seal. These are perfect for storing your teas and tisanes until the best by date. Keep away from light and moisture (until you want to brew some, that is).

Oils, Salves, & Balms:
Lipid based formulas can go rancid. While our formulas have some minimal preservatives, keep away from temperature fluctuations (especially heat), moisture, and sunlight.

Lotions, Milks, Creams:
These are formulas that blend lipids with liquids (and any time you have a liquid, mold wants to grow- you can only inhibit it so much before nature wins).

  • Always touch the product using clean hands- many times, the critters that grow in a lotion come from us!)
  • Keep a tight lid on these in-between use to avoid any evaporation (liquid evaporation will cause the formula to get thicker).
  • We recommend keeping your perishable product in the fridge in-between use to prevent inevitable mold growth.
  • We try and package these in one-month supplies so it gets used before mold can grow.

We do not use homogenizers in our lotions, so if you see separation (usually a line of oil at the top of the product), this is natural and to be expected. Simply shake or stir until incorporated/emulsified again.

Your lotion, milk, whip, or cream is perfectly usable as long as it smells the same and does not appear to have any mold growth.

Soaps can melt away really fast unless you are storing them properly in between use. Make sure they drain and dry completely and are not sitting in a puddle! Invest in a soap dish that facilitates this process.

To summarize: Buying a natural product is different than the standardized, highly manufactured and preserved products you get at your local chain. Our products are made differently (small batch, hands-on), have higher quality ingredients (we strongly believe this), are packaged differently (we won't cheapen our cost and endanger us all by using plastic), and there's bound to be natural variation that occurs. (Diversity, in all its forms, is wonderful and to be embraced!)

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