The Sodium Benzoate Debate
The internet offers a depth of knowledge never before available. But where does this information come from? Can anyone write their opinion and make it appear to come from an authority or expert on the topic? For a few years there was “information” floating around the internet that lavender essential oil was cancer causing. People would call up and ask us to remove lavender essential oil from our face oil because it caused cancer. Then came baobab oil. It was reported to cause cancer as well. Who are the experts who start these unscientific scare stories? Often times they trace back to “business” people attempting to discredit certain popular ingredients in order to sell their own products.
When I first started formulating products almost two decades ago I was faced with the unpleasant task of having to choose a preservative to keep our products safe. Anytime water/ aloe/ or hydrosol is mixed with oil to make a product it requires a preservative to keep it from growing yeast, fungus and bacteria. I tested every single natural preservative along the way, and they all fell short of properly preserving products. There was a very effective, all natural preservative based on cinnamon. However, it caused a slight itch and the cinnamon aroma was overwhelming. Japonica (honesuckle) did not work at all. Some “natural” preservatives were actually found to have synthetic preservatives in them including parabens.
After a few years of testing I finally decided upon a preservative which was very natural but needed just a little bit of synthetic sodium benzoate to keep it safe from yeast and fungus. When used in one percent the preservative would deem a product to be 99.7% natural. Unlike many “natural” preservatives I had tested this combination worked extremely well at keeping lotions safe for years. Sodium benzoate occurs naturally in nature. In this preservative it is replicated synthetically. It has been proven to be a very mild and safe preservative which people have been consuming for many decades, and even more so naturally when consuming fruits.
Whole Foods has deemed the preservative safe for skin care usage, and ECOCERT has classified its combination with natural glucono delta lactone as a safe preservative for certified organic products. So what has spurred the internet panic about sodium benzoate? SODA. The kind you drink. Many of us avoid sodas because they are made with ingredients that can lead to diabetes and overweight. But cancer? Studies found that when sodium benzoate and vitamin C were combined at a ph of 2 they can potentially produce a compound called benzene.
Here is why the dangers of this does not apply to skin care and why health food moghuls like Whole Foods still deem the preservative safe for skin care. Benzene can be created when sodium benzoate is combined with vitamin C at a ph of 2. This is something that a lot of online articles seem to overlook. They often mention that sodium benzoate and vitamin C combined forms benzene without giving the whole picture. Skin care products are rarely a ph of 2. You would never want your moisturizer to be a ph of 2. This is equivalent to moisturizing your skin with vinegar. To date there are NO studies showing that benzene has ever formed in skin care products. If this was the case there would be plenty of studies showing this to be the case. Online blog posts and articles never mention the fact that there are NO studies showing that any skin care product made with sodium benzoate has ever formed benzene. There are online quotes of studies that show that sodium benzoate killed yeast cells which were used due to their similarity to human cells. Well, uh, yes, this is the whole point of using sodium benzoate. It is in the preservative to kill yeast cells. It is not surprising that the sources of many of these “articles” also have their own skin care products to sell.
So why bother using products with a preservative in the first place? Why not just use an oil or butter? While oils and butters are marvelous for keeping skin smooth and supple, they ARE NOT moisturizers. Despite frequently being mis-marketed as moisturizers, oils and butters are not supposed to have moisture in them. Moisture in oils and butters would cause them to grow mold. Moisturizers require liquids such as water or aloe in order to hydrate and plump cells. The issue with simply applying moisture on the skin is that it is quickly evaporated, rarely penetrating the skin. Otherwise our body would soak up moisture like a sponge, and we would literally drown. In order to hold moisture onto skin, thus making it available for cells to utilize, moisturizers are needed. They combine oil and moisture (water/ aloe/ hydrosol) together by binding them with an emulsifying wax which holds liquid on skin. Moisturizers are particularly important for aging skin which loses moisture rapidly. But all moisturizers need a proper preservative system to keep them safe.
When moisturizers are not properly preserved they form mold, yeast, and fungi in just a few hours. All natural preservatives sometimes work for a few weeks. Some are actually made with synthetic preservatives so that one thinks the preservative is natural but actually has hidden synthetic preservatives doing all the work. Our first priority is to keep our customers safe. Growths in skin care products can result in blindness, allergies and even death. We cannot use a 100% natural preservative that is effective for only three months and risk someone becoming deadly ill from microbes in a product which they cannot see with the human eye. Moisturizers are very important in keeping skin youthful. Proper preservation of these moisturizers is even more important. A tiny amount of synthetic preservative in skin care solutions which have never been linked to benzene is the safest way we have found to give you the best moisturizers to keep your skin plump and supple.
At this point I think it is very important to talk about the honesty of reporting preservatives. For years there have been companies that hide the preservatives that they use in their products. Sometimes they list only natural preservatives but leave off the synthetic ones. Sometimes they simply don’t list any preservative at all. For example, there are several companies that do not list the preservative used to preserve their aloe vera. Aloe vera MUST always be preserved whether it is combined with an oil or not. Aloe vera is usually preserved with sodium benzoate so likelihood there is sodium benzoate in a product whether listed or not. We ship our preservative to Texas so that it is the only preservative used to make our freshly pressed aloe vera juice so it is always accurately listed on our labels. Legally, when a preservative is used in a small fraction it does not need to be listed on labels. In addition, a company could use five different preservatives and since they can use each in such a small dosage they are not required to list it on their labels. That does not mean that your skin care product is full of preservatives, some which include parabens. We recommend purchasing from companies that list even the potentially undesirable preservatives on the premise that they are being honest. There are a slew of hidden preservatives in skin care products even in products claiming to be 100% natural.