The Danger of Sodium Benzoate in Natural Products

Beware of cancer causing ingredients in your "organic" personal care products!  The regulation is not the same as with food.

Over the last few months, I began using personal care products from a company called Avalon Organics.  I found their Vitamin C skin care line on Vitacost.com and it was relatively inexpensive.  At the time I was using coconut oil for a facial moisturizer and it was not working for me at all.  I gladly bought the cleanser and moisturizer and actually liked it.  (Until I tried this, but that’s another story.)  When I was searching for a new natural shampoo and conditioner, I saw Avalon Organics Lavender line at Target and purchased without thought.    Because the name has “Organic” in it I thought it would be completely natural and harm-free.  I never even read the ingredients.

In my shower, the conditioner bottle sat on the shelf with the label facing out.  Over the course of days, I was repeatedly noticing the large, bolded font reading, “Product is preserved with Sodium Benzoate.”  Why would they be required to state that, outside of the ingredient list, I wondered, again thinking it was organic and all natural ingredients.  I checked my Vitamin C skin care line, also from Avalon Organics.  The same sodium benzoate notice was printed on the face washes.

I soon got to looking up sodium benzoate online.  I found that preservatives which are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. FDA are allowed to be used in products, as long as they are listed on the label.  Sodium benzoate is classed as GRAS and under acidic conditions can prevent the growth of bacteria, mold or yeast.  Please note that preservatives do not keep foods fresh, rather they provide a toxic enough environment to prevent life (bacteria, molds and yeast) from proliferating.  The primary concern with sodium benzoate as a preservative stems from its ability to react with ascorbic acid or vitamin C, which is commonly found in food as well as cosmetics.  A chemical called benzene is formed via this reaction, which is a known carcinogen.  It is widely reported that benzene is formed due to the combination of these two ingredients, as well as it is widely reported that benzene is a dangerous carcinogen.  When checking the Skindeep Cosmetics Database, sodium benzoate receives a safety rating of 3 which is low-moderate, while benzene receives a 10 which is the highest hazard possible.  Avalon Organics must be aware of this.

Because of the known potential danger of sodium benzoate, it is not permitted to be used in organic foods or beverages due to government regulation of the organic label on foods.  In fact, the Skinnygirl Margarita line was once carried by Whole Foods, however in 2011 it was found to contain sodium benzoate and Whole Foods pulled the product from the shelves.  It is unfortunate that personal care items do not carry the same strict organic labeling requirements that food products do.  Our skin is absorbing everything we put on it, after all.  According to the Organic Consumer’s Association,

“Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. government doesn’t regulate cosmetics for safety, long-term health impacts or environmental damage. Many common cosmetics ingredients are harmful to people and the environment… On cosmetics labels, words like ‘herbal,’ ‘natural,’ even ‘organic’, have no legal definition. That means that anybody can put anything in a bottle and call it ‘natural.’ And they do!”

Beware of cancer causing ingredients in your "organic" personal care products!  The regulation is not the same as with food.

After checking the labels on my Avalon Organics, I found that ALL of them contain both sodium benzoate and some form of Vitamin C.   According to Healthwyze.org, “Benzene content increases in correlation with shelf-life, heat, and light exposure.”  This means the longer these products sit, the more benzene is contained within.  My seemingly organic products are becoming more toxic with time!

Avalon Organics products all contain the “NSF/ANSI 305 Standard for Personal Care Products Containing Organic Ingredients” certification.  According to their website:

To be certified, all formulas must contain a minimum of 70% organic content. All other ingredients may not be available in organic form and must be evaluated and approved by an independent scientific panel to minimize environmental impact during production and ensure safety for the product user.

This commitment to the NSF/ANSI 305 Standard is the next chapter in our journey to provide you with personal care products that are inherently pure, safe, effective and conscious of the greater good. We hope you will join us on our journey.

Benzene.  Carcinogen.  Inherently pure?

On July 23rd, 2014, I emailed Avalon Organics regarding the information above.  To date, I have received no response.  Here is a copy of the email I sent:

Hello, I use several of your products including the Lavender Conditioner and the Vitamin C skin care line.  I noticed that Sodium Benzoate is included as a preservative in all of these products.  After further research, I found that when sodium benzoate is combined with ascorbic acid, another ingredient in the Vitamin C skin care line, it creates a chemical called benzene, which is a documented carcinogen.  I found this information in several locations across the web, so it must be common knowledge among people in the food and cosmetic industries.  For a company that markets themselves as safe and organic, I find this extremely alarming!  People pay more to use your products expecting them to be toxin free and safe.  If someone would please respond to this inquiry regarding this issue, it would be greatly appreciated.

Beware of cancer causing ingredients in your "organic" personal care products!  The regulation is not the same as with food.

I really don’t want to point fingers, but I am sincerely alarmed and disappointed that a company can pose as organic and pure while they are actually selling products containing the most dangerous type of carcinogen.  While I understand that commercially produced products must have some type of preservative to prevent spoilage, I would hope a company touting it’s consciousness of the greater good would choose a safer combination of ingredients.  I honestly think this company is playing into the organic market, talking the talk, providing a harmful product in a nice package with fancy language and collecting the dollars.  Many, many dollars of people who are not getting the product they think they are.  I am disheartened in the commercial body care industry.  As I mentioned above, people pay more to use the products and they are probably none the more safe than the cheap counterparts.  I understand that

I have come to the conclusion that the only safe and toxin free way to care for myself and my family is to begin making my own products. Thankfully the internet has more than enough great resources.  I am excited to embark on a DIY natural beauty adventure!

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be trying several new recipes from some of my favorite bloggers.  Everything from shampoo to deoderant, I’m trying it all.  It will take me some time to order ingredients and prepare the recipes, so I will be planning in advance.  I hope you will join in!

Do you have any great DIY recipes for body care or beauty?  Please share your links in the comments below!

Sources:

http://healthwyze.org/index.php/component/content/article/204-are-you-getting-enough-sodium-benzoate-in-your-diet.html

http://doc.ccc-group.com/spec/800910.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24419445

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-sodium-benzoate.htm

This post was a part of Gingerly Made’s Show and Tell and Jill Conyer’s Blog Hop.

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25 thoughts on “The Danger of Sodium Benzoate in Natural Products

    • AmirGenerally speaking, citirc acid can come from a variety of sources, including corn . . . and soy. As it is not the soy protein itself (I think), like soybean oil, it does not have to be identified as soy on the ingredients list. However, if one is exceedingly sensitive to soy, then yes, soy-derived citirc acid will trigger symptoms. The same with natural flavors, which can also come from corn or soy. I am allergic to soy and have therefore become painfully familiar with this mumbo jmumbo.

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  1. Good Information!! I try using natural products but they are so hard to find. I like using Primal Pit Paste deodorant..works pretty good. I get the light version cause the regular one is a little irritating with all the baking soda. I’ve made my own deodorant before and had some irritation as well. Let us know what products you end up trying\making and like!

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    • I’ve read a lot about Primal Pit! Thanks for the tip on the baking soda. I will probably try it in the near future! I will be sure to keep you informed on what I’m trying and how it goes. It’s exciting! 🙂

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  2. Thank you for writing about this. I went through the same realization a few years ago, using EWG Skin Deep Database to research every ingredient. Avalon Organics is a brand that came up as a red flag. the greenwashing tactics made me angry also. i use organic pure oils like coconut, argan, jojoba, shea butter and make my own cleansers. Etsy has a good selection of pure and natural products for those who prefer to purchase alreadt made products.

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    • Hi Katie, thank you for your support! I know not everyone is interested in picking apart the ingredients in everything they buy, but situations like this just prove that we really must be careful. Thank you for the suggestions on oils and Etsy shops. I look forward to exploring your blog!

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  5. Found you on Simply Natural Saturdays and I am glad you have done your research, this will be a good resource. I have not trusted the health food store to provide me with my personal care products and like you have turned to making my own. I have been doing this for two years now and love my products way more than the ones I was buying. They work better, I know what is in them and I have saved tons of money. Great article.

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      • The recently lacnhued company by Jessica Alba “www.honest.com” sells an (honest) products called “honest lotion” (and safe for babies). I think she means well, however she is very uninformed, as they list Sodium Benzoate as a “Kosher/Food Preservative”. Go figure. Here is the list of ingredients:Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice*, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Ethylhexyl Palmitate (from coconut), Glyceryl Stearate, Sorbitan Olivate, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil,Glycerin, Rosa Centifolia Flower Water, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Hydroxyethylcellulose (Cellulose Gum), Xanthan Gum, Organic Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract*, Organic Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract*, Capryloyl Glycine, Undecylenoyl Glycine (amino acids), Sodium Benzoate (kosher/food preservative), Potassium Sorbate (kosher/food preservative).*certified organic ingredient

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  6. I think you’re kind of bending the facts a tad on this one. The reaction between ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate to create benzene requires more than them simply coming in contact with one another. It requires a great deal of heat to make the reaction occur. Chemistry 101 aside… We’re talking about cosmetics and this is totally different than food products that you ingest. Don’t get me wrong on that point. I agree that skincare products should be as clean as possible and if you can’t eat it then you shouldn’t put it on your body. Sodium benzoate is really not a problem on the skin in the extremely low concentrations that is used in cosmetic products. It’s really one of the safest EcoCert approved food grade preservatives available in the cosmetic industry along with potassium sorbate.. Without safe and natural preservatives such as this one, your cosmetics are subject to becoming a breeding ground for bacteria that can make you extremely sick and are far more dangerous than sodium benzoate. I think you need to dig a bit deeper into your research here.

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    • Jenn, EcoCert is not a reliable label. As I discovered when severe contact dermatitis was caused, at least in part, by an EcoCert Hypoallergenic “Laundry Wash” (since you diss “Chem 101, please, demonstrate you are beyond it, which you have not) and is it not interesting that this concoction contains a lot of “food grade” ingredients and surfectants. it clearly cannot be called either soap or detergent, but if it is so safe, why is it also labelled poison? Further to the subject of Sodium benzoate, there seems ample evidence of the combination with Ascorbic Acid/Vitamin C to produce benzene. When I found the problem with the “Laundry Wash”, which contains a LOT of citric acid (which, FYI, does not mean it’s from citrus, rather synthesized from other sources, often corn) I began using baking soda and vinegar to wash myself while searching for alternatives. My very recent and extensive allergy tests did not test for citric acid or sodium benzoate, however, came positive for the only benzo on the long list…benzocaine. Landing on Sodium Benzoate as a probably cause, as Janelle did, revealed the reason why my face puffed up when I thought I was doing a nice natural thing….removing soap residue from my hair, face and body with vinegar. My face was red and raw all day, with swelling in places. Did you know….vinegar contains sodium benzoate? As does the bottled water I have been drinking for the past couple weeks for fear there was a problem with tap water. I have been trying many organic, expensive body products and finally lucked into a knowlegable clerk at a local health food store I often avoided because their prices are always a few dollars more than the ones where you get no service. She very wisely gave no answers but many helpful leads. Distilling all this experience, testing, and info, and a lot of research, I have ended up here. Janelle is definitely on the right track. here’s a little more evidence and background. Sodium Benzoate is a synthetic preservative. and rememberm “Organic” is a slippery label, as is “hypoallergenic”.and EcoCert.
      http://www.med-health.net/Sodium-Benzoate.html

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    • For companies to make the stanemett that their product is all natural is without question unethical. There is an implied commitment made by the company that what they are putting on the label of their product is accurate and honest. An unknowing customer will believe that the natural product natural, as well as healthier than the unnatural alternative, because of the stanemett they make on the package. For a company that is usually trusted in the marketplace to lie to it’s consumers is wrong. Companies should be held accountable for being honest about the ways they market their products and not be allowed to deceive their consumers. When I am at a grocery store I am always a bit apprehensive of product labeling, but I tend to trust that something marked as all natural, or even in an all natural section that some stores such as Stop and Shop have, will actually contain only natural ingredients. I am not under the impression, however, that all natural ingredients means that an item is actually healthier. After reading this article I am going to actually read the labels on my supposedly natural foods much more carefully.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The problem is that a lot of skin care products have SB in them. Let’s say I use 6 products that contain SB everyday for the rest of my life for 30, 40 or 50 years even. How do you think that will effect me? I can assure you it will not be positive. Sick, toxic & inflamed is more like it. I guess my Oncologist will say thank you.

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  7. Thank you so much for this post, I follow your posts and you are ftiatsanc for consumer awareness. Your products are wonderful, please please keep up the good work.I’m so glad I stumbled onto the Environmental Group Website and found you through the Skin Deep database last year! I can’t believe how greedy these companies are demanding all these free products! as if they don’t make enough money out of the poor consumers, they are inadvertently poisoning us too, its disgusting!Organic products may cost more to start with, but if you buy creams and cosmetics from big name brands it actually costs you far less in the long run. I found this out buy converting to buying only organic products this year. They are superior by far and you can really tell the difference. Lets hope the word spreads soon… 🙂

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  8. I assume you’re tailkng about the shower gel? It actually has no water added after the saponification process (just the water needed to dissolve the alkali) just a touch of aloe. Now, yes, aloe does need a preservative, however, it is only a touch that is used for its soothing properties, and the alkaline pH of the soap itself keeps the product stable and from growing pathogens. It has been tested and confirmed that this formula doesn’t grow bacteria. The rosemary extract is used as an ant-oxidant, but yes, you are correct in that it does NOT have preservative properties. We do agree that inadequately preserved products pose a very high risk to customers, and thus take much care in formulating and testing our products.

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    • Is the “touch” of preservatives you refer to sodium benzoate? What exactly is a “touch”? Not only are products labelled organic preserved with sodium benzoate, they also can contain methylisothiazolinone or other members of that family. This preservative is also used in “touches” as in parts per million. There is currently an “epidemic” of cases of contact dermatitis caused by “touches” of this chemical, which is a BIOCIDE-as in: kills life. It is very good at that. It is also very dangerous and increasingly used in everything, including products of all kinds labelled organic, natural, and hypoallergenic. There needs to be at the very least truth in labelling and there is not.

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  10. Thank you for this article. I am severely allergic to benzoate preservatives and I can assure you that the use of this preservative in products is on the rise. I am always appreciative of those who bring light to it’s inherent health risks. I am currently using several products from the Shea Moisture line to avoid it, but have been unable to use most “natural” brands of late. Because Sodium Benzoate can be sourced from cinnamon and raspberries it is often considered “natural”

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  11. I appreciate the fact that you put in effort to raise concern about something that in ordinary life, most people wouldn’t both about i.e looking at every possible ingredient and any possibilities of derived products from them. However, just Sodium Benzoate reacting with Ascorbic Acid is not sufficient for their to be reaction: i) You need some optimum reaction conditions to produce a hazardous concentration of benzene ii) You need to look at the reaction in more detail.

    Sodium Benzoate + Ascorbic Acid ——-> Benzoic Acid + Sodium Ascorbate

    Benzoic Acid Benzene + CO2 (decomposition)

    The reaction is affected by i) Temperature ii) Intensity of UV radiation iii) Conc of Sodium Benzoate iv)Concentration of Ascorbic Acid (A high concentration of ascorbic acid inhibits the reaction by decreasing the pH below optimum for the reactio).

    At standard conditions of temperature and pressure, the amount of benzene is much lower than what WHO lists as dangerous. For more detail, see the source below.

    Moral: Do ‘complete’ research.

    “In the experiments under extreme conditions (45 °C, 20 h of ultraviolet irradiation), the
    concentration of benzene reached 300 ppb, but this value was much lower under physiological conditions (37°C, pH 7.4, no ultraviolet irradiation). When experiments were done with food containing both benzoic and ascorbic acids, benzene was formed in concentrations between 0.01 and 38 ppb, but typically below 1 ppb. Just to put this into context: the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends
    and upper limit of 10 ppb for benzene in drinking water. Irrational fears might result in irrational precaution.” (Lente, G et al) http://www.springer.com/cda/content/document/cda_downloaddocument/9783319084183-c1.pdf?SGWID=0-0-45-1479205-p176810138

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