Preservatives. They’re something of a necessary evil when it comes to food, drink, medicine, health, beauty, and skincare products.
It takes time for a product to make its way from the factory, to the store, and all the way to your kitchen or bathroom. The last thing you want is for the products you depend on for your health and wellbeing to be compromised by the time you’re ready to use them.
Without proper preservatives, it only takes a few hours for moisturizers to begin to form mold, fungi, and yeast, which can result in allergies, blindness, and even infections. 100% natural preservatives are available, but unfortunately they only work for an average period of several weeks.
When it came to finding the right preservatives for our new skincare line, our challenge at Bambo Nature was to exhaust all the best possible options.
We searched for a synthetic preservative that would last to ensure the highest level of safety for our customers. It had to have no adverse interactions with our other ingredients. It also had to have been studied extensively for use specifically in skincare, health, and beauty products with zero problematic results.
Finally, it needed to be free of parabens and formaldehyde, and meet international safety standards.
The ideal option for a preservative that met all our criteria turned out to be rather controversial. Here’s why.
What Is It?
Sodium Benzoate is a sodium salt of benzoic acid, which is naturally occurring in apples, cranberries, plums, ripe cloves, and cinnamon. It is often produced synthetically by reacting benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide.
EcoCert classifies Sodium Benzoate as safe for use in organic products and Whole Foods deems it as safe in skincare products. The FDA also deems it safe for use as a preservative.
What Is It Good For?
Sodium Benzoate is a bacteriostatic and fungistatic, which means that it works to stop the growth of bacteria and fungi. Sodium Benzoate is not a known allergen or sensitizer.
What Is It Bad For?
When Sodium Benzoate and vitamin C at a pH level of 2 mix, they can potentially produce benzene: a compound that can increase the risk of cancer. A pH of 2 is highly acidic – even more acidic than, say, white wine vinegar, which has a pH of 2.4.
The controversy around Sodium Benzoate originated in discussions about its use in sodas and other foods that have a pH of around 2.5 and may contain vitamin C.
The Bottom Line
The ideal pH level for a moisturizer matches the pH level of your skin; this is a pH of 4-6. There are no studies showing that any skin care product made with Sodium Benzoate has ever formed benzene.
The concern about the use of Sodium Benzoate in soda and foods with very high levels of acidity is valid. However, in products that have moderate to very low acidity, Sodium Benzoate is a safe alternative to other synthetic preservatives.
What’s really important, though, is to recognize that all preservatives pose some potential allergy risks. And, the key to preventing allergic reactions is clear communication. Allergy safety starts with brands that actively do not use known allergens in their products, publicly list all of their ingredients.
Finally, look for brands that work to obtain certifications from independent organizations that meticulously assess products for allergy and asthma risks, like Asthma-Allergy Denmark’s Blue Label.