And why it seems to us to be a suitable preservative in natural cosmetics.

aceites esenciales naranja y limon

Much is being speculated lately about this synthetic preservative that is obtained from the polyphenols of grapefruit pulp and seeds.

The discredit about this preservative comes from sources that after analyzing the commercial extracts deduce that they are contaminated, mainly, of Benzethonium Chloride, which, according to these sources, is the true responsible for the bactericidal action of the grapefruit seed extract since this pure extract and without contaminating it has no effect against molds or bacteria.

In a blog post on natural cosmetics by Mar de Jabón this is very clear:

However, in this article we want to offer a different perspective.

To begin with, we want to clarify the exact and real composition of this extract and its synthesis process.

Logically, a natural extract of grapefruit seed and pulp in ethanol or glycerin, does not have any antibacterial properties. But is this really what the main brands producing GSE (grapefruit seed extract, in English) sell us ?: No, it is not this.

Mountain Rose Herbs, one of the most respected and trusted suppliers of organic herbs, extracts and essential oils, lists the composition of the pure GSE they sell (which is probably from the Citricidal brand):

Ascorbic acid- 3%

Glycerol- 36%

Diphenol hydroxybenzene (bioflavinoid grapefruit quaternary compound) — 58.5%

Heavy metals: none detected

Bencelthonium Chloride — None Detected

Methyl Hydroxybenzoate — None Detected

Propyl hydroxybenzoate — None detected

Triclosan- None detected

So even though GSE appears free of other contaminants, it is primarily made up of diphenol hydroxybenzene, a synthetic compound that is, in any case, not classified as certified organic on the Mountain Rose Herbs website.

So where is the deception? In its composition it is clearly specified that it is not a natural preservative, although it is originally one. To clarify it, we are going to detail the synthesis process of grapefruit seed extract.

The process of making grapefruit seed extract:

1.- The pulp and the grapefruit seed are dried and ground until obtaining a fine powder. The powder is dissolved in purified water and distilled to remove fiber and pectin.

2.- The distilled suspension is spray dried at low temperatures to form a concentrated flavonoid powder. This concentrated powder is dissolved in vegetable glycerin and heated.

3.- And here the synthesis phase begins: Food grade ammonium chloride and ascorbic acid (which, in case you didn’t know, is vitamin C of the same that can be purchased in a vitamin supplement) are added and this mixture is heated under pressure. The amount of ammonium chloride remaining in the finished GSE is 15–19%; the amount of ascorbic acid remaining is 2.5–3.0%.

4.- The ammonia mixture is subjected to catalytic conversion using natural catalysts, which include hydrochloric acid and natural enzymes. No hydrochloric acid residue remains after the reaction. The suspension is cooled, filtered and treated with ultraviolet light.

As you can see, this is not a truly natural process, since it is treated with hydrochloric acid and ammonium chloride. After all the chemical reactions occur, the final composition of the extract is made up of about 60% diphenol hydroxybenzene, a chemical classified as quaternary ammonium chloride, the same as bencelthonium chloride. In fact, it is chemically identical to bencelthonium chloride.

This is one possible reason that laboratory tests have shown GSE to be “contaminated” with benceltonium chloride: the laboratory tests possibly misinterpreted diphenol hydroxybenzene.

To continue with our argument, we want to clarify what a synthetic or synthetic compound is, as is the case here.

According to the RAE (Royal Academy of the Spanish Language) the compendium of one thing is called synthesis; to the creation of something from the union of its parts; and, in chemistry, to the process that allows to obtain a compound starting from substances that are simpler. The most common use of the concept is associated with the product manufactured using mechanisms and industrial techniques that allow the characteristics of a natural substance to be reproduced.

Thus, for example, a compound can have a natural origin, as this is the case, since we start from natural grapefruit pulp and seeds, and, from there, start a synthesis process in a laboratory that will turn it into a synthesis product.

And, taking into account its origin, it is possible to classify all known matter into natural substances and artificial substances. Natural substances are those that are commonly found in nature, whether organic or not, as is the case with minerals. Artificial or synthetic substances are those created or manufactured by man, in factories, metallurgies or laboratories, whether they are new and non-existent species, or synthetic replicas of natural compounds, such as resins and synthetic fabrics.


Not everything synthetic is bad, nor everything natural is harmless …

Let’s imagine a chemical substance produced by some plant; for example, vanillin, which is the essence of vanilla. Vanillin is natural and can be extracted from the pods of the plant, but demand exceeds production and therefore natural vanilla beans are very expensive. However, in the supermarket we can find vanilla flavorings at a reasonable price, whose essence is not extracted from the natural source, but synthesized in the laboratory, simply because it is cheaper to prepare it than to extract it from the plant. In addition, the environmental impact of doing it in the laboratory is less, since the overexploitation of natural sources is negative for the environment.

Now, is artificial vanilla worse than natural? Is it bad? The answer is no. The artificial molecule is a copy of the natural one (we are not going to claim that they are identical either because it has been proven many times with supplements that synthetic copies do not offer the same protection as natural elements). However, our vanilla copy molecule has the same taste, smell, and possible harmful effects. Since vanilla is non-toxic, this means that we would have to take several whole jars of vanilla essence at once or eat several kilos of vanilla beans for us to ask for a headache and skin irritation. Something similar could happen with something as natural as water; If we suddenly drank a 20-liter jug ​​of water, we would surely end up in the emergency room of some hospital. It all depends on the amount ingested, that is, the dose.

People call “synthetic” to harmful and bad “chemicals” … Public opinion accuses “chemical” substances of the fact that there are so many pesticides, diseases, poisoned food, etc … but people do not think sometimes in the substances and mixtures that heal, feed, decorate, embellish, dress us or form our homes and furnishings.

And it is that there is intelligent chemistry, which aims to imitate nature with all its successes, although it is not an easy task, and there is less intelligent chemistry, which we are going to call industrial chemistry. Why? Because it consists of those cheap synthetic vitamins that are counterproductive rather than favoring us, or of those compounds that try to imitate natural substances in large quantities and that become toxic substances due to their low bioavailability. We already discussed this issue in the article on alum stone in which we talked about the toxicity problem of toothpastes enriched with synthetic fluorides, and how, when bioavailable fluoride was used, which exists naturally as it is contained in many foods, such as green tea; the problem disappeared.

The problem with synthetic chemicals is that they are manufactured, in many cases, mainly from petroleum products that can be polluting; either because they alter physiological processes and ecosystems, or because they do not degrade adequately. And so we tend to see this harmful part of chemistry without thinking about all the good things that we enjoy today thanks to its development.

We do not think, for example, how difficult it would be to live without “preservatives” because fresh food is becoming popular everywhere as a source of health. But, in our current society, is it really possible to live only with fresh foods, or is it sometimes necessary to consume foods that contain preservatives?

You should know that even the boxes of whole grains for breakfast contain preservatives, as well as the breads or juices with the label of fresh from the supermarket. The fresh gazpacho soup that we now all buy packed in tetra brik, the vegetables for salad packed, etc, etc, etc … And if we decide, therefore, to buy the lettuce totally fresh, it will contain traces of pesticides unless it is from ecological agriculture, in which case, we will also have to wash it very well because it will contain remains of worms, slugs and larvae.

But that is another question. It is the question for which we have initiated this debate. The battle, as always, will be to use the least necessary preservatives and to make sure that they are as natural and beneficial as possible.

And, in natural cosmetics, which is the topic that concerns us in this blog, we must deal with these issues. Certainly, we can prepare creams based on oils and natural emulsifiers such as beeswax that do not need preservatives of any kind, but it is always possible to dispense with lighter and more moisturizing creams and lotions with a water phase that need conservation, with aloe vera commercial gels, containing preservatives, or with the wonderful natural soaps made with caustic soda, which is another synthetic substance?

Or, as has now been evidenced by the Covid 19 pandemic, can we all survive the pandemic without having to get a vaccine (another synthetic compound) and only reinforcing our defenses with natural food and exercise? This is another very controversial issue in the world of natural medicine and naturopathy.

Everything is chemical. What are we, the muscles, the DNA, the proteins, the nails, the hair? Chemical substances and mixtures. The point is that there is more intelligent chemistry, and the chemistry of nature contains great wisdom, and there is less intelligent chemistry.

We believe that it is in everyone’s interest to use less harmful and more biodegradable food additives and preservatives every day, more natural and comprehensive medicines, and better cosmetic preservatives.

And this is the point with the GSE that, as we know, is a synthetic compound but that can be ingested and that many naturopaths use to treat internal infections without suspicion of toxicity or environmental damage as detailed in the base of cosmetic ingredients:

https : // or in the publications of the Department of Health of Canada.

Health Canada. 2007. List of Prohibited and Restricted Cosmetic Ingredients. Canada’s Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist. March 2007.

So let’s take a look at diphenol hydroxybenzone. Why exactly do we want to avoid it?

According to studies by the American National Toxicology Program, it showed no evidence of carcinogenicity or endocrine disruption in a two-year study in rats and mice. However, this study showed that animals treated with bencelthonium chloride had greater inflammation in the body and a slightly lower survival rate than the control group.

Our personal opinion on this is that it is considerably safer than other preservatives.

I, for example, who suffer from dermatitis, cannot tolerate other preservatives traditionally used (and certified ECOCERT) such as Cosgard or Geogard, which is the same (INCI: Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzyl Alcohol) and even essential oils (and we all know that they are totally natural substances), which, in many cases, can cause reactivity in sensitive skins.

Instead, the GSE, along with the Leucidal, are truly soft while still fulfilling their function. If you have sensitive and reactive skin, we recommend these two preservatives. Leucidal tends to work better with emulsions because GSE tends to destabilize them a bit. But, for example, to preserve natural aloe or some other liquid additives, GSE works especially well.

At home, it is possible to make preservative tinctures from resins such as rosin, colophony (or pine resin) and benzoin resin, which are totally natural and have many properties. This issue of preservatives in natural cosmetics is usually controversial, without a doubt, but it is necessary to know the preservatives we can safely dispose of in homemade natural cosmetics and, therefore, I am willing to prepare a new entry on preservatives.

However, we fully agree that as long as it is not necessary to use a preservative, since they are all more or less synthetic with the exception of essential oils, which, on the other hand, are also susceptible of causing reactivity, we will save ourselves a lot of problems.

And I think that in this blog of “slow” cosmetics (almost even Ayurvedic) we show off recipes and minimalist formulations, which many times do not even need preservatives at all.

And so we are determined to continue, making homemade cosmetics as natural as possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *