Grapefruit Seed Extract
Commonly found in:
EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database:
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Also identified as:
As harmless as this ingredient sounds, the risks associated with this highly processed, chemical compound is significant. This extract has a tendency to be contaminated with harmful chemicals such as methylparaben, triclosan, and others. These ingredients will never be listed on the product label, as they are considered contaminants rather than intentional ingredients. As such, customers have no means of identifying products that contain these parabens and other chemicals. Although Grapefruit Seed Extract is promoted to the public as an all-natural preservative, there strong, consistent, independent evidence that suggests the extract is not responsible for inhibiting anti-microbial activity at all – but rather the impurities and contaminants contained in the extract do the actual job of preservation.
How Grapefruit Seed Extract is Made
According to the USDA's National Organic Program, "synthetic" is defined as, "a substance that is formulated or manufactured by a chemical process of by a process that chemically changes a substance exctracted from naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral sources."
Grapefruit seed extract lands squarely within this definition and is not permitted to be called "organic" or be present in organic food products per the NOC definition.
Because it so clearly meets the definition of "synthetic," it would also seem contradictory to refer to it as a "natural," as well. Unfortunately, because this word has yet to be defined in terms of product description, it remains perfectly legal for companies to refer to this ingredient (or any other, including sodium lauryl sulfate if they choose) as natural.
Why Grapefruit Seed Extract "seems" to work as a Preservative
The controversy surrounding this chemical compound continues to grow as more studies are brought to the public's attention. From the Institute of Pharmacy, Ernst Moritz Arndt University in Greifswald, Germany:
“The antimicrobial efficacy as well as the content of preservative agents of six commercially grapefruit seed extracts were examined. Five of the six extracts showed a high growth-inhibiting activity against the test germs. In all of the antimicrobial active grapefruit seed extracts, the preservative benzethonium chloride was detected by thin layer chromatography. Additionally, three extracts contained the preserving substances triclosan and methyl paraben. In only one of the grapefruit seed extracts tested no preservative agent was found. However, with this extract as well as with several self-made extracts from seed and juiceless pulp of grapefruits (Citrus paradisi), no antimicrobial activity could be detected. Thus, it is concluded that the potent as well as nearly universal antimicrobial activity being attributed to grapefruit seed extract is merely due to the synthetic preservative agents contained within.Natural products with antimicrobial activity do not appear to be present.”
Further, the USDA did a grapefruit seed extract study and declared, “Confirming an earlier study by researchers in Germany we found that some commercial grapefruit seed extracts contain benzethonium chloride, a synthetic antimicrobial agent commonly used in cosmetics and only approved for topical use, at relatively high levels of 8%.”
The Swiss Toxicological Information Center of Basel, Switzerland, reports that “Grapefruit seed extracts containing benzethonium chloride in concentrations of 7-11% represent a major health risk if larger amounts of a concentrated solution are ingested (i.e. by mouth). Exposure of the skin or the eye may cause toxic symptoms. The Swiss Toxicological Information Center discourages consumers from administration of these extracts unless it is known which of them are containing benzethonium chloride and what the concentrations are."
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