Walk into a health food store and it’s a good bet you can find a cosmetic cream that will declare “no parabens” or “no synthetic preservatives” or “with “natural preservatives.”Cosmetics that are water based need preservatives. It is as simple as that. Creams and lotions make for a very hospitable environment for bacteria and fungi. Apply a cream to the face, reach back into the jar and you’ve contaminated it, unless a preservative is present. But manufacturers have a problem. They must use preservatives, but preservatives are also embroiled in controversy. Some like parabens have been linked, albeit unjustifiably, to breast cancer, others release formaldehyde, a known skin irritant and possible carcinogen. “Natural” substances are perceived to be safer, and promoting a product as containing “no synthetic preservatives” translates into increased sales. Preserved with grapefruit seed extract sounds better than preserved with synthetic parabens.
But the problem is that an extract of grapefruit seeds does not have a significant antimicrobial effect. As numerous analyses have shown, all such extracts that do have antimicrobial properties have them because they contain synthetic preservatives like triclosan, parabens, benzethonium chloride or benzalkonium chloride. Some manufacturers argue that the antimicrobial compounds detected are formed by their proprietary process of treating naturally occurring polyphenols in grapefruit seed extract with ammonium chloride. This makes no sense in terms of the chemistry involved. While there is no risk with the synthetics that are added to the natural extract, in fact they are responsible for the preservative effect, the labeling of the grapefruit seed extract that is actually used as a “natural preservative” is false. And if they are using actual grapefruit seed extract, then we have an even bigger problem because it will not