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Honeysuckle preservatives and parabens

Reviewed by Marta September 28, 2012 11 Comments
Recently, I reviewed Jane Iredale’s Glow Time BB Cream and noted that it uses a preservative made from honeysuckle extract. Like a growing number of beauty companies, Jane Iredale is searching for preservatives that are not chemicals, or parabens, and are as safe as possible. This is a huge step in the right direction, but it turns out that the preservative made from Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica) is not without controversy. When I reviewed Jane Iredale’s BB Cream I promised to do some research and come back to this ingredient and so I am.

Honeysuckle, so pretty and seemingly innocent, contain parahydroxy benzoic acid, which behaves in a very similar way to synthetic parabens. And so a heated debate has been going on about whether the honeysuckle preservative (marketed under the name of Plantservative) is, indeed, a paraben and, if so, whether this is potentially harmful.

The first question – is it a paraben – is fairly straight forward. Some excellent sleuthing by Chemical of the Day, established that parahydroxy benzoic acid (PHBA) present in all grades of Plantservative. The compound parahydroxy benzoic acid is found in lots of plants, not just Japanese honeysuckle. Its molecular structure is similar to parabens (methyparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben). It isn’t identical but it does have a “benzene ring.” According to Chemical of the Day:  “Anything with a benzene ring has the potential to be an endocrine disruptor. Because our body’s hormones are made up of complex structures of benzene rings, our hormonal receptors are made to “fit” these benzene rings. These benzene rings enter the estrogen receptors in the body and can “clog” them up so they don’t function properly or overstimulate them.”

At this point it is probably a good idea to reprise the paraben controversy. The fuss started when a study linked parabens in deodorant to breast cancer. Because parabens mimic human estrogen and it is known that estrogen stimulates cancer, the link seemed plausible. The study has since been discredited and the American Cancer Society has concluded that there is insufficient scientific evidence of parabens increasing breast cancer risk.

Nonetheless, parabens have been found to accumulate in breast cancer tissue.  Because PHBA is so similar, it acts in the same way. Methylparaben, for example, is regarded as more potent than PHBA but both are regarded as hormone disruptors, as one study concluded: “It can be concluded that removal of the ester group from parabens does not abrogate its oestrogenic activity and that p-hydroxybenzoic acid can give oestrogenic responses in human breast cancer cells.”

So where does that leave us? Well, everyone should make up his or her own mind based on the information available. Personally, I am not a complete paraben-phobe since I don’t regard the evidence that they cause cancer to be convincing enough at this stage (more research is needed). However, the fact that they can accumulate in breast tissue prompts me to be cautious of exposing myself to parabens more than absolutely necessary. Since PHBA appears to behave in the same way, my personal conclusion is that a preservative based on it should be given the same rap. I’m not going to give up all products with the honeysuckle extract preservative, but I will now be aware that they contain a paraben-like substance and extend the same caution to them.
  • April 15, 2017

    by Bree

    From my research I have seen that there are a few other natural preservatives, but these companies that use the honeysuckle wouldn't probably use them because they are so expensive, such as Leucidal - a raddish root extract and elderberry extract. The brand Vanessa Megan uses these and their products are suppose to have a 24 month shelf life, the products themselves are amazing. Have you heard of these preservatives?

  • April 15, 2015

    by T


    I tested the honeysuckle preservative many years ago. I found that it didn't preserve a product past 3 months. I suspect that several companies are not accurately listing their ingredients, and I know of at least one company that is blatantly lying about what is in their products and that is how they are passing their products as 100% natural.

  • March 26, 2014

    by roger

    Just had an idea..................
    what about using a natural oil on your skin such as HEMP SEED OIL, it has been used for many hundreds of years to improve skin tone or mixed with glycerine to improve moisture retention in the skin................ HEMP is very balanced in Omega 3,6 &9 , and can be very helpful with certain skin issues.

  • March 26, 2014

    by roger

    N ...............I have already tried those about a year ago , up to maximum loading , so that is the only thing that you can smell + it becomes very oppresive to say the least and it still failed....................
    Up to yet I have tried 20 really clever herbs at maximum PERCENTAGES .allowed in different combinations and all of the test come to grief at PETtmph1 on fugal action at 28days
    The only way to stop fungal action is to cut the water content below 20%, which makes it into an ointment.......................... or use a paraben type material or possibly try a preservative called NATICIDE , sold by New Directions..................the smell at .005% really is heavy with essential oils and possibly work under some conditions, but it still doesn't pass at PETtmph1
    So now you know as much as I do................If it was that easy , everybody would have done it............................. dont you think.
    In 15 years of doing cream making , I have probably tried most of the possible components out there and still can only say that when you consider the percentages .................... probably plantservative is about the best that I now would recommend after so many test.
    Or the shelf life would need to be reduced to weeks and have something fully natural BUT you couldn't get away with the in the EU , WHERE REGULATIONS ARE REALLY STRICT

  • March 26, 2014

    by N

    Dear Roger,

    I don't think you quite answered CS's question.
    The question was to find a preservative that keeps the product free of a product that might induce cancer for apparently it runs in their family.

    It is uninteresting for me though because I'm not making any products myself but still.

    And to cs. I think your best bet is using herbs with anti-bacterial properties such as thyme, oregano and some others which I most probably forgot right now.

    Hope to have been of any help.

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