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Honeysuckle preservatives and parabens

September 28, 2012 Reviewed by Marta 12 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.
  • January 18, 2018

    by BAS

    Good news!! The Honeysuckle flower extract has been independently tested to contains NOOO PARABENS... A big step in clean label direction!!

  • 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.

  • March 24, 2014

    by Roger

    After full testing , which has taken months and lots of effort, these are my findings;-
    It is not possible to make a cream that store for more than 2 weeks without a form of parabens OR REALLY CUT THE WATER CONTENT but that give the cream an ointment feel ............ which is not a going idea for women.
    The plant based paraben gives a shelf life of about 4-6 months.
    Chemically produced paraben can give a shelf life of 4-10 years, so now you know
    At this time I am building at about 95-99 percent natural , and that is the best that I can do in small scale making.
    So now it is time just to get on with formulations and stop trying to re-invent the wheel

  • February 25, 2014

    by roger

    The tests results are back.
    Well , I had 3 batches tested , one with plantservative wsr at 5mls per ltr + herbs. The last time failed against fungal action at 14 days, but this time came out <10, I must admit that I have always liked plantservative against bacterial action , but the action against fungal contamination has worried me
    The second test with only herbs showed signs of control, but will need to be run again after increasing the ratios.
    The third had nothing in and fell over and failed .
    When you consider running plantservative at .005% with herbs and getting clean pass is good and well into the 95+% natural plant sourced material.
    As I explained before , using parabens like Phenochem, give 100% bacterial and fungal control for 5-10 years, I suppose that I am trying to re-invent the wheel the hard way, sooner or later it will be solved with one component

  • January 20, 2014

    by roger thomas

    What has your research come up with……….. From reading what you have stated what you are doing will include Japanese HONEYSUCKLE, as in plantservative ??.I have been playing around with an idea in my head for years, so I now am running 2 trial tests, one with the herb material with plantservative and the other without
    AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME THEY ARE IN FOR TESTING, AND BELIEVE ME , IT COSTS LOT OF MONEY TO DO THIS….. I am starting first with FUNGAL CHALLENGE TESTS FIRST , then when I see the data from that test , it could go to full challenge test PETtmph1 Then I have to recoup some money if it works………………….
    AT this time I am not willing to discuss, what herbs I am using………………… know why.
    Roger Thomas

  • January 18, 2014

    by CS

    To Roger Thomas-
    May I ask what 3 herbs you are testing as a preservative? I am doing research on utilizing honeysuckle and came across this article and your post. I am making my own face wipes at home and would like to add something to keep bacteria, mold, etc. at bay. Of course, I would like it to be something safe that is not potentially carcinogenic as female cancer runs in my family. Thank you.

  • November 25, 2013

    by roger thomas

    I have been building creams and ointments small scale for 15 years +. First things first, if you build a preparation without water content , there is no need to preserve it, if it is built correctly. Because water is the catalyst for fungal and bacterial action.
    Years ago I built creams with parabens and they were virtually indestructible, the shelf life was in excess of 5-10 years.............. because the chemicals really kill the problems off -fullstop.
    When I started using PLANTSERVATIVE(Honeysuckle), it was the start of time where all preparations must be tested(PETtmph1),and I wanted to be able to say it is really natural, So I had the first batch tested and it failed on fungal action at 14 days........(they add fungal material and then do count how many at set dates). which was quite a shock. SO ......... then it was a case of finding an answer to the hardest problem of all.......... HOW TO STOP FUNGAL ACTION &say it is REALLY NATURALLY, because fungal actions is the earths way of breaking down material.
    At present I am doing final tests on herbal material (3 herbs) to put the final pieces in place for the real natural product to be tested.
    So you can understand it has not been an easy thing to do naturally....................... Our patients prefer the resultant creams. But remember there is a big cost to being natural............. PARABENS tend to cost 35-40$ per ltr and honeysuckle extract comes out at 350-380 $ per ltr + all of the other grade 1's and organics that go in the the finished preparation.

  • April 6, 2013

    by Susan Barclay Nichols

    I'm writing because you have used the word "chemical" incorrectly. Everything you see, feel, taste, and so on is a chemical because the word "chemical" means something is composed of elements. Water, my hair, this computer, clouds....everything is a chemical. To say you want to find a non-chemical preservative means you want to find a way of preserving something in a physical way - for instance, putting it in a vacuum bottle. If you use any preservative, you are using a chemical. I think the word you seek is "synthetic". And this preservative isn't really natural, is it? It has to be processed in some way for it to be used. We don't just put a flower into a container.

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