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The Ugly Truth About Grapefruit Seed Extract

Affiliate Disclosure | in Everything Else | by | with 109 Comments

Wow, good to know!

Oh you have food poisoning, an earache, and a bottle of homemade lotion to preserve? There’s an extract for that.

But why stop there? This cosmetic preservative is touted as a natural treatment for eczema, acne, cold sores, athlete’s foot, candida/thrush, sore throats, Group B Strep (GBS), stomach bugs, parasites, food poisoning, wart, gingivitis and atypical boogie woogie.

I’m talking about grapefruit seed extract, of course. Now, since this is a post about why I don’t use it you might expect me to say the claims made about grapefruit seed extract (GSE) are false.  They’re not. Well, except for that last “disease” because I, er, made it up.

Truth is, many of these claims can be backed up with studies, such as this one which found that it performs as well as 30 antibiotics and 18 fungicides.

So why will you not find GSE in my ebook, DIY Organic Beauty Recipes, or any recipe on this site? Because according to the findings of some experts, calling it natural is like spiking mineral water with gasoline and serving it at a day spa.

Confusing Labels

According to GSE manufacturers, the main constituent of their miracle extract is diphenol hydroxybenzene. (Source. Note: This is an archived page from Mountain Rose Herbs. They no longer carry GSE) Now, just because a compound sounds scary doesn’t mean it is. I eat sodium chloride on my eggs almost every morning and I’m still here. (It’s sea salt)

Still, I wanted to know whether diphenol hydroxybenzene is considered a natural compound or synthetic chemical. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database had never heard of it. Neither had ChemSpider, which is the official database of the Royal Society of Chemistry. By the time I checked OSHA I was starting to get suspicious. It’s almost like someone just made up this chemical and slapped it on a label!

Ahem.

According to Steve Humphries, PhD, “people with chemistry training will recognise that the description ‘diphenol hydroxybenzene’ is not the correct way to name a chemical compound. ‘Hydroxybenzene’ is a benzene ring with a hydroxy group attached, ‘phenol’ is also a benzene ring with a hydroxy group attached.   So ‘diphenol hydroxybenzene’ just loosely says that we have some benzene rings with hydroxy groups stuck on them somewhere!” (source)

According to this article, it’s likely that diphenol hydroxybenzene is an abbreviated name for another, unspecified chemical.

So What’s Really In Grapefruit Seed Extract?

First, let me say that though it sounds similar, grapefruit seed extract is very different than grapefruit essential oil or grapeseed oil. Now that we’ve tidied up that bit of business let’s move on!

In a 2001 study supervised by chemist G. Takeoka, researchers found that the primary active ingredient in commercial preparations of grapefruit seed extract was benzethonium chloride or benzalkonium chloride, both synthetic compounds. Additional studies confirmed these results. (source) The Environmental Working Group lists benzalkonium chloride as a known immune system toxin and respiratory toxin. (source) It is commonly used in drain cleaner, disinfectants and other cleaning products.

“Some samples were shown to contain up to 22% benzalkonium chloride by weight, despite the known allergenicity[22] and toxicity[23] of the compound at higher doses.[6]” (source)

GSE manufacturers responded to this finding by claiming that their mysterious diphenol hydroxybenzene – which I’d like to remind you is was not listed in any of the databases I searched – is just really easy to confuse for benzethonium chloride. All those machines and chemists just got it wrong.

Maybe that’s accurate. Then again, in the words of Dr. Humphries, “If you believe that multiple independent universities using a variety of sophisticated analyses can all be wrong, and all mistakenly identify exactly the same chemical, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you :)” (source, emphasis mine)

Other synthetic chemicals/preservatives that have been found in grapefruit seed extract include:

  • Triclosan – A known endocrine (hormone) disruptor that induces reproductive toxicity. It is also suspected to impair heart function and muscle function  Known to be toxic at very low concentations (source)
  • Methylparaben – Linked to cancer,hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation. (source)

(source)

How Is This Possible?

The answer may be pretty simple.

“Self-made pure GSE processed without solvents is prepared by grinding the grapefruit seed and juiceless pulp, then mixing with glycerin.[1]

Commercially available GSE sold to consumers are made from the seed, pulp, glycerin, and synthetic preservatives all blended together.[1]“(source)

Chemists and manufacturers can argue all day long about exactly what chemical compounds are in GSE, but it seems pretty clear they’re synthetic. Multiple studies have concluded that it is not the grapefruit seed extract, but instead the added preservatives that demonstrate antimicrobial activity.

“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.” (source, emphasis mine)

What About Organic Grapefruit Seed Extract?

Even “pure organic” grapefruit seed extract contains roughly 60% of our mystery chemical, diphenol hydroxybenzene. According to this post, that’s because “organic” GSE is approved by The Soil Association.

“The Soil Association is the European organic standard, and the requirements are much less strict than that of the USDA.  They will allow and certify a synthetic chemical like GSE if it meets certain criteria for biodegradability, aquatic toxicity and bioaccumulation.  So, since the grapefruits were organically grown, and it meets the requirements, they approve the extract as organic, even though it’s a synthetic chemical.  The Soil Association also approves Phenoxyethanol as a preservative ingredient.  The USDA will not certify GSE, or allow it in a certified organic product.” (source)

Bottom Line

If supporting research is available I think it’s fine to call GSE a treatment for athlete’s foot, E. Coli and purple polka dotted ears. But with so little data on diphenol hydroxybenzene and the possibility of contamination with Triclosan and parabens, I don’t know that we should be calling it NATURAL.

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109 Responses to The Ugly Truth About Grapefruit Seed Extract

  1. Elaine says:

    YIKES! I have what a Dr. told me is Erysipelas (staph) on my face. Extremely itchy and nasty. It cleared up for a few days with anti-biotics but now is back. I have wiped down door knobs with bleach, clean pillow case every day, washed my pillow in bleach and hot water. Health food store sold me NutriBiotic GSE and pro-biotics (30 billion). Just took the last of the 50 billion this morning. Now what?

  2. Kristine U says:

    I was wondering if you have ever heard of or tried Caprylic Acid instead of GSE? I am working with a program that calls for GSE but says that I could use Caprylic Acid instead but it will take more capsules to do the job. I plan to research it a bit before I use it but was wondering if you had heard of it. Thanks!

    • TC says:

      In regards to Caprylic Acid. Found naturally in coconuts and a natural anti-viral/fungal. It is very affordable (Solaray Capryl – Amazon $10.29) and I have been using it for years as a means to help restore the GI Flora in my intestinal gut. I have had the misfortune of intestinal parasites while traveling abroad and found that Caprylic Acid has been a tremendous aid in recovery. I found it also beneficial when having a stomach flu to help restore and expedite healing. Because the intestinal gut is so key for health for the whole body, focusing on balance there first may rid the body of other health issues (especially candida related). I have learned of it benefits while traveling in the South Pacific where locals in Rarotonga (in the Cook Islands) use coconut water and milk from the green coconut for healing stomach/gut problems. I know, over the years, it is a remedy that I go back to when experiencing disharmony in my colon. I hope this information helps.

  3. Bev Jo says:

    I’ve been using it for years after rinsing my mouth with it cured a gum infection. Dipping my toothbrush in it stopped the smell they get. It also worked in killing the horrible moldy smell my sponge gets.

    BUT if it’s toxic chemicals, I don’t want it!

    What else could work like this? I wish we knew for sure….

  4. Lagunapadi says:

    Hi all, I just came across this & didn’t ake the time to read all of your posts (yet) but I just want to say that Nutribiotic brand GSE liquid formula only has vegetable glycerine added, no other scary chemicals and it has worked brilliantly for me in the past.

    • Lagunapadi says:

      Ok, I’ve now read most of them & I stand corrected. I agree that I wont use it anymore, due to the use of hidden toxic ingredients. Thanks for your research,

  5. Janet says:

    I understand why there is so much information being shared and it’s very helpful,
    but for people who need to “cut to the chaste”, could you possibly be specific ?
    Product brands recommended ?
    Product exact name recommended ?
    Oil ? yes
    Extract ? no
    Thank you !

  6. Jodie Baker says:

    Thank you for this great article. Im wondering what you think of ‘Water Wipes’ – They are 99.98 water and .02 GSE – I use them on my 10mth twin babies and have done since they were born. Do you think its bad in such a small percentage? Thanks

  7. Sandra says:

    Never mind Meagan, I just found your posting on the process that Nutri-biotic uses for GSE.

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