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The Ugly Truth About Grapefruit Seed Extract

Affiliate Disclosure | in Everything Else | by | with 133 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 Note: This is an archived page from Mountain Rose Herbs.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!


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)


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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133 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?

    • Randall says:

      I will tell you the short of the story.Tested 2 cultures with various samples of bacteria etc treated with a 4 year old bottle of GSE and a current bottle of GSE.New one showed no properties to slow down or stop anything from making the petri dish look like a thick forest. 5 year old GSE showed next to no growth after 1 week.Bottom line is new process does not do what old one did for what ever reason.

  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….

    • Keala says:

      Hi BevJo. This was news to me too. I used to use GSE but naturally moved away from it since i use essential oils for all that kind of stuff. I had always wanted to use essential oils but was intimidated by all their uses and what to use for what until i found out a work friend at the hospital used them. Anyway, they have a lot of benefits and can detox your home and body. But just like the GSE i wouldn’t just go to the health store and grab any essential oil. Some have added synthetics and chemicals too. I check the background and research of the company to make sure they don’t use them.

  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,

    • Sheri says:

      I am just starting to use the nutribiotic brand as well and I am super sensitive to anything chemical and I have had a racing heart and my tongue felt funny too. I eat so well all organic and clean! No caffeine lots if whole foods no alcohol nothing so a racing heart is always a sign and this blog post is the only one ive found with hhis info! I am confused! Maybe will contact the brand! Am curious about earlier comment re caphylic acid!
      Thanks !

      Ps process for nutribiotic is the same chemical process?

    • Connie says:

      You are right. Mine has only this ingredient also and it works perfectly. Don’t listen to all who say it’s cancerous etc. I and friends have been using it for years. Works great!!!

  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. Wendy says:

    Why write a blog and not answer questions particularly about the nutribiotic brand. Can you prove it has hidden toxic ingredients?

    • Nikki says:

      LIKE!! Answer the damn questions….

      • Heather says:

        As I wrote in the post, researchers concluded that grapefruit seed extract processed without solvents did not demonstrate antimicrobial activity. Six commercially available grapefruit seed extracts were tested: five tested positive for synthetic compounds and one did not. However, the one that did not also did not demonstrate strong antimicrobial activity. The researchers did not disclose brands, which is one of the reasons I have not discussed them here.

        “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.”

        Here is a link to the study abstract:

  8. Sarah says:

    Someone recommended grapeseed oil or extract for traveling out of the country to build up immune system. Do you have an alternative you’d recommend? Thank you

    • Pat says:


      Grape seed oil is NOT grapefruit seed extract. Grapeseed oil is from the seeds of grapes. Grapefruit is a totally different fruit. There is nothing wrong with grape seed oil. I use it all the time. Go ahead an use the grape seed oil. It is good for you. Hope you have a safe and fun trip.

      • Jack says:

        Actually, you’ll want to hit the Google about that statement. Grape seed oil (the kind you cook with, sold in the store next to other cooking oils) is extracted using some pretty harsh solvents. I’ve stopped using it after researching it.

        On the other hand, I feel like the bottom seems to drop out of everything the closer you look at it…

  9. Ashley Clarkson says:

    There are several articles that refute this. Ever heard of a false positive?

  10. Brandi says:

    So, someone at a health foods store recommended this item to me, more specific the Nutribiotic brand. I have reoccurring yeast infections, reoccurring BV infections, and now have seborrheic dermatitis on my scalp which is apparently an overgrowth of a type of yeast. So the man suggested I use GSE to help with overgrowth of yeast in my body and to help restore my gut flora. Now after reading this, I obviously don’t want to use it anymore. But I’m also at a loss for what to do with my health issues. I’ve tried every avenue from diet change, to tea tree oil, to garlic, to clove oils, to probiotics, to dead sea salt, to duesches, etc. I eat only all natural and organic veggies, fruits, meats, and eggs, and don’t consume coffee, sugar, breads, or pasta. Doctors meds don’t help, only subside the symptoms. Someone please help, because I really don’t know what to do anymore.

    • Bohnney says:

      Suggestions: Iodine (research Lugol’s versus Nascent), Oreganol P73, Olive Leaf, Probiotics, Probiotics, Probiotics (must be taken 2 hours away from any antibiotic/antiseptic type medicines and/or herbs such as those I just mentioned) since the antibiotics you already took decreased your beneficial gut flora (try 1/4 cup RAW sauerkraut with each meal). It takes two to three months to build your beneficial gut bacteria count back up to pre-antibiotic use. Also, drink no fluoridated water or drinks. That includes anything you buy/use with any liquid content where you have no idea the water quality used to process the product.

    • Leigh says:

      For your scalp, try Ancient Sunrise Henna bought from The owner earned her PhD studying henna and has all the info you could possibly want on the subject. They have a brick and mortar store in Ohio and you can call their customer service number to talk to a real person. I highly recommend them. I only buy their henna.
      For your vag, stop douching NOW! It’s a scam.
      I really feel for you. I’ve gone through a period of candida over abundance. Getting off sugar helped me immensely but I also discovered I had food allergies. Try seeing an allergist and getting tested.
      I hope you can clear up your candida.
      Light and love.

  11. Kerrie says:

    My bottle of paracan MYC says it contains grapefruit seed extract and other ingredients magnesium sterate, gelatin and silicon dioxide. Does it still have those other chemicals to? I am having trouble with my my thyroid, hormones and GI issues. Even have a horrible rash on face and food sensitivities. It says main ingredient is Grapefruit seed Extract/citrus paradisi

    • Reneesbakery says:

      Have you checked to see if you have Celiac disease? There is a skin condition that can go along with the disease call DH, I would suggest you look in to that? I wish you the best!

  12. Kelly says:

    I have to disagree with the above. I had a horrible infected tooth resulting in a root canal and eventually tooth extraction with continued pain and possible chronic bone infection. This is the first thing that has given me relief, made me feel better all around and I will continue on it. I have had absolutely no side effects.
    For me this has been a prayer answered. I am generally a very healthy person and in the medical field. This tooth infection was so severe it actually robbed me of two years of feeling well. After a naturopath recommended this, while skeptical I gave it a try and could not be happier.

  13. TLM says:

    Oh right! GSE is SOOOOOOOO dangerous, and conventional drugs are NOT???? LOL…..I have to laugh at this ridiculous implication. Big Pharma has injured or killed more people with their chemical drugs, and this natural antibiotic may be processed with ‘harmful’ chemicals? Don’t let this article scare you. If you use it according to specifications it is a wonderful cure all, that is about 1000 times safer than drugs.

  14. Roger Pelizzari says:

    Does this apply to all versions of Grapefruit Seed Extract or just Nutri-Biotic?

  15. Heidi says:

    I’m a bit lost. Nutribiotic claims this substance isn’t in their product. I wrote a few months ago and asked. Below is their response. They also sent a lab report separately. I know companies can be misleading. But this forthright denial seems legitimate to me.

    Statement Regarding the Allegations Claiming Grapefruit Seed Extract Contains Synthetic Preservatives

    In response to claims of grapefruit seed extract (GSE) containing synthetic chemical preservatives, we would like to address the allegations: Our existing raw material supplier of GSE states their brand does not contain any synthetic chemical preservatives. In addition, our GSE is randomly tested by an independent 3rd party lab as part of our standard operating procedures and has never had any positive results for synthetic preservatives. Please see an example lab test attached. The processing and packaging of our GSE complies with FDA-mandated Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and is produced in a compliant manufacturing facility. We have been distributing our GSE for over 25 years. We believe the allegations are false, and are not a threat to those armed with accurate information. The vast body of evidence from many years of use by thousands of satisfied consumers, doctors, and veterinarians speaks most loudly against such reports.

    2021 West Commonwealth Avenue Suite B, Fullerton, California 92833
    Tel. 714-526-2892; Fax 714-526-2894

    Nutribiotic Report Date: 03/22/13 865 Parallel Dr Report No.: 339816-03062
    Lakeport, CA 95453
    Date Received: 03/18/13
    Tel.: 707-263-0411
    Sample ID: Grapefruit Seed Extract Liq Sample Lot: 06013
    Attn: Kenny Ridgeway
    Test ID: 1303062
    Analyses Claim Method Result Benzethonium Chloride <5.0 ppm HPLC <5.0 PPM Benzalkonium Chloride <5.0 ppm HPLC <5.0 PPM Triclosan <5.0 ppm HPLC <5.0 PPM Methyl 4-Hydroxybenzoate <5.0 ppm HPLC <5.0 PPM .


    Danny Pang, Lab Mgr.

  16. Julie S. says:

    What is the difference between grapefruit seed extract and grapefruit seed oil? Or are they considered the same?

  17. A D Rose says:

    My citricidal grapefruit seed extract does not contain any of the chemicals that you mention. Maybe condemning the product based on limited research of the various brands of the product is premature, reactionary and misleading. You have failed to make your argument against citricidal grapefruit seed extract. Your argument against the chemicals in particular brand/s you surveyed is quite compelling, maybe you should clarify the distinction.

  18. Sandra says:

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

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