Is Sodium Benzoate Safe in Cosmetics? Uses and Safety

When it comes to cosmetics, most people don’t pay much attention to what they’re using on their bodies. Labels often go unnoticed, because after all, the FDA wouldn’t let companies manufacture a product that was unsafe. Right?

The cosmetics industry is unfortunately a tricky territory, and the FDA has less influence over the ingredients of your skincare products than you might think. Because of that, it’s important to understand just exactly what’s going into your products before deciding to buy.

One example of a popular ingredient in beauty brands is sodium benzoate. Is this ingredient safe to use in cosmetics? And what exactly should it be used for?

What is Sodium Benzoate?

Sodium benzoate is an organic sodium salt that results from the replacement of a proton from the carboxyl group of benzoic acid by a sodium ion. Basically, it’s the salt byproduct of benzoic acid.

It’s an odorless, crystalline powder that works well as a preservative on its own, but can dissolve better when combined with sodium hydroxide. While sodium benzoate does not occur naturally, benzoic acid can be found in a number of plants, berries, and fruits.

What is Sodium Benzoate Used For?

Sodium benzoate is perhaps best known for its use in food preservation. In fact, it’s the first preservative that the FDA has ever allowed in foods. While it’s a food additive, it is classified as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), which means that experts consider the additive to be safe when used as intended.

The reason sodium benzoate is a popular food additive is because it’s known to inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria and mold, thus deterring spoilage as quickly when compared to fully organic products. It’s particularly effective in acidic foods, so you’ll probably find it listed as an ingredient in sodas, pickles, jams, and other condiments.

You might also find sodium benzoate in certain medications, like cough syrups. Additionally, it’s known to have antifungal properties, so it’s often used in creams or topicals for conditions like athlete’s foot.

Believe it or not, it also has industrial uses because of its resistance to corrosion. It’s often used in coolants in car engines or as stabilizers in photo processing.

Based on all of that, it might be shocking that the same ingredient is often used in a number of personal care items like hair products and facial cleansers. Let’s take a more in depth look at some of the health concerns that are associated with sodium benzoate.

Health Concerns Associated with Sodium Benzoate

It’s important to note that only preliminary studies have been done to assess the safety and efficacy of this compound in cosmetic products. However, existing information does raise concerns about its safety.

Conversion to Benzene

The most glaring, and most prominent, fear associated with sodium benzoate is that it has the ability to convert to benzene, a cancer-causing carcinogen. 

Sodium benzoate on its own is not necessarily unsafe. While it might be irritating and cause inflammation in certain skin types, there is nothing inherently disruptive about the ingredient by itself. The issues arise when the compound is combined with Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid.

When sodium benzoate and Vitamin C are exposed to light and heat, it can stimulate the formation of benzene. Sugars and potassium benzoate may be added to reduce its formation, which is why diet beverages are more susceptible to benzene’s production as opposed to regular.

While the FDA has stated that low levels of benzene don’t pose a risk, the law’s governing a number of the FDA’s offices are meager. This is especially true in cosmetics. A lack of tools have made the FDA essentially powerless in being able to identify the harmful compounds that might be used in makeups, lotions, and other intimate personal care items.


Based on the fact that sodium benzoate is used in car coolants or industrial machines, it’s no wonder that it has been linked to activation of inflammatory pathways in the body. When it comes to skincare, a lack of inflammation is desired, so this is likely an unwanted ingredient in most skincare cosmetics.

ADHD Symptoms

Surprisingly, the harmful compound has even been linked to an increase in ADHD symptoms among college aged students. This is especially true when intake levels are higher.

Allergic Reaction

Some people may experience contact allergy to preservatives including sodium benzoate. This is not ideal, especially when it comes to skincare cosmetics.

Preservatives can cause contact allergy dermatitis. It’s more common in women than in men, appearing in areas that are exposed to the responsible chemical. So, if you have a sodium benzoate allergy and you apply under eye concealer, you may experience a reddened rash in that area.

People with sensitive skin are more prone to contact dermatitis. Knowing your skin type before trying a new product is essential.

Possible Benefits

Cosmetically, sodium benzoate is probably something you’ll want to steer clear from. However, there are some uses for the compound that make it useful.

Namely, sodium benzoate has shown to improve the symptoms of certain mental conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, and panic disorder. It’s important to note that these medicinal benefits are to be prescribed by a doctor. You shouldn’t take sodium benzoate on your own.

Some animal studies have also suggested that sodium benzoate can be effective in slowing progression of multiple sclerosis

As long as a cosmetic brand uses low amounts of sodium benzoate and high amounts of ascorbic acid in their products, then there is likely not much cause for health concern. It’s not a toxin or carcinogen on its own, so it can be manufactured safely.

With that said, some brands are a bit more lenient with their usage than others, and some people will be naturally deterred from chemical additives in their foods or personal care items. Luckily, sodium benzoate can be easily avoided.

Safe Cosmetic Alternatives

It’s important to understand what you’re putting into, and onto, your body. Many harsh chemicals, such as sodium benzoate, have been manufactured by cosmetic brands because of their accessibility and inexpensive qualities. However, these can be irritating to your skin and cause more damage than benefits.

When choosing a skincare brand, look for transparency. It’s important for full ingredient lists to be included in packaging and on product pages so that you know exactly what you’re using before you ever hit purchase. If a company is comfortable showing you the ingredients, they have confidence in the safety and efficacy of their products.

Also, it’s helpful to purchase from sustainable and cruelty-free facilities so that you can feel better about your environmental footprint. Chemicals like sodium benzoate are artificial ingredients that can have adverse effects on the planet. If the demand for natural products becomes increased, then harmful chemical pollutants will diminish.

It’s essential to find a brand that you can trust and stick with them. Skin systems are a great way to accomplish holistic wellbeing while feeling confident that the ingredients in every product are safe and even synergistic to use with one another.

Note that sodium benzoate might not affect your skin as harshly as it may affect others. Those with sensitive skin might be more prone to irritation as opposed to oily. With that said, there isn’t much reason to take a chance when there are much better alternatives on the market.

In Conclusion

When it comes to cosmetics, it’s important to know what you’re putting onto your skin. Sodium benzoate is often used in makeups and hair care products, but it is cause for some concern.

Although the compound on its own is fairly harmless, it can turn into a cancer-causing  carcinogen known as benzene when combined with Vitamin C. Since many personal care items use Vitamin C and sodium benzoate, this can be harmful to the body. Not to mention, the compound has been linked to inflammation, ADHD symptoms in younger adults, as well as allergic reactions on the skin’s surface.

With that said, sodium benzoate has found positive use in certain medications, particularly for disorders of psychosis. Also, it can be safely manufactured in small amounts.

Of course, trying to avoid harsh chemical compounds in general is the way to go. Look for natural and sustainable beauty brands that are transparent about their ingredients. Similarly, try to stick with one brand, as you can feel confident their products will work well with one another.