Ingredients and chemicals, such as Sodium Benzoate, are used in our foods and cosmetics.  But what is safe and what isn’t? This is a particularly engaging topic for me, especially coming from a background where I studied organic chemistry at a degree level.  So I thought that I’d share some of these facts with you.


Today I’m going to highlight some facts about Sodium Benzoate.



1. Sodium Benzoate is a salt of benzoic acid. It is produced by reacting sodium hydroxide with benzoic acid.

2. Sodium Benzoate is used as a preservative, mainly a fungicide and bacteriostatic, in food, medicine and cosmetics. It is also known under the name E211.

3. Sodium Benzoate is mostly used in acidic foods like as vinegar, fizzy drinks (carbonic acid), jams and fruit juices (citric acid) and pickles (vinegar).

4. Small trace amounts are naturally found in some foods such as blueberries, apples, cranberries and plums. The chemical seems to show no negative effects in it’s natural and organic state.

5. In May 2007 The Independent newspaper ran a story that sodium benzoate damages the mitochondria in cells. Cellular Mitochondrial damage means damage at a DNA level, this means that the cell growth, development and genetic matter is changed now and for the future.  This story is no longer online.

6. When Sodium Benzoate is mixed with ascorbic acid (E300) it reacts to produce the more damaging Benzene, which is a known carcinogen. Unfortunately, many food items have both of these ingredients together as preservatives in their products.

7. In the UK Coca-Cola bowed under public pressure and removed the sodium benzoate from diet coke, and said they are looking to do the same for their other drinks once alternatives are found.

8. The rate at which benzene is formed is affected by light and heat, as well as the amount of time spent on a shelf from production to consumption. This makes measuring and monitoring the amount of benzene in some drinks and foods very hard.

9. From the FSA:

There is no legal limit for benzene in soft drinks in the UK. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set a guideline level for benzene in water of 10 μg/kg.  Following reports of benzene in some soft drinks in the US, the Food Standards Agency asked the UK soft drinks industry to provide information on levels in soft drinks sold in the UK. The Agency received aggregate summary data from tests carried out on 230 drinks on sale in the UK. The information provided contained limited details. The highest level of benzene found in the industry data was 8 μg per litre of soft drink.

10. Researchers at Southampton University have shown sodium benzoate lowers children’s I.Q. by up to five points. Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has even warned parents that sodium benzoate is a primary cause of hyperactivity in children when mixed with artificial colourings.




The best advice is to check the labels of all products that you buy, particularly if they are juices, fizzy drinks and acidic foods.  Check to see if there is Sodium benzoate present and especially if there is also ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).

This can also be the case with many healthcare supplements and supplement drinks found in healthfood shops and suppliers.  If Coca-cola are revising their products then surely health brands should do the same.






All content within Calm and Clear Complementary Therapies is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. Calm and Clear Complementary Therapies and Rima Shah are not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of the Calm and Clear Complementary Therapies website or blog. Calm and Clear Complementary Therapies is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites. for more information. Always consult your own GP if you’re in any way concerned about your health.


  1. Jo Tocher on June 20, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Great blog Rima….. I’ve been banging on about this stuff for years, especially when I found out that some “health products” that advocate good health have these nasties in them. So glad I found NYR Organic, now I know that my family and I are protected from the Nasties!

    Looking forward to reading your next one….


    • Rima on June 20, 2013 at 1:05 pm

      Thank you Jo. There are a number of great natural brands out there and Neal’s Yard Remedies are indeed one of the pioneers.

  2. Emily on June 18, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Hi, I was looking around for some alternative skincare with healthier ingredients and found recommendations for Neal’s Yard Remedies as well, but after reading through the list of ingredients I found this about the day cream I was about to order;

    “…Sodium benzoate, Potassium sorbate, Citric acid…”

    Confusing. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Emily on June 18, 2014 at 11:49 am
    • Rima on June 24, 2014 at 5:09 pm

      Hi Emily. With natural skincare it’s becoming harder and harder to find a brand that is 100% ethical as there are so many out there who claim to be “green”, “organic”, “natural” etc but if you read through the ingredients they are far from any of these things. However, there are many brands out there who do try to be consistently good with all of these things and are always looking to improve their products as good new alternatives are found. The Good Shopping Guide have recently published a list of how ‘good’ brands are. You can find the list here: TBH, if a cream is made it contains water (balms are oils and waxes), and water attracts bacterial growth, so to give any product a shelf life of any length and to to be able to store outside the fridge it will need a preservative of some description. The question comes as to which preservatives are best and least harmful. In terms of the particular NYR product that you have mentioned, it’s important to note that Citric acid and Ascorbic acid (as on my blog post) are 2 totally different chemicals and have a very different action. Ascorbic acid is vitamin C, but citric acid does not contain vitamin C. This is the sour taste that you get from lemons for example. Therefore the reaction with chemicals such as sodium benzoate is not the same as it would be with Ascorbic Acid, and research has not shown these two to react to produce things like benzene. I hope that helps.

  3. Dene on July 16, 2015 at 6:55 am

    For someone who claims to have a degree in chemistry, I am disappointed that E211 is described as “a chemical name”.

    “The chemical seems to show no negative effects in it’s natural and organic state.”

    As a scientist, you should be aware that sodium benzoate will react with vitamin C whether the source is synthetic or natural – the molecule is identical, whatever the source.

    “Also check the ingredients of any creams, lotions, shower products and toothpastes for the same and change to more natural and safe products if need be.”

    There is no documented evidence of any danger from the use of sodium benzoate in topical products. Again, as a scientist, you should know that topical exposure is very different to ingestion. Sodium benzoate IS considered as a “natural” preservative, and it permitted by ALL the “organic” certification bodies. Please can you explain how something can be “MORE natural” than something that exists in nature?

    Irrespective of the flawed logic, your suggestion that people move towards “more natural and safe products” is not very helpful if you don’t tell them exactly what you consider to be “more natural and safe”. Again, as a scientist, you should be well aware that “natural” does not equate to “safe”. Your information is misleading.

    “Citric acid and Ascorbic acid (as on my blog post) are 2 different chemicals. Structurally they are quite similar, but have a very different action.”

    As someone who “studied organic chemistry at a degree level”, you should know that there is no fundamental structural similarity between ascorbic acid and citric acid. The disparity between the IUPAC nomenclature:
    2-oxo-L-threo-hexono-1,4-lactone-2,3-enediol and 2-hydroxy-1,2,3-propanetricarboxylic acid should tell you this. Ascorbic acid contains a ring structure, and is not a carboxylic acid, whereas citric acid IS a carboxylic acid. I hesitate to question someone’s qualifications, but your knowledge of organic chemistry appears to be deficient.

    I was made aware of this page by someone who had interpreted the information as meaning that sodium benzoate was banned for cosmetics in the UK. Whilst I cannot imagine how they arrived at that conclusion, it is no less distorted than much of the information in the article. You have set yourself up as an “expert”, and you have a responsibility to ensure that your information is correct, otherwise you are misleading people. Your information is not entirely correct, and some of it is out of context.

    • Rima on July 15, 2017 at 12:36 am

      Dear Dene

      Thank you for your comments on my blog post.

      I do have a degree in Life Sciences, which included pharmacology, organic chemistry, physiology and biochemistry – which I received from the University of Liverpool.

      I appreciate that I am not the best author/writer in the world as that is not where my skill set lies, and as such some of what I’ve written may not make totally sense to the reader in the way that it did in my head. I wrote this piece for Joe Public, presuming that they aren’t all scientists. For the non-scientist E211 on it’s own is a chemical name and means nothing on it’s own. In the world of science I agree that it is not the actual scientific name for it. As this could be mis-leading I have amended the post to show this, so thank you for highlighting this point (though no other scientists who I asked to read this mentioned this).

      Also the point about the natural and organic state is accurate from the research papers which I used to write this post. I will expand on this in the post in due course, but I didn’t want to bamboozle people with too much extra stuff as my readers have asked me to keep things with less jargon. Of course, I know that there is some reaction at this basic level but the amounts of the reaction are minimal and therefore deemed as showing no negative effects when the fruit is eaten.

      That sentence about the topical products does not mention checking for this particular ingredient anywhere. This post is one of many regarding chemicals used in topical products and food substances as that is something people have asked me to write about. As such, this sentence on it’s own is exactly what it says: check your labels if you’re concerned about anything or any ingredient. I have no where in my post mentioned that topical use of sodium benzoate is a problem. However, I am in close contact with 3 different organic/natural skincare companies and their scientists (with PhDs) who would beg to argue your point about this ingredient being classed as a “natural” ingredient. So whether permitted by the associations or not the companies themselves do not want to use it.

      This is a statement I received from one of these companies about it:

      “With an increase in consumption, Benzoic Acid is now only available as a synthetic ingredient – natural extraction would not be sustainable and it would be detrimental for the environment. Benzoic Acid is defined a “nature identical” substance: it exist in nature, but it is synthetically made in order to preserve nature. Its use is allowed in natural/organic cosmetic products, however we do not intentionally use it.”

      However, I appreciate looking back at this sentence that as part of this article it could be thought that I’m referring to the use of sodium benzoate in all of the topical products too. Therefore, I have removed that line. Once again, this is due to my poor penmanship.

      With regards to the comment about the citric acid and ascorbic acid, that is also written in layman’s terms. The readers have requested that I don’t fill my posts and comments with chemical structure diagrams and science jargon – so I try to write it as basically as I can for them to understand. I, of course, know that the chemical structures are not that similar, but for Jane Public this is not the case.

      My organic chemistry knowledge is sound and just, but my English writing however is not – which is what seems to be what is in question here. As such, I have amended a few points in my post so that it’s less confusing and mis-leading and I thank you for bringing this to my attention.

      Yours truly


      • Dene on July 15, 2017 at 12:41 am

        Dear Rima,

        Many thanks for your comprehensive reply to my comment on your blog. Your politeness was greatly appreciated, and not really deserved, given the rather terse tone of my comment, for which I apologise. I am afraid that I see a great deal of misinformation about cosmetic ingredients, and I sometimes let my bad side take over, when I should really be as polite as you were to me! I apologise particularly for questioning your qualifications, and I understand your reasoning behind what you wrote.

        Thank you for taking my comments into consideration.

        I am aware that some people take the stance about sodium benzoate’s synthetic origin as a reason not to use it, but I work in the cosmetics industry, and this view is relatively unusual, but I do accept that some DO have that attitude.

        Have a great weekend,

        Best regards


  4. Natalie on July 25, 2017 at 1:27 pm


    I have an allergy/sensitivity to benzoic acid which causes my skin to flare up, peel and blister (especially on my lips but also all over my body). This was diagnosed by an NHS dermatologist a few years ago amongst other things but no follow up advice was given – although I have been referred once again and will be seeing them in December. In the meantime I am struggling to find any skin care products without benzoic acid or similar products – can you recommend any?

    Many Thanks

    • Rima on July 25, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      Hello Natalie
      I’m sorry to hear about your skin reaction, but I’m glad that it’s being managed under the NHS and that you have a review appointment in December. It is difficult to find suitable skincare products I know, and I’m sorry but this isn’t an area I’ve done extensive research on. Perhaps take a look at as they list a range of organisations who are likely to not use this ingredient (though it could be in some products). I’d advise contacting the companies to ask them directly and also going to a store like Planet Organic where they have trained staff who can advise. The other option is to make your own products, so you know what’s going in there – though some of these may not last as long as shop bought products due to the lack of chemical preservatives. Many thanks

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