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More on Parabens: Greenwashing With Honeysuckle Extract

Editor's note:  Shannon Schroter, of Grateful Body organic personal care products has written a rebuttal to the following article, saying all honeysuckle extracts do not contain parabens. Read here.  Neither Shannon Schroter nor Eliza Moriarty are Organic Consumers Association representatives. Their articles are their own perspectives.

From Eliza Moriarty:
Here is an appealing article written for laypeople (find it at

Parabens are in widespread use by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries as an effective preservative. Parabens work to prevent fungal and bacterial growth in water based products, such as creams (a mixture of oil and water). Parabens are found in a variety of cosmetic products including moisturizers, shaving gels, personal lubricants, tanning solutions and even toothpaste.

Until recently it was thought that Parabens where safe due to their low toxic profile. However, new research has shown that the build up of Parabens in the body and their interaction with other commonly used chemicals may lead to hormone disruption and can lead to an increased cancer risk. It is very difficult to conclusively say whether Parabens are harmful. Any definitive study would likely take 10-20 years and would have to study the interactions of Parabens with a vast number of other synthetic chemicals. Paraben allergies are thankfully very rare. However, they do occur in a small number of people, and their reported incidence is increasing as people are exposed to Parabens in more of their food and cosmetic products.

Many companies dismiss the concern over Paraben usage as a media inspired scare story. However, those who are most active in rubbishing claims of Paraben health concerns either work for or are linked to companies that extensively use Parabens in their products. There are many alternatives to using Parabens in personal care products and consumers are seeking out "Paraben Free" skin care in ever-greater numbers. However, some manufacturers are cynically employing other chemical preservatives that are known irritants or have far great health concerns - such as Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate. So long as it doesn't say "Paraben" on the label, they are happy.

Other companies continue to use Parabens, but describe them on the ingredients list as "Japanese Honeysuckle", a natural source of Parabens but chemically identical to the synthetic variety. There are alternatives to using Parabens or other synthetic preservatives in personal care products - but these are often more expensive to source or require extensive changes to the manufacturing process.

 And, from "Gaia Research", in defense of parabens:

Contrary to popular misbelief, parabens are not diabolical chemical poisons invented by mad scientists to inflict havoc on human health. Parabens do have direct correlates in nature. In fact, all plants normally produce p-hydroxybenzoic acid, albeit in small quantities (Viitanen P et al, Plant Physiol, 136(4), 2004). Well-known plants known to significantly synthesise parabens as defensive chemicals against attack by micro-organisms include carrot, olive, cucumber, honeysuckle and ylang ylang (Bach M et al, Plant Physiol, 103(2), 1993); (Aziz N et al, Microbios 93(374), 1998); Smith-Becker J et al, Plant Physiol, 116(1), 1998); (Dweck A, "Natural Preservatives", Cosmet Toilet, Aug 2003).

Of course, this misses the point entirely. The parabens present in their whole, natural state do not have the paraben concentration necessary to provide preservation. The real problem at present is that Campo is producing a "honeysuckle" derived paraben that is concentrated and processed specifically for use as a preservative; further, isolated synthetic and natural parabens are bio-identical, and we have no evidence to show that concentrated natural parabens are any less toxic than concentrated synthetic parabens (presuming that Campo is not spiking their "natural" paraben preservative with synthetic parabens.) Since the INCI recommended for this concentrated paraben based preservative is " Lonicera Caprifolium ", otherwise listed as Japanese Honeysuckle, Honeysuckle Flower Extract, Honeysuckle Extract, etc, unwitting consumers are fooled into assessing a label as miraculously innocent and pay premium prices to purchase what appears to be a wonderfully green product. More often than not, products that contain "Honeysuckle Flower Extract" (and truly, could any ingredient sound more gentle?) also make the false claim "NO PARABENS" all over the label and marketing materials.

Since I began making noise, a few have shifted marketing language to state, "No synthetic parabens."  Tricky.

Here is a marketing page for Campo's Plantservative

Also, please find the Campo Plantservative MSDS attached, and see:

 16. Other Information

 Uses as Cosmetic additive  0.4 - 1.0%

Supplementary Dietary/food use  0.01 - 1.0% (food preservation)


Recommended Mandatory Ingredient Listing of INCI name: Lonicera Caprifolium

Also attached, please refer to "An Update On Natural Preservatives" Personal Care Magazine; September 2005. (Anthony C. Dweck BSc CSci CChem FRSC FLS FRSH - Technical Editor) Please refer to Japanese Honeysuckle Extracts on page 14.

The author, Anthony C. Dweck is a noted expert on parabens and defends their use, based upon their existence in nature.

Please see more about Dweck and parabens here:

Many others among us understand that there is a difference between a chemical component of a whole plant and a concentrated chemical compound used to preserve a product. I do not object to the use of a simple aqueous extract (tea) of honeysuckle, labeled as "Japanese Honeysuckle Extract", but I do object to the misrepresentation involved in the use of Plantservative, labeled as "Japanese Honeysuckle Extract." It is a highly processed and concentrated paraben extraction that may or may not be contaminated with synthetic parabens where is it manufactured in Singapore. I am particularly distressed by the fact that so many companies are evidently using the latter version of "Japanese Honeysuckle Extract" and simultaneously claiming "NO PARABENS" on their labels.