Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) has been at the center of preservative controversy for as long as I’ve been in the industry. It is marketed as a natural preservative however, it is commonly adulterated with synthetic preservatives. At Essential Wholesale we have chosen not to carry the ingredient or use it as a preservative due to the ongoing debate. I get asked my opinion all the time regarding GSE. My advice to everyone is to read about it and make the decision that is right for your company.
A study by the Institute of Pharmacy, Ernst Moritz Arndt University, Greifswald, Germany, stated: “The antimicrobial efficacy as well as the content of preservative agents of six commercially grapefruit seed extracts were examined. Five of the six extracts showed a high growth-inhibiting activity against the test germs. In all of the antimicrobial active grapefruit seed extracts, the preservative benzethonium chloride was detected by thin layer chromatography. Additionally, three extracts contained the preserving substances triclosan and methyl paraben. In only one of the grapefruit seed extracts tested no preservative agent was found. However, with this extract as well as with several self-made extracts from seed and juiceless pulp of grapefruits (Citrus paradisi), no antimicrobial activity could be detected. 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”.
Concerning GSE, the USDA said: “Confirming an earlier study by researchers in Germany we found that some commercial grapefruit seed extracts contain benzethonium chloride, a synthetic antimicrobial agent commonly used in cosmetics and only approved for topical use, at relatively high levels of 8%”.
According to the Swiss Toxicological Information Center: “Grapefruit seed extracts containing benzethonium chloride in concentrations of 7-11% represent a major health risk if larger amounts of a concentrated solution are ingested (i.e. by mouth). Exposure of the skin or the eye may cause toxic symptoms. The Swiss Toxicological Information Center discourages consumers from administration of these extracts unless it is known which of them are containing benzethonium chloride and what the concentrations are”.