Ingredient of the Week

a Salon Naturals blog

Honeysuckle Flower Extract – Sounds mild, doesn’t it?

In manufacturing non-toxic personal care products and cosmetics, the most challenging issue faced by manufacturers is choosing the right preservative.  Its no longer a secret that parabens are off-limits.  Their effectiveness is clearly and unquestionably outweighed by the potentially harmful effects they have on the body.  Excluding preservatives from the formulation is not a realistic alternative either.  Doing so would limit the shelf life of most products to less than ninety days and neither the industry nor consumers as a whole are prepared to deal with the challenges that would bring.  Scientists are working diligently and making continual progress toward creating healthy, non-toxic preservatives that work.  However, the perfect preservation system simply does not exist at this time. 

So how do manufacturers handle this dilemma?  They research, study, test, research some more and then make the best decision they can based on the options they have.  It isn’t a simple or friendly process and sometimes during the course of researching a “new” preservative that claims to be the answer to every problem imaginable, some unfortunate and even disturbing realizations come to light. 

Unfortunately, a product known as Plantservative is one such discovery.  The marketing materials were encouraging, the easily accessible data was extraordinary.  Unfortunately, the reality was completely disappointing.  Products containing Plantservative typically list the preservative on their ingredient labels as Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle Flower Extract), Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle Flower Extract), Japanese Honeysuckle Extract, or some combination thereof.

Plantservative is the trade name for what is essentially parabens created from highly concentrated extracts of the Japanese Honeysuckle.  Rather than restating the information provided by Eliza Moriarty in an article from the Organic Consumer Association’s website, I have included it below, along with comments pertaining to the article made by Shannon Schroter of Grateful Body and Angelina Amalie, a manufacturer of USDA certified organic cosmetics.  Clearly, there is some very heated disagreement within the personal care industry regarding specifically parabens, but also preservatives as a whole.  However, the information provided in this article is certainly compelling and sheds light once again on the need for more regulation in labeling.  After all, who would think to be concerned with Honeysuckle Extract?  Furthermore, companies using this ingredient as a preservative for their product are fully entitled by law to stamp “Paraben Free” right on the label.  Is it any wonder consumers are so overwhelmed and confused?

Article as published on Organic Consumer Association website:

From Eliza Moriarty:

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

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. 

From Shannon Schroter:

I’m an active member of OCA, and an eager reader of the Organic Consumers Association’s weekly Organic Bytes e-newsletter. On May 7,  OCA published an article called “More on Parabens: Greenwashing With Honeysuckle Extract (read full article here)” by Eliza Moriarty (editor’s note: neither Shannon Schroter nor Eliza Moriarty are representatives of the Organic Consumers Association.  The perspectives of both of these author’s and their respective articles are their own).

The author asserts that companies using Japanese Honeysuckle extract as a preservative are doing so as a way to hide parabens in their products. She describes a particular honeysuckle preservative as “a highly processed and concentrated paraben extraction that may or may not be contaminated with synthetic parabens.”  As it happened, I had test results showing that the exact product she maligns actually does not contain any parabens. When I sent those test results to OCA, I was invited to submit a response to Moriarty’s article.  

Having lost two sisters to cancer, my mission at GratefulBody for the past 10 years has been to make the safest, purest skin care I possibly could.  Because of this, I know that the intent of Moriarty’s article is honorable.  For she is right – things are not always as innocent as they seem, and anyone sincere about making or buying safe products has to be careful.  But regarding this important issue, crucial clarifications need to be made. Here are the questions that I believe need to be addressed for the consumer to be able to make informed decisions about the ingredient Japanese Honeysuckle extract.

1. Is Japanese Honeysuckle extract spiked with synthetic parabens?
2. Does Japanese Honeysuckle in general, contain parabens, natural or synthetic?
3. Is Japanese Honeysuckle extract dangerous?
4. How can consumers protect themselves from concealed parabens?

1. Is Japanese Honeysuckle extract spiked with synthetic parabens?  No, it is not.  At least not the CO2 extract of the Japanese Honeysuckle flower (Lonicera japonica) which Moriarty wrote about.  When we first explored the possibility of using Japanese Honeysuckle extract as one part of our multi-faceted botanical preservative system, we had this ingredient tested by a third-party, independent lab.  The results were negative.  Absolutely no detectable traces of any of the parabens, which include methyparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.   

2. Does Japanese Honeysuckle in general, contain parabens, natural or synthetic?  To answer this, we must establish a protocol of word usage. The word paraben was coined by laboratory scientists who had succeeded in developing a synthetic preservative based on a common substance found in nature:  para-hydroxy benzoic acid.  But let’s go deeper into this.  Para-hydroxy benzoic acid is found everywhere in nature, it is present in most plants, in many animals and insects.  Nature seems to use this substance to help the organism protect itself against bacterial and microbial intrusion.  This very biological activity is probably what gave laboratory scientists the idea to look at para-hydroxy benzoic acid as a model for developing preservative ingredients.  Interestingly, the phytochemical para-hydroxy benzoic acid found in plants is not strong enough by itself to be considered a powerful, effective, multi-purpose preservative for industrial purposes.  For this to happen, the original substance had to be altered in the laboratory – boosted if you will.  If you look at the molecular structure of the para-hydroxy benzoic acid found in Japanese Honeysuckle, one sees a classic carbon ring bond – elegant and simple.  But if you look at the molecular structure of methyparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben, one is immediately struck by the additional CH3 tail, sometimes called a methyl free-radical, that makes these substances completely different from the original phytochemical.  It is this difference that makes the Moriarty’s statement:  “Japanese Honeysuckle is a natural source of parabens chemically identical to the synthetic variety” entirely untrue.  And it is this difference that compels us to say that the word paraben refers ONLY to the chemically-altered, man-made substance.  Therefore, we contend that there is no such thing as a natural paraben.  In the conventional idiom, paraben has always referred to the synthetic substance.  The word paraben was never originally used by any botanist, biologist, ethnobotanist or herbalist.  The importance of this point cannot be stressed enough.  It is the essential spirit and soul of a holistic viewpoint and for some reason, the current science paradigm does not understand it.  You CANNOT take one or two active constituents out of the whole context of the dynamic and complex plant chemistry, copy it, synthesize it and then regard it as the same as the original plant.  Japanese Honeysuckle extract is a complex blend of hundreds of related, connected and cooperating phytochemicals.  Parabens are a synthetic copy of one particular phytochemical that happens to be found in countless manifestations in great nature.  That is why we assert that there are no ‘natural’ parabens and therefore Japanese Honeysuckle extract has no parabens.    

A couple more points . . .
– the Japanese Honeysuckle in question is a CO2 extract* of the honeysuckle flower.  From a botanical purist point of view, this extraction method is sustainable, beneficial and preferable. The CO2 extract keeps the molecular integrity of the original phytochemical intact.  It does not create synthetic isolates.  Remember, all parabens are synthetic isolates.  In sum, Japanese Honeysuckle does NOT contain parabens.  Japanese Honeysuckle does contain para-hydroxy benzoic acid, a natural, beneficial phytochemical readily found in nature.
*CO2 extraction of plant matter is an innovative method of producing the purest plant extracts without the use of chemical solvents or high heat.  During this process, pressurized carbon dioxide is pumped into a chamber that contains plant material, such as honeysuckle flowers, where it becomes a supercritical liquid that pulls the essence from the plant to create an unadulterated liquid extract.
– the author suggests that companies would choose Japanese Honeysuckle because it is cheap and a way to avoid more expensive and supposedly safer alternatives.  I must say here that Japanese Honeysuckle CO2 extract is very expensive, in fact one of the most costly ingredients in our formulations.  Because of this, I doubt any company wishing to cut corners and use cheaper ingredients would choose this ingredient.

3. Is Japanese Honeysuckle extract dangerous?  No, it is not.  At least, no more dangerous than other plant medicine extracts such as dandelion, calendula or yarrow.  The plant Japanese Honeysuckle contains many hundreds of active, dynamic phytochemicals.  It also contains high concentrations of the phytochemical para-hydroxy benzoic acid.  But so do carrots and olive oil.  Herbalists know that the reason certain plants have specific useful properties is because they have dense concentrations of certain natural phytochemicals.  For example, yellowdock has a genetic predisposition for elemental iron – so the roots happily roam around in the soil looking for iron to uptake.  Since yellowdock root therefore has this extravagant iron concentration, it tends to be used by practitioners for anemia and various blood and skin issues where bio-available iron would be helpful.  To support our formulations, GratefulBody looks to nature to supply every function needed in any skin care product.  We only use whole, plant preservatives; not only to protect our formulations but when dermally applied, to infuse this very same botanical virtue into our own bodies.  Along with honeysuckle, nature supplies many wonderful solutions for this objective, turmeric, marigold, olive leaf, rosemary, thyme and acerola berries come to mind.  GratefulBody has a formulating principle that guides us in all product development: follow the intelligence of nature, not the intellect of the laboratory.

4. How can consumers protect themselves from concealed parabens?  This is a bit tricky since the industry is unregulated but there are a few suggestions that can help in choosing safe skin care products.  First, judge an ingredient by the company it keeps. Examine ALL the ingredients. Is every ingredient a botanical?  Does it truly reads like a garden recipe top to bottom that you’d be willing to eat?  Or do you get the impression that the product is created from the ‘better living through chemistry’ paradigm?  Does the product follow a common strategy of basically being a chemical soup but with a few token, trendy botanicals added to the mix?  Second, do you find ingredients followed by the word ‘from’ or ‘derived from’?  For example:  allantoin (from comfrey), ceteareth-20 (from coconuts), sodium laureth sulfate (from palm), silicone (from silica), parabens (from strawberries).  This is a sure-fire clue that there is a labeling propensity to tie actual synthetics to a natural source – greenwashing via name dropping. Third, is the product found in discounter stores, national chains or supermarkets?  Corporate operations put very intense margin pressure on vendors which often results in ingredient shortcuts or label shenanigans.  Another clue is the company itself.  Does it have a history of chemical skin care but now has a new business strategy to exploit the new and profitable green demographic?  These are just suggestions but may indicate entrenched corporate standards that would rationalize deceptive practices.  However, as Moriarty’s article does demonstrate, if you really want completely pure and safe skin care products, one must educate themselves.

As one of the few companies committed to making genuinely pure skin care using only whole plant ingredients, Grateful Body has gone to great lengths to ensure that all ingredients that we use in our handcrafted skin care are healthy for the body and the planet.  We don’t market our products as merely paraben-free, we go so far as to say they are altogether chemical-free because we believe in only using whole, biologically appropriate ingredients.  We would like to heartily thank OCA for giving us this forum to bring clarity to the issue. 

By Angelina Amalie:

As a small manufacturer of USDA certified organic body care, I am  relieved that OCA is providing a forum for a discussion of hidden  parabens. I have reviewed the data and, as a formulator, am convinced that the Plantservative honeysuckle preservative in question cannot  possibly be a simple CO2 extract of honeysuckle as claimed by Grateful Body. The MSDS and documentation for Plantservative is available online, and a review of those materials clearly states that it is a broad-spectrum anti-microbial and behaves as any synthetic paraben. No known whole plant extracts or materials provide anything resembling the industrial strength preservation claimed in the Plantservative documentation. Additionally,if CO2 honeysuckle extract were as effective as Plantservative, every personal care manufacturer interested in producing USDA certified organic products would be willing to pay a  very high price for a USDA OG CO2 honeysuckle extract. It would be the end of all of our formulation challenges!

In regard to the May 14, 2009 issue of Organic Bytes, there is one  very important error. I do request that OCA send a correction  immediately, or in the very least, specifically correct the error in a visible location the next issue of Organic Bytes.

Under Headlines and Issues of the Week, OCA states:

“Coming Clean News of the Week:  Grateful Body Refutes Claims That  All Honeysuckle Extracts Contains Parabens 
In last week’s issue of Organic Bytes,  we linked to an article  where organic supplier Eliza Moriarty made the claim that products using honeysuckle extract as a ‘natural’ preservative are simply hiding parabens in their products. This week, USDA organic personal care product leader, Grateful Body, says those are false claims and shows documentation that its products have been tested free of parabens, despite the use of honeysuckle extract. Let the debate begin!”

I am surprised by the mistakes. It does illustrate the fact that even some OCA staff members have difficulty distinguishing between USDA  certified organic and inauthenticated organic claims in the personal  care marketplace. Grateful Body has NO third party certification and  does not produce USDA certified organic body care.

While Grateful Body modifies most ingredient names with the word  “organic”, it does not specify the certifying body, so we don’t know  if they refer to USDA, Eco-cert or any other program. Grateful Body  claims some ingredients are “organic” when the ingredient doesn’t  exist as an organic ingredient. Grateful Body also claims to use no  synthetics. (They claim “organic xanthan” for example, which cannot be organic. It is an allowed synthetic.)  In the absence of a third- party certifier, organic claims by body products manufacturers have no meaning. Any company that wishes to prove its organic and clean  ingredient status may do so at any time by cleaning up their  ingredient decks and earning the USDA seal of approval. Any company  that is not eligible for the USDA seal is certainly not a leader in  USDA organic body care!

Unfortunately, when you describe Grateful Body as “USDA organic  personal care product leader,” you offer meaningful credibility to a  company that has not earned it, mislead consumers into believing that their products are USDA organic, and undermine OCA’s own Coming Clean Campaign in regard to hidden ingredients! As a manufacturer of USDA  certified organic products, it also undermines my company’s position in the marketplace when I must compete with companies that aren’t meeting the USDA organic standards, but are credited by OCA as such.

Additionally, the description of Eliza Moriarty as an “organic supplier” is inaccurate. I am on an organic industry listserve with Eliza and am familiar with her work. She is an experienced  phytochemist, researcher and professional organic body care formulator, and is also a certified Organic Processing Inspector. She’s an organics advocate with a sharp eye for “greenwashing.” From our mutual positions as natural products formulators, the documentation speaks for itself, as does the action of the  preservative in question.

As Mr. Dweck (international expert on parabens and former Associate  Editor of the International Journal of Cosmetic Science) states,  Plantservative is clearly a natural paraben.  I see that the quote  taken from  “An Update On Natural Preservatives,” Personal Care  Magazine; September 2005, (Anthony C. Dweck BSc CSci CChem FRSC FLS  FRSH – Technical Editor) has been removed from Eliza’s OCA article. I have a copy, as follows:

Japanese Honeysuckle extracts A plant preservative that is based on the Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is available that is described as being a complex  mixture of esters of lonicerin and natural p-hydroxy benzoic acid (Fig. 10). The commercial material from Campo is called Plantservative WSr, WMr (INCI: Lonicera Caprifolium Extract). Clearly this is a naturally occurring paraben, and we would expect this material to have antimicrobial properties.

If Grateful Body tested Plantservative and found no synthetic  parabens, it merely tells us that it has not been spiked with  synthetics. It does NOT tell us that it is not a natural paraben, and it certainly does not indicate that it is a whole plant extract. The “industrial strength” preservation action of Plantservative very  strongly indicates that it is a highly processed and concentrated  natural paraben.

I hope OCA will correct the misstatement in the May 14 issue of  Organic Bytes, lest Organic Consumers believe that Grateful Body is USDA certified organic and give undue credence to their products and  their claims.

April 16, 2010 - Posted by | Ingredient of the Week - Yucky! | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. The company themselves make no secret about the ingredients:

    Comment by Sue | May 14, 2010 | Reply

    • Absolutely true….the link you posted makes it very clear that those companies SUPPLYING this preservative to manufacturers are more than happy to disclose exactly what’s in it and how it works. Unfortunately, the info about this preservative in particular creates a real marketing nightmare for companies who are shouting from the rooftops that they are natural or organic!! So….the spinning begins – which typically leads to a couple of knowledgable customers asking questions – which typically leads to outright lies. It’s a mess!

      Comment by Salon Naturals | May 14, 2010 | Reply

  2. At Meadowsweet we strive to create safe plant based body care products and I have been researching ‘natural’ ways to preserve our products for the last ten years.

    After all this time, just when we think we have found an effective preserving system, news hit the stands that there actually is no such thing.

    If anybody anywhere in the world has a natural preserving formula that works, and believes that there is enough for everybody on this planet, that does not see others as a threat, but rather as fellow people striving to create a better planet for all, please let me know what you are using to preserve your natural products.

    As the comment by Salon Naturals say, ‘It’s a mess.’

    People lie and cheat all for the sake of the extra dollar instead of us all standing together to make this planet a better world for all.

    Comment by Elma Rivera | December 21, 2010 | Reply

  3. […] Slight difference between Japanese honeysuckle and synthetic parabens Unfortunately, the chemical composition of Japanese honeysuckle resembles very closely to that of synthetic paraben preservatives and their only difference is that Japanese honeysuckle contains a free radical that parabens don’t possess. So going by the strict standards of purists, Japanese honeysuckle is also a no no for natural and organic skin care products.  If you want to find out about the research on the Japanese honeysuckle, you can read articles from the following sources: Chemical of the day Green Health Research Ingredient of the week […]

    Pingback by Japanese honeysuckle extract a hidden paraben? | Viva Woman | February 9, 2011 | Reply

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