I would like to announce today that I now have irrefutable evidence that Japanese Honeysuckle Extract does indeed contain parahydroxy benzoic acid, a "natural paraben" which has been shown- in lab tests- to act estrogenically like synthetic parabens do. No ifs, ands or buts about it!
Over the last couple of months I've been writing about Japanese Honeysuckle Extract. As you've probably seen, one particular company, 100% Pure, has not been happy about my research and articles. If you've missed my last few articles on the subject, the crux of the controversy is this--companies that use honeysuckle extract have claimed that their products are "paraben-free." I've argued that honeysuckle extract contains a highly concentrated amount of a naturally-occurring compound called parahydroxy benzoic acid. Parahydroxy benzoic acid is nearly identical to parabens on a chemical level, and has been shown to display estrogenic activity in the body, just like parabens do. This estrogenic activity isn't quite as strong as synthetic parabens, however, it is still active. In fact, parahydroxy benzoic acid is the chemical that inspired chemists to create parabens in the first place. It is parabens' namesake: parahydroxy benzoic acid. (For a detailed diagram and description, visit my previous article.)
Througout the entire argument, there has only been one person who has addressed the controversy head on--a cosmetic formulator named Dr. Barbara Olioso. The following statement is from her blog:
"The rumors about the Japanese honeysuckle extract are based on an article by Tony Dweck on Personal Care Magazine, entitled "An update on natural preservatives". In this article it is stated that the Japanese honeysuckle extract contains parahydroxy benzoic acid, nick named a natural paraben (as a chemist I do not agree with that because it is an acid and not an ester like the parabens...). This information was based on the MSDS of an old grade of this ingredient which was discontinued several years ago (it took me some time to find this out as the article does not mention the source of the information)."
To further prove her point, she sent her extract out to a third-party lab in Italy for testing:
"So I sent a sample of the Japanese honeysuckle all the way to my home land, Italy and had it tested on the parahydroxy benzoic acid via HPLC using a standard method used in the cosmetic industry. The results? below detection limits (ie less than 10 mg/kg)!"
100% Pure apparently teamed up with Dr. Olioso by having her send test results to people who were questioning their extract. (Even though they previously stated that their extract did contain parahydroxy benzoic acid.)
I saw the test results myself, and they indeed looked credible. So, I concluded, the grade that Dr. Olioso was using didn't contain parahydroxy benzoic acid. But how can 100% Pure use her test results to apply to their company? What is the affiliation between 100% Pure and Dr. Olioso? How do we know that 100% Pure is using the same grade of extract? When we asked, they gave no clear answer.
So, I had seen the test results--I was getting ready to write a "not all honeysuckle extracts are bad" article. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe some grades are safe? Maybe they've been reformulated without parahydroxy benzoic acid? Maybe the MSDS sheets I had downloaded were outdated?
But then I did some more digging.
To get to the bottom of this, I thought I'd go straight to the source. There's only one major manufacturer of Japanese Honeysuckle Extract: Campos Research. Why not ask them directly?
Campos Research is based out of Singapore, but they have a New York office. I tried calling twice, but no one answered the phone. I had already tried e-mailing them numerous times over the last few weeks, but no one answered my e-mails either.
So, I found the main US Distributor for the ingredient. As a cosmetics company myself, I logged on to their website and put in an information request for Plantservative, the tradename of Japanese Honeysuckle Extract. I asked them if they could send me an MSDS sheet for the ingredient. I got a quick reply from the company, within just a few minutes. I opened up the attachment to a nice packet about the product and all the MSDS sheets for all four grades of the extract.
The MSDS sheets didn't list the constituents of the extract, so I sent a quick e-mail back to the distributor and just asked point blank: do all grades of Japanese Honeysuckle Extract contain parahydroxy benzoic acid? Is that the active ingredient in the extract?
Minutes later, she wrote me back:
Yes, the para-hydroxy benzoic acid is the main active, and yes it is
present in all versions. If you have any further questions, please feel
free to contact me.
Thus, I have written verification from the main US distributor that yes, all current grades of honeysuckle extract contain parahydroxy benzoic acid. Period.
So, now what about Dr. Olioso's lab tests?
This question was festering in my mind. Were the lab tests altered? Or was it just a different extract? How could this be?
Then it popped in to my head--one little detail from the MSDS sheets that I had just scoured. On the page for Plantservative WSr, the tradename of the extract that Dr. Olioso sent out for testing, it stated under the "Assay Incompatibilities" category.
This material is incompatible with Schiff Reagents, and Assays Methods of Schiff Reaction, or Modified Schiff Reaction Assays, via Colorimetric Techniques or via HPLC.
Here's a screen shot of the MSDS:
HPLC---sound familiar? It's the testing method Dr. Olioso used. It's not compatible for an HPLC assay-- in other words, you can't analyze the ingredient using this particular testing method (high performance liquid chromatography) because the testing itself alters the constituents of the extract! The test results are totally inaccurate.
This brings up an interesting question...did Dr. Olioso and 100% Pure know that the ingredient was incompatible with HPLC, and did they choose this testing method because they knew it would give a false negative? There are plenty of other testing methods--gas chromatography, spectoscopy--why choose HPLC? Perhaps they chose it because HPLC is a standard and mostly reliable test method. Perhaps they just didn't study the MSDS sheet closely enough. I guess we'll never know.
So there it is; the final word on Japanese Honeysuckle Extract. The main US distributor for the ingredient verified without blinking that the ingredient does contain parahydroxy benzoic acid. The "lab results" are inaccurate. I can definitively say, Japanese Honeysuckle Extract does contain parahydroxy benzoic acid. No matter how much these cosmetic companies dance around the issue, try to hide it, and try to brush it off, Japanese Honeysuckle Extract is, effectively, a "natural paraben."
For more information about the possible health effects of Japanese Honeysuckle Extract and its similarities to synthetic parabens, read my article here.
Update: There is no apparent connection between 100% Pure and Dr. Olioso. Dr. Olioso had shared her test results with 100% Pure to send to customers who were questioning them. However, Dr. Olioso has now stated that she no longer wishes "to be involved with this 100% pure brand" in the comments on her blog.