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Bethenny Frankel, Sodium Benzoate, And Your Hair

Bethenny Frankel, Sodium Benzoate, And Your Hair

Sodium Benzoate made it into celebrity news recently when Whole Foods Market announced that they were pulling Bethenny Frankel's Skinnygirl Margaritas off the shelves of some of their stores.

Although Bethenny invented the drink, she no longer owns the company which manufactures and distributes the well-known brand.

Why was the drink mix dropped from Whole Foods?  The diet margarita, according to Whole Food representatives contains "extremely low levels" of a food preservative called sodium benzoate.

Though there's just a small amount of it, the failure to disclose the chemical caused Whole Foods to yank the product from the shelves. A rep for Whole Foods said in a statement that the preservative "does not meet our quality standards."

Bethenny Frankel's Take On The Skinnygirl Margarita News?

Bethenny told the media "I'm not making wheat grass here. If I could put an agave plant and some limes on a shelf I would. [The Skinnygirl Margarita] is as close to nature as possible, while still being a shelf-stable product."

The reality star also says only a few Whole Foods stores carried the beverage and it was actually her decision to discontinue the business relationship with the retailer.

She added: "With all due respect to Whole Foods, we were in a dozen of their stores and have decided not to continue in these stores," the reality star said. "They represent an infinitesimal fraction of our business. We are, in fact, the fastest growing spirits brand in the U.S. We were bound to piss someone off and everyone loves to try to tear down a success. This is a non-event. I haven't lost even a wink of sleep."

Sodium Benzoate

While Bethenny may not be losing a "wink of sleep" over the sodium benzoate in her Skinnygirl Margarita formula, some people are concerned about any ingredient which might pose any type of hazard when consumed or used on their body in some fashion.

Which brings up the question, what is sodium benzoate and it is really a major concern?  Sodium Benzoate, also known as E211 is a salt of Benzoic Acid.  Sodium Benzoate is found naturally in cranberries, prunes, plums, cinnamon, ripe cloves, and apples.

It is also a well-known preservative often used in hair care formulations, cosmetics and personal care formulas.  It is popular as a preservative since it prevents fungi and bacteria from developing in products over time and changing their compositions or allowing for contamination.  It is also used in consumables such as a wide range of food products and Bethenny Frankel's Skinnygirl Margaritas.

Sodium benzoate is often used for a wide range of products as a preservative as well as a fragrance ingredient, masking ingredient and anti-corrosive agent.  When sodium benzoate is combined with caffeine in Caffeine Sodium Benzoate is can produce UVB protection along with antioxidant activity.

Why Is Sodium Benzoate controversial?

Sodium Benzoate is a controversial ingredient, at least in some circles, because of its potential to interact with Ascorbic Acid (a Vitamin C derivative) and benzene, a known carcinogen.

According to the International Programme on Chemical Safety, Sodium Benzoate is not a toxin or carcinogen when used standalone.  Large amounts of sodium benzoate would have to be consumed for adverse effects to be seen.  When utilized topically as a hair, skin or related beauty product it is not considered dangerous or toxic.  Of course there are always exceptions to every rule but in general, it is not considered a danger to health.

FDA And GRAS Ratings

Sodium Benzoate is FDA approved and has received the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) rating.  Other hair and cosmetics testing experts have deemed the ingredient to be generally safe as long as it is not used in high enough dosages to cause potential reproductive and developmental effects.

According to “In mice studies where the animals were fed sodium benzoate, no adverse effects were reported, and the mice’s life expectancies were not shortened, nor was their health affected in any way” (  The Cosmetics Database also found it to be a low hazard ingredient.

Sodium Benzoate Safety Measures And Side Effects

As a standalone ingredient Sodium Benzoate is not considered to be dangerous.  However, some experts believe that there is are reasons for concern, especially if the ingredient is taken internally in large doses, is combined with any Vitamin C ingredients.  When combined with Vitamin C, benzene can be created which is a known carcinogen.

Whereas Sodium Benzoate in standalone form seems of little concern when utilized in hair, skin or related products, it is of more serious concern when there is a risk of the formation of benzene.  Studies have shown that heat, light and shelf life may affect the rate at which benzene is formed.

Sodium Benzoate Versus Benzene

Unlike Sodium Benzoate, Benzene is considered a high hazard ingredient by experts. Benzene is also a known human carcinogen.  Benzene may, in some circumstances, cause vomiting, irritation of the stomach, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions and in some cases even death.  Of course these are the exception and not the rule.

Benzene damages bone marrow and may cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It may also cause excessive bleeding and depress the immune system, increasing the chance of infection. Benzene causes leukemia and is associated with other blood cancers and pre-cancers of the blood.

Other studies are less positive about the use of sodium benzoate claiming that even when used alone it can damage DNA by attacking the cells' mitochondria.  Some experts believe damage to DNA structure can be linked to neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson's Disease and can damage the natural aging process.

Dosage Is Key

With sodium benzoate as well as with benzene, which can be formed due to the combination of sodium benzoate with Vitamin C, the key is in the amount.

Whereas some experts believe low doses of sodium benzoate taken either internally or used on the scalp, hair or skin has negligible impact, others believe even small amounts can be concerning for some portions of the population with risk of broad systemic effects even at low doses.

Sodium Benzoate And Your Hair

A well-known challenge with manufacturing any type of hair or beauty product is the preservation of the ingredients while the product sits on the shelf.  The formation of fungus and bacteria is a real concern which always must be addressed in some fashion.  Sodium benzoate is often utilized by a wide range of manufacturers and some believe that when it's used in small concentrations it's safe.

Is it really safe?  It may be safe for the majority, but there is always an exception to every rule.  What works for the majority may not work for the minority.

There is also the issue of the health status of those utilizing hair or beauty products with sodium benzoate. If the person's health is already a concern, going as chemical free as possible may be advised.  However, finding products on even health food shelves without some sort of small preservatives is going to be challenging.

If health or cancer is a concern then home made hair cleansing remedies would be recommended.

Two Sides To Every Story

With every situation there are always two sides to every story.  Who really knows what actually happened in the case of Whole Foods and Skinnygirl Margaritas?  Maybe Whole Foods was upset because they felt that the Skinnygirl Margarita reps should have clearly pointed out the inclusion of sodium benzoate in the mix.

Or maybe there is some other issues that is not being publicly addressed.  Will we ever know?

Of course one could also argue that tequila, which is used to create the Skinnygirl Margarita is not the best for your liver.  But that would be a whole other topic for some other blogging day.  Will having one or two Skinnygirl Margarita's cause you to develop cancer?  Probably not, but at least you're making an informed choice if you understand what chemicals are in the ingredients.

Is sodium benzoate an ingredient which creates concern?  The answer is a big maybe. Everything is relative.  For some the preservative may be just fine, especially in very small doses.  For others, it might cause a reaction or pose a concern for the bigger health picture.


The bottom line?  Evaluate all the pros and cons of any questionable ingredient that is consumed or used on your body in some manner and make your own decision based on your own unique circumstances.  It is always best to do your own homework so you can make an informed decision.

Unless you are willing to make all your own hair and beauty care products at home and use them immediately to prevent the formation of fungus and other bacteria, you may have to live with some trade offs.  The same is true with products you may consume, whether it be wine or a margarita mix.  Ultimately the decision is yours to make.

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