What Is Potassium Sorbate? (And Is It Safe?)

potassium sorbate safe

potassium sorbate safe

This is the next instalment in our ongoing series about chemicals often found in home and personal care products. Here, we make an assessment of ingredients, so you can make informed choices about the products you buy.

Today, we’re looking at potassium sorbate. It’s a natural preservative with a wide variety of uses.

What is potassium sorbate?

Potassium sorbate is a salt of sorbic acid. It’s a natural organic compound found in the berries of the mountain ash. It acts as a preservative in foods, drinks, dietary supplements, personal care products, and cosmetics.

Potassium sorbate comes in two forms. It occurs naturally in certain fruits, and can also be nature identical. Nature identical is chemically the same as the version found in nature, but is made in a factory. Commercially available potassium sorbate is mostly of the nature identical kind.

potassium sorbate chemical

What is potassium sorbate used for?

Potassium sorbate prevents the growth of moulds and yeasts in foods like jams, cakes, cheeses, maple syrup, and dried meats. It increases the shelf life of herbal dietary supplements and is a wine stabiliser. In addition, the milkshakes you get at fast food chains usually contain potassium sorbate as a preservative.

Manufacturers add potassium sorbate as a preservative to many personal care and beauty products. It helps prevent the growth of bacteria and mould.

You’ve probably heard that contaminated makeup can cause infections. This is why makeup has a shelf life. It’s also why you should throw out your mascara after three months. Even if makeup doesn’t have visible mould growth, it may already be contaminated with harmful germs.

This is because many cosmetics and personal care products contain water that can become breeding ground for bacteria. A preservative prevents this from happening and helps ensure that these products stay safe to use.

Is potassium sorbate safe?

Scientists began chemically synthesising potassium sorbate in the early 1900s. It first became a food preservative in the ‘40s. Because it’s been around for years, scientists have heavily tested it for safety. Studies indicate that potassium sorbate has almost the same toxicity as table salt. When it’s used in the recommended dilutions, it is non-sensitising and non-irritating.

EWG gives potassium sorbate a score of three and reported that its overall hazard rating is low. Additionally, it doesn’t persist in the environment and doesn’t become concentrated in the bodies of living things. The main problem with the chemical is that, in its pure form, it is a skin and respiratory irritant.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest labels potassium sorbate as safe. So does the US Food & Drug Administration and the Natural Products Association. A study in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology found the natural preservative safe as a cosmetic ingredient.

Potassium sorbate is EcoCert compliant and is found in the Handbook of Green Chemicals. Also, Australian Certified Organic (ACO) approves its use in organic skincare products.

Problems with Optical Brighteners (And What You Can Do About It)

optical brighteners problems

optical brighteners problems

Many laundry detergents promise to make your white clothes whiter than white. How do they do this? Using chemicals called optical brighteners.

What are optical brighteners?

Optical brighteners are chemicals that absorb ultraviolet light and reflect back blue light. This helps to hide the normal yellowing of white clothes, and makes them appear whiter and more vibrant. Optical brighteners add chemcials to your clothes, rather than removing stains from your clothes. You could call it an optical illusion.

What are optical brighteners used for?

Optical brighteners are most commonly used in laundry detergents. But they’re used for lots of other things as well. You can find optical brighteners in small amounts in products like cosmetics, cotton balls, and fabrics. Paper products, like food packaging, printer paper and toilet paper often use optical brighteners. You can find optical brighteners in just about anything that you might want to look bright white.

What’s the problem with optical brighteners?

In the 1970s, scientists studied the effects of optical brighteners on the environment, and on humans. This research showed mixed results.

Skin Allergies: One study found that contact with optical brighteners can cause an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis. The symptoms are red, itchy, irritated skin.

However, further studies on this effect were inconclusive. Researchers found no immediate danger, but they haven’t ruled it out. To confirm whether the material is completely safe or not, scientists need to do further research.

In 2002, one study found a skin reaction to optical brighteners in less than 0.7 percent of over 3,000 participants. So, a reaction may be possible, but it’s very rare. This study also had inconclusive results.

Environmental Effects: One Swedish study claimed to have found that optical brighteners cause genetic mutations in fish and plants. Later studies were unable to replicate these findings, and the results were, again, inconclusive.

We do know one thing for sure about optical brighteners: they’re not biodegradable. Bacteria can’t break down optical brighteners in the environment. Non-biodegradable materials can stick around for hundreds of years, polluting the environment and leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and water.

Optical brighteners are so commonly found in wastewater that scientists use them to detect whether bacteria is contaminating community water supplies. This water flows into rivers, streams and oceans, and into the ground, and optical brighteners go right along with it. And because they’re not biodegradable, they won’t go away.

Inconclusive Studies: Meanwhile, scientists are still conducting studies to decide if optical brighteners are safe or not. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration sets limits on the amounts of brighteners allowed in food packaging products. The FDA cites inconclusive studies as a reason for these precautions.

How can you avoid optical brighteners?

If you’re not willing to take your chances on inconclusive studies, don’t worry. You can avoid using optical brighteners that might irritate your skin or pollute the environment.

Eco friendly Detergent: Laundry detergent is by far the most common place to find brighteners. It’s easy to find brands of laundry detergents without them though. All Hello Charlie laundry products are free of optical brighteners.

Oxygen Bleach: But what if you still want your white clothes to look whiter than white? One way is to use an oxygen based bleach. These products use no optical brighteners, and instead whiten clothes through a process called oxidation. Instead of hiding stains with an optical illusion, oxidation actually changes the color of the fabric, making it whiter.

Household Whiteners: Hydrogen peroxide can also whiten clothes through the process of oxidation. Most homes have some hydrogen peroxide. If not, you can find it at the supermarket. Many people also swear by lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar. Just add half a cup of any of these ingredients to your laundry to help keep your white clothes white.

Sun Bleaching: Another way to naturally whiten your clothes is to do what your grandmother used to do: hang them out to dry. Before the invention of modern bleach and laundry detergent, people used sun bleaching to brighten white clothes. It also helps to conserve energy by avoiding the dryer.

Image source: Depositphoto

What are Parabens and Should You Avoid Them?

parabens avoid

parabens avoid

What are parabens and what are they used for?

Parabens are a group of chemicals that are used as preservatives. Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid, which is how they got their name.

They’re very effective as antibacterial and antifungal preservatives, and they’re incredibly cheap, which is why they’re found in so many products. Preventing bacteria and fungal growth means that they give products a much longer shelf life. Parabens are found in personal care products like shampoos, moisturisers, makeup, toothpaste, and shaving gels. They’re also found in food products, like mayonnaise, salad dressings, sauces, syrups, processed vegetables, jelly, soft drinks and even beer.

One study found parabens in 90% of food. Although this study mentions meat, fruit and vegetables as sources of naturally occurring parabens, it seems that it’s actually rare for parabens to occur naturally.

An EWG analysis of almost 50 types of American snack foods found propylparaben (a commonly used paraben) in all of them. Propylparaben is an allowed additive in Australia, yet it is not allowed in the EU.

What’s the problem with parabens?

The Cancer Prevention and Education Society has this to say about parabens:

Methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and butylparaben are all used in cosmetics. Methyl- and propylparaben are the most commonly detected in tissue and urine samples.

All four of these parabens are characterised as Category 1 endocrine disruptors by the European Commission in its database of potential endocrine disruptors (meaning there is evidence of ED activity in at least one species using intact animals).

They have been found in very low concentrations in breast cancer tumours, although no direct link between parabens and cancer has been found.

Parabens have also been shown to mimic oestrogen, and there is a concern that this oestrogen-mimicking may play a role in the increasing incidences of early puberty in girls.

In large quantities, parabens have been shown to lower the sperm counts of mice in laboratory tests.

There is also concern that some parabens used in sunscreens may react with UVB and lead to DNA damage and increased skin aging.

How to recognise parabens

Common parabens found in skincare and personal products are:

  • Methylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Heptylparaben

Not as common are:

  • Isobutylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben
  • Benzylparaben

Look for benzoic acid as well as hydroxyl benzoic acid, and hydroxybenzoate.

In foods, however, they’re listed as E numbers:

  • E210: Benzoic acid
  • E211: Sodium benzoate
  • E212: Potassium benzoate
  • E213: Calcium benzoate
  • E214: Ethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate (not allowed in Australia) (European Food Safety Authority set an Acceptable Daily Intake of 0-10mg per kilogram of bodyweight per day)
  • E215: Sodium ethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate (not allowed in Australia)
  • E216: Propylparaben or Propyl-p-hydroxy-benzoate
  • E218: Methylparaben or Methyl-p-hydroxy-benzoate (European Food Safety Authority set an Acceptable Daily Intake of 0-10mg per kilogram of bodyweight per day)
  • E219: Sodium methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate (this is not allowed in Australia)

How to avoid parabens

Get to know the E-numbers, and read the labels before you buy processed foods. Of course, sticking with unprocessed foods is the best way to avoid added parabens and preservatives in your diet.

In skincare and personal care products, always read the labels, and look for products and companies that are paraben free.

All products at Hello Charlie are paraben free.

Do you avoid parabens? What other chemicals do you avoid?

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