What is Grapefruit Seed Extract
January 27th, 2010
The big controversy that’s been going on for years with Grapefruit Seed Extract lies in its potential to be contaminated with benzalkonium chloride, parabens, and triclosan. Numerous studies have tested samples of commercially produced GSE and found these contaminants to be present. (See here, here, here and here.) The biggest contaminant found is benzalkonium chloride, a chemical that rates a 7 in the cosmetics database that’s a known immune system toxin, skin toxin, and possible cancer risk.
Some studies have shown that without these contaminants, a truly natural extract of grapefruit seed and pulp in ethanol or glycerin, had no antibacterial properties. However, GSE apologists claim that GSE can be effective without these contaminants. So, what is the truth? Is there such thing as a “pure” GSE, and if so, is it effective?
Grapefruit Seed Extract was first developed in 1972 by a man by the name of Dr. Jacob Harich. Today, there is one main manufacturer of GSE that defenders claim is pure. It is sold under the name Citricidal. This website describes how it is made:
1. Grapefruit pulp and seed is dried and ground into a fine powder.
2. The powder is dissolved in purified water and distilled to remove the fiber and pectin.
3. The distilled slurry is spray dried at low temperatures forming a concentrated flavonoid powder.
4. This concentrated powder is dissolved in vegetable glycerine and heated.
5. Food grade ammonium chloride and ascorbic acid are added, and this mixture is heated under pressure. The amount of ammonium chloride remaining in finished Citricidal is 15-19%; the amount of ascorbic acid remaining is 2.5-3.0%.
6. The ammoniated mixture undergoes catalytic conversion using natural catalysts, including hydrochloric acid and natural enzymes. There is no residue of hydrochloric acid after the reaction.
7. The slurry is cooled, filtered, and treated with ultraviolet light.
As you can see, this isn’t a truly natural process, it being treated with hydrochloric acid and ammonium chloride. After all the chemical reactions occur, the final composition of the extract is made up of about 60% diphenol hydroxybenzene, a chemical classified as a quaternary ammonium chloride–the same as benzethonium chloride. In fact, it is nearly chemically identical to benzethonium chloride. This is one possible reason that lab tests have shown GSE to be “contaminated” with benzethonium chloride–the equipment possibly misread the diphenol hydroxybenzene.
Typically, when a truly natural extract is made, plant matter is let to steep in a solvent such as water (as in making tea), in alcohol (like the vanilla extract you’d use in baking), or in glycerin (like with many herbal supplements you’d find at the health food stores) to extract the plant’s beneficial or desirable compounds, whether it be a flavor, smell, or antioxidant. It’s a one or two step process that doesn’t involve other chemical processing. GSE is clearly not a natural extract, but a synthetic ingredient, considering it goes through 7 steps of processing and the extract doesn’t retain the original compounds present in grapefruit.