What is Benzyl Benzoate?
Benzyl benzoate is a naturally occurring molecule found in some plants and is made up of benzyl alcohol and benzoic acid. In cosmetic products, it plays a number of roles depending on the product and it can act as a fragrance, a solvent, a plasticiser, a preservative and a fixative.
Benzyl benzoate used to a preferred treatment for scabies and lice, but it no longer a a first choice as it can be irritating to the skin. It also works as an insect repellent against bugs like mosquitoes and ticks.
How does it work?
As a fragrance, benzyl benzoate can add a balsamic smell to a product. It can also work with other fragrances as a solvent to help them dissolve into the mixture. Benzyl benzoate also acts as a fixative in perfumed products where it slows down the escape of other fragrances and increases the life span of the fragrance.
When added to more solid products like soaps, benzyl benzoate can act as a plasticiser. A plasticiser makes a product less brittle so a soap containing it can be bent and squished more before it snaps or crumbles.
It’s possible that benzyl benzoate can trigger an allergic reaction.
It can irritate the skin and may also cause red, dry and itchy skin. More serious side effects such as loss of consciousness and jerking movements will only typically occur at much higher concentrations than those used in cosmetic products.
Some studies suggest it can mimic the hormone oestrogen and promote the growth of breast cancer cells but more evidence is needed to state that effect with confidence as so far there are only a handful of papers on the subject with conflicting results [1, 2].
Benzyl benzoate has no known drug interactions when used topically.
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- Hashimoto, Y., et al., Estrogenic activity of tissue conditioners in vitro. Dent Mater, 2003. 19(4): p. 341-6.
- Charles, A.K. and P.D. Darbre, Oestrogenic activity of benzyl salicylate, benzyl benzoate and butylphenylmethylpropional (Lilial) in MCF7 human breast cancer cells in vitro. J Appl Toxicol, 2009. 29(5): p. 422-34.