Benzoic acid

Author: Prof. Dr. med. Peter Altmeyer

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Last updated on: 29.10.2020

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Benzenecarboxylic acid; Benzenecarboxylic acid (IUPAC); benzoic acid; Carboxybenzene; CAS No.: 65-85-0; E 210; Monophenylmethanoic acid; Phenyl carboxylic acid (systematisch); Phenylformic acid; Phenyl methanoic acid

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Benzoic acid: The name is derived from the benzoic acid-containing resin "benzoin" of the Styrax species Siam-Benzoe (Styrax tonkinensis) and Sumatra-Benzoe (Styrax benzoin). Benzoic acid is an oily liquid which is easily soluble in ethanol and ether as well as in fatty oils. The acid is not very soluble in cold water.

Benzoic acid and its derivatives are also found in plums, cinnamon, cloves, black tea, aniseed, raspberries and cranberries.

Benzoic acid and its derivatives have antibacterial and antimycotic effects and are widely used as preservative food additives (E 210 - E 219) as well as in medicinal exteriors and in cosmetics.

Field of application/use
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As a preservative for food (0.1-0.25%; for fish and shellfish up to 0.4%) Benzoic acid is also found in honey in low concentrations. It is also used in different kinds of food. It is also used in various yoghurts, sour milk and cheese. Benzoic acid is often used in combination with sorbic acid (E 200). The antimicrobial effect of benzoic acid is enhanced by common salt, acetates and sulphites. In this respect it is also used in acetic acid foods and in combination with sulphur compounds.

As preservative in cosmetics and topical medicaments (concentrations up to 5%).

Standard concentration
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Up to 5% in water absorbing ointments (absorption bases), hydrophilic ointments, hydrophobic creams (W/O emulsion ointments), hydrophilic creams (O/W emulsion ointments), carmellose gel, hydroxyethyl cellulose gel.

Undesirable effects
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Allergic reactions have been observed sporadically; contact allergies are somewhat more common in the pharmaceutical industry.

Frequency of intolerance reactions in the resident population is unknown; higher risk in patients with chronic urticaria, bronchial asthma, analgesic intolerance (10-20%).

In a larger study involving 52 patients with intolerance reactions (pseudoallergy), benzoic acid or hydroxybenzoic acid could provoke the symptoms in about half of the patients. In a smaller proportion this was achieved by both substances. Similar results were published by other authors (quoted by Jäger et al.).

Analogous observations were also made in the case of bronchial asthma induced by analgesics.

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Parabens are esters of benzoic acid. They are only used to a small extent in the food industry, e.g. baked goods, fats, oil, dressings.

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  1. Clemmensen O et al,(1982) Perioral contact urticaria from sorbic acid and benzoic acid in a salad dressing. Contact dermatitis 8:1-6.
  2. Jäger L, Wüthrich B (1997) Food allergies and intolerances. Gustav Fischer, Ulm Stuttgart Jena Lübeck, S. 165-166
  3. Lahti A et al (1983) Prostaglandins in contact urticaria induced by benzoic acid. Acta Derm Venereol 63:425-427.
  4. Lahti A et al (1981) Is benzoic acid really harmful in cases of atopy and urticaria? Lancet 2:1055.
  5. Nair B (2001) Final report on the safety assessment of Benzyl Alcohol, Benzoic Acid, and Sodium Benzoate. Int J Toxicol 20 Suppl 3:23-50.
  6. Kumar A et al (2003) Synthesis of some newer derivatives of 2-amino benzoic acid as potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic agents. Bioorg Med Chem 11: 5281-5291
  7. Zhai H et al(2012) Reactions of non-immunologic contact urticaria on scalp, face, and back. Skin Res Technology 18:436-441.


Last updated on: 29.10.2020