Benzoin resinoid is a natural balsamic resin, exuded from a small tress Styra benzoin. Incisions are made in the trunks either through the bark or after peeling off spots of bark and a viscous balsamic substance is produced as a pathologic material in the trunk.
The substance flows out and solidifies on making contact with the air. The gum-resin is collected from the incisions and from the bottom of the trunk at the foot of the tree where significant quantities of benzoin accumulates.
Benzoin tincture has long been used in skin care as an antiseptic and styptic for cuts.
Benzoin tincture is extensively used in perfumery because it makes an excellent fixative.
Please read the following article on Benzoin by Martin Watt:
(printed with his permission)
Benzoin...a safe preservative?
by Martin Watt
In 1992 RIFM, the world's leading experts in safety issues of all aromatic
extracts, issued new guidelines on the use of Benzoin extracts in cosmetic
products. They recommended that only extracts processed by methods which
eliminated allergens should be used.
This was done because of the numerous cases recorded of benzoin sensitization
many of which are documented and referenced in my publications.
This recommendation still left a major loophole through which dangerous
extracts of benzoin could slip.
This is that in the USA only very large cosmetics suppliers test their
products for their potential skin
In Europe all cosmetic type agents must now undergo full safety evaluation.
Smaller suppliers do not do that, and frequently do not have a clue as to
whether the benzoin they purchase is allergen free or not.
The cruder the benzoin the more potential to cause sensitization.
Additionally, benzoin oil most times contain a whole range of powerful
chemical solvents to make it pourable. The crude powder is of course free of
those solvents, but who knows what the heck the variety is being used and
certainly this will contain all of the allergens.
Anyone involved in product safety assessment should be familiar with RIFM
guidelines, if they are not familiar with them then they are not a competent
It may be that the use of low levels of benzoin in soap to prevent rancidity
in the fats used is OK. However RIFM do not make this distinction in relation
to benzoin and their advice does cover soaps and detergents.
Any small suppliers who claim their 1000 or so customers have NOT had any
problems are badly misleading people with such statements.
This is the same weak argument we hear time and time again in aromatherapy.
The fact is they DO NOT KNOW. Unless someone complains of a problem it will not be recorded, and even if
someone goes to a dermatologist the problem may never be traced to a
particular product or specific supplier.
Neither small soap makers or the aromatherapy trade have any system of
reporting adverse reactions to a centralized data gathering resource. Only
with such a system can any kind of assessment be made of problems occurring
One person in 1000 getting sensitized is far to high.
The fact that for example benzoic acid is a permitted food additive has
absolutely nothing to do with the use of crude grades of benzoin resin.
For a start whole benzoin will contain traces of dozens to hundreds of natural
chemicals both the good ones and the bad ones. The exact chemicals causing sensitization may not be known. Incidentally, even
benzoic acid is a recognized allergen within dermatology.
the fact that an extract is used safely in food has little relationship to the
same extract being used in skin care products.
For example a single drop of GENUINE cinnamon bark oil in an apple pie is
fine, but it should never ever be used on the skin unless its activity has
been modified by other additives.
In Europe and doubtless in the USA, there is increasing evidence that a significant number of the population (possibly up to 10%) are becoming
sensitized by the use of routine cosmetic and medicated skin applications.
Therefore the fact something has been used for years is without any meaning at
all in regard to safety. Many people thought smoking cigarettes was perfectly
safe, now look at the results!
The incidence of generalized allergic reactions are rising at a staggering
rate throughout the developed world. Part of the causes are of cause
environmental, but part are almost certainly due to what we put in and ON our
Incidentally, although rosemary extract (not oil) is a superb preservative
for fats, to the best of my knowledge it has not undergone formal safety
evaluation trials for use in skin care products. People seem to forget that any preservative that has a powerful anti microbial
activity is just as likely to kill your skin cells as the microbes.
Think about that one!
As a herbalist and essential oils educator, give me a well tried and tested
synthetic preservative any day to a natural one, particularly when the safety
of the natural one has not been adequately tested. Natural is NOT inevitably safe as many seem to think.
Finally for those that do not know, sensitization is not just an irritation
of the skin. It is an immune system response and can be temporary, but can be with you for
Those that become cosmetic ingredient sensitized can have the most appallingly
disfiguring skin conditions, particularly in young women when it is on their
faces or neck. No one making so-called "natural" products should ever forget
what the results can be if they do not educate themselves properly on safety.
Don't think your insurance will cover you, they will opt out as soon as they
learn you have manufactured products against the advice of best trade
Martin Watt, UK.
CERT. PHYT. MEDICAL HERBALIST
Martin Watt is a noted researcher, the author of Plant Aromatics, a Data and
Reference Manual on Essential Oils and Aromatic Plant Extracts, Frankincense &
Myrrh (with Wanda Sellar), Natural Beauty: How to use Herbs and fruit for skin
and body care (with Charlotte Mitchell). He is publishing a series of CD's of
interest to students of essential oils and botanical healing.