Benzalkonium As A Preservative In Cosmetics

Benzalkonium chloride (BAC) is an organic salt composed of a number of compounds. They are classified as quarternary ammonium compounds. It is used as a preservative in cosmetics but not food. Most quaternary ammonium compounds are surface-active agents whereby they denature or precipitate proteins and so kill microorganisms.

They are also known as alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides, alkyl dimethyl (phenylmethyl) quaternary ammonium chlorides, ammonium alkyl dimethyl (phenylmethyl) chlorides, or ammonium alkyl dimethyl benzyl chlorides. They are commercialized as a mixture of compounds with different lengths for the alkyl chain. These range from C8 to C18, with higher biocide activity for C12 and C14 derivatives (EC, 2012).

These compounds have antimicrobial activity optimally against Gram-positive bacteria and yeast but some Gram-negative bacteria are killed as well. 

The agent is used in disinfectants, in suspensions and solutions for nasal drops and eye-drops. It is used in concentrations in the range of 0.01% up to 0.1%. These agents can also be combined with glycerol as a preservative for catheters.

Benzalkonium has been used clinically since 1935 as an ingredient in a variety of cosmetics and over-the-counter (OTC) products (U.S. FDA 1984, 1986).


European Commission EURL-SRM. (2012). Analysis of quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) in fruits and vegetables using QuEChERS and LC-MS/MS. EU Reference Laboratories, Fellbach, Germany.

U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration). 1984. The Division of Over-the-Counter Drug Evaluation Ingredient Status Report. Washington, D.C: National Center for Drug and Biologics. (HFN-510).

U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration). 1986. Cosmetic product formulation data. FDA computer printout. Washington, D.C., Cosmetic Ingredient Review.

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