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Benzaldehyde is a colorless liquid with a pleasing almond scent. It turns into a vapor almost immediately when it is heated, and it is used as a flavor component in both regular and e-cigarettes.
Benzaldehyde isn't just used as a flavoring component in products we smoke. It's actually hard to escape benzaldehyde. Not just the source of that almond-like aroma in almonds themselves, benzaldehye is also found in peaches, cherries, apples, and apricots. It's found in essential oils, including cinnamon, citronella, sassafras, hyacinth, rock rose, and patchouli. It's added to wine, beer, candy, baked goods, puddings, soft drinks, chewing gums, shaving cream, deodorants, bath soaps, and moisturizers, and it's used as an industrial solvent. A Swedish study found benzaldehyde in the house dust collected in 373 out of 389 homes.
The major regulators of chemical flavoring agents like the FDA in the USA don't get especially upset about benzaldehyde because it's not linked to cancer or birth defects. Benzaldehyde doesn't accumulate in the internal organs, and it rapidly breaks down into a chemical called benzoic acid, which is easily detoxified by the liver. The FDA even labels it as GRAS, generally recognized as safe. That doesn't mean, however, it's completely safe in all situations.
Benzaldehyde Is an Irritant of the Eyes, Nose, and Throat
Nobody gets a sore throat from eating cherries or eye irritation from chewing gum, but the benzaldehyde in e-cigarettes may be too much of a good thing. Here are some of the reasons why.
- Because benzaldehyde breaks down into benzoic acid once it gets inside the bloodstream, researchers relied on safety reports for benzoic acid rather than taking a closer look at benzaldehyde itself. A lone investigator used actual benzaldehyde in animal testing and found that it can cause swelling, redness, and irritation of the eyes.
- Just about no one is allergic to benzaldehyde itself, but repeated exposure to benzaldehyde potentiates allergies to other substances. If you are repeatedly exposed to benzaldehyde, your "allergies will act up."
- Safety regulators labeled benzaldehyde as non-mutagenic after running tests on bacteria (this is standard procedure). However, when an investigator did a follow-up study, benzaldehyde was found actually to be mutagenic in guinea pigs, and to encourage mutations when cancer already exists. In other words, it won't give you cancer, but it possibly makes at least one form of cancer, lymphoma, more difficult to treat.
- Exposure to formaldehyde, which is in a variety of products ranging from real cigarettes to fingernail polish, increases the sensitivity of the lungs and nasal passages to benzaldehyde.
- Benzaldehyde inside the body is largely non-toxic. In testing with rabbits, however, it only took 750 parts per million to cause irritation of the lungs and 1000 parts per million to cause death.
How Can Something Generally Recognized as Safe Cause Death?
As disturbing as are the results of these studies conducted after benzaldehyde was approved for general use, this chemical really is safe in most of the applications for which it is used. If it is put into food or a product like toothpaste, your liver promptly breaks it down into a safe form. If it is used in deodorant, it as most contributes to heightened sensitivity on your skin. If you are using a vaping solution that contains benzaldehyde over and over again, however, it may be a major contributor to scratchy throat, eye irritation, allergies, and asthma. Just how bad is the problem?