Benzoic Acid: Structure, Formula & Uses

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  • 0:01 Structure & Formula
  • 1:30 Common Uses - Preservative
  • 2:10 Common Uses - Medicine
  • 2:45 Common Uses - Plastics
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

Benzoic acid is a compound that is present in various products, ranging from food to cosmetics. Why is it found in these products and what is this compound used for? In this lesson, we will learn about the structure, formula, and uses of benzoic acid.

Benzoic Acid - Structure & Formula

When we buy pickles or juice from the store, why do you think these items last very long without going bad? When we buy personal care products like lipstick or powder, which ingredient helps to make these products last very long? The answer to both questions is that these products contain benzoic acid, which acts as a preservative.

What exactly is benzoic acid and what does it look like? Benzoic acid is a solid that is crystalline in appearance, similar to white needles. A natural source of benzoic acid is gum benzoin, which comes from certain tree barks; however, benzoic acid can also be made by synthetic means.

The chemical formula of benzoic acid is C7H6O2: it has seven carbon (C) atoms, six hydrogen (H) atoms and two oxygen (O) atoms. This chemical formula can also be written as C6H5COOH. The chemical structure of carboxylic acid is shown here. On the left, we see that all the carbon and hydrogen atoms on the benzene ring are drawn out, and on the right, we see the shorthand way to draw a benzene ring (in blue).

Benzoic acid is an organic compound because it contains carbon, and it is also an aromatic carboxylic acid. It is aromatic because it has a benzene ring in its chemical structure. Benzene is aromatic because it has alternating double bonds between each carbon. It's classified as a carboxylic acid because it has a carboxyl group in its structure, which is the COOH group boxed in red.

Common Uses - Preservative

Benzoic acid is very useful in the food industry, personal care industry and in medicine as well. First, let's talk about its use as a preservative. Preservatives are very important; they make products last longer, and they help eliminate harmful yeast and bacteria. Benzoic acid is an ingredient in cosmetic products, dyes and insect repellents. Because of benzoic acid's anti-fungal nature, it acts as a preservative in these products by inhibiting the growth of mold, yeast, and bacteria. Benzoic acid is present in various products, including sauces, jams, jellies and candied fruits. In personal care products, it's found in mouthwash, toothpaste, powder, lipstick and facial cleanser.

Common Uses - Medicine

Have you ever had the misfortune of getting athlete's foot? We mentioned earlier that benzoic acid has anti-fungal properties. Because of this, it's present in anti-fungal topical solutions like creams, ointments, and lotions. Its presence in topical solutions helps treat ringworm and athlete's foot, and it can also help with skin irritation and inflammation. Perhaps you've heard of the ointments called Whitfields Ointment and Bensal HP, both of which have benzoic acid as one of their main ingredients. These ointments treat ringworm and athlete's foot.

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