What Is Polysorbate and What to Know About It

3 min read

Polysorbate is a derivative of ethoxylated sorbitan, a sorbitol derivative that exists as an oily liquid. They are in a class of emulsifiers and has a wide range of industrial application. It finds its use in preparing some pharmaceuticals, foods, and cosmetics.

In cosmetics, manufacturers use them in solubilizing essentials into water-based products. They are used to prepare foods such as salad, ice creams, baked goods, and chocolates. Polysorbate occurs in many forms, including polysorbate 20, polysorbate 40, polysorbate 60, and polysorbate 80. The numbers that come after polysorbate represent the type of fatty acid connected to the ethoxylated sorbitan portion of the molecule.  

Below is a look at the two common types of polysorbate, 20 and 80 

Polysorbate 80

According to polysorbate 80 SDS, this compound is a vital component used as a food emulsifier, a surfactant in cosmetics, and is also used in stabilizing aqueous medicine formation. It is generated from natural sugar alcohol, sorbitol, and the ethoxylation of sorbitan with the addition of lauric acid to make a nonionic polysorbate-type surfactant. 

From its structure, polysorbate has an approximately hydrophilic-lipophilic balance of 14. It is made from compounds readily found in vegetable; hence their final products have a natural origin and are free from genetically modified organisms. 

Polysorbate 20

Polysorbate 20, also known as Tween 20, is derived from sorbitol and forms a polysorbate-type nonionic surfactant after the ethoxylation of surfactant and before the addition of lauric acid. It is relatively stable and non-toxic and is used more in biochemical, cosmetic, and other pharmacological applications. In biochemical applications, polysorbate 20 has been used as a membrane protein solubilizing agent and a washing agent in immunoassays. 

In cosmetics, tween 20 is a safe ingredient according to Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Panel. It is a surfactant, emulsifier, stabilizer, viscosity modifier, and dispensing agent, making it perfect for DIYs like body sprays and perfumes and ideal for lighter oils like essential oils. 

Are Polysorbate 20 and 80 Safe 

As we mentioned earlier, polysorbate 20 has the approval of the CIR panel of experts. In other organizations, such as the Environmental Working Group (EGW), polysorbates 20 and 80 receive a score of 1-3, depending on their purity and usage. They are safe for cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications and are used selectively for food making. 

It is also essential to know that polysorbate product are made differently. The risks associated with the products are linked to the lower-grade polysorbate products and lower-quality contamination concerns. However, you can easily avoid such issues by sourcing the compound from top chemical suppliers who source their products from World’s top trusted chemical manufacturers. 

Polysorbate 80 is a pure vegan product that is safe for use. It is sourced from vegetable oils, hence its effective use in cosmetic products. If you want a better product for your DIY, that does not have toxic chemicals, polysorbate 20 and 80 are handy products. With many concerns about the work of ethylene oxide in production, manufacturers have ensured that it is only a catalyst in the process and not part of the end product. 

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