Polysorbate 80: Why Is Polysorbate 80 In My Product? Is It Safe To Use? - The Dermatology Review

Polysorbate 80: Why Is Polysorbate 80 In My Product? Is It Safe To Use?

ARTICLE

05.10.21 AD DISCLOSURE

What Is Polysorbate 80?

Polysorbate 80 is a skincare ingredient used in cosmetics and personal care products to improve the texture of products. Polysorbate 80 is used as a surfactant, emulsifier, and solubilizer, helping to produce smooth, easy to apply skincare and body care products. While the texture of the product is mainly a sensory, it is important to also help the product to spread easily deliver the key ingredients evenly to the skin.

Polysorbate 80 is produced by the ethoxylation of a molecule called sorbitan. Sorbitan is the dehydrated form of sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that can naturally be found in some fruits. Ethoxylation is a chemical reaction in which ethylene oxide is added to a substrate, in this case, sorbitan. Sorbitan is reacted with 80 units of ethylene oxide, which is where the 80 in polysorbate 80 comes from. Polysorbate 80 exists as a thick, water-soluble yellow liquid.

Polysorbate 80 is similar in function to polysorbate 20, and 60 which are used in skincare and cosmetic products as well. 

In addition to its function in cosmetics, polysorbate 80 can be used to prepare a wide variety of products in the food, drug, textile, and metalworking industries.

Polysorbate 80

the good:Polysorbate 80 improves the texture of products by working as a surfactant, emulsifier and solubilizer.

the not so good:Can cause some irritation in some skin types.

Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients

Keep an eye on:Nothing to keep an eye on here.

Why Is Polysorbate 80 In My Product?

In cosmetics and personal care products, polysorbate 80 functions as a surfactant, emulsifier, and solubilizer.

 

Surfactant

Polysorbate 80 is a surfactant. Surfactants work by lowering the surface tension between two substances, such as two liquids or a liquid and a solid so that can be mixed.  A common use for surfactants in skincare is to mix a water based ingredient with an oil based ingredient. A surfactant has two sides to the molecule, one that is attracted to oil and one that is attracted to water. It works by binding to both at the same time, mixing them together. Surfactants are particularly important in cleansers and body washes as they help to lift dirt and oils that have accumulated on the skin and allow them to be washed away. Due to its ability to work as a surfactant, polysorbate 80 is often found in many different cleansers and body washes.

 

Emulsifier

Polysorbate 80 is also an emulsifier. As an emulsifier, polysorbate 80 is often used in formulations that contain both water and oil components. Mixing water and oil together creates a dispersion of oil droplets in water. However, the oil and water can separate if the product is left to settle. To address this problem, an emulsifier like polysorbate 80 can be added to help the droplets remain dispersed and so that the product remains mixed and doesn’t separate. Emulsifiers improve the consistency of a product, which enables an even distribution of the benefits of the key ingredients.

 

Solubilizer

Polysorbate 80 has the ability to function as a solubilizer. It can be used individually, or in combination with a variety of other emulsifiers, to produce many different types of oil-in-water, and water-in-oil emulsion systems. When used alone, polysorbate 80 is excellent at dissolving essential oils into formulations and has good function as a thickener, stabilizer and prevents static.  Polysorbate 80 can also improve the ability to rinse off scrubs and cleansing oils, reducing the residue they leave behind.

Polysorbate 80 vs Polysorbate 20

There is very little difference between polysorbate 80 and polysorbate 20. They have similar chemical structures, with the only difference being that the type of fatty acid that is attached. In polysorbate 20 it is lauric acid and in polysorbate 80 it is oleic acid.

This difference has little effect on the abilities when used as a food or cosmetics additive. It makes polysorbate a slightly weaker emulsifier than polysorbate 80. This means that polysorbate 80 is better at emulsifying heavier oils. Making polysorbate 80 better suited as a food additive and polysorbate 20 more suitable for cosmetic formulations that utilize lighter oils. 

Is Polysorbate 80 Vegan?

Polysorbate 80 is a vegan ingredient. It is derived from vegetable oils and doesn’t use animal or animal byproducts in its production. 

If you are looking for a vegan product make sure to check the other ingredients in the formulation and ensure that the brand is cruelty-free. 

Is Polysorbate 80 Vegan?

Polysorbate 80 is a vegan ingredient. It is derived from vegetable oils and doesn’t use animal or animal byproducts in its production. 

If you are looking for a vegan product make sure to check the other ingredients in the formulation and ensure that the brand is cruelty-free.

Historically there are concerns about the presence of ethylene oxide and the ethoxylation process by which this ingredient is made. This concern stems from the production of 1,4-dioxane during the ethoxylation process. 1,4-dioxane has been linked to some forms of cancer. This is concerning however, manufacturing processes have been put in place to ensure that 1,4-dioxane is not present in the final product and polysorbate 80 is measured for impurities in the manufacturing process. It is also important to note that many of the studies that informed the link made between cancer and 1,4-dioxane specifically tested 1,4-dioxane not polysorbate 80. 

Polysorbate 80 has been known to cause some irritation and sensitization in some skin types. This is most likely to occur in skin types that are prone to irritation and sensitivity. If your skin is sensitive then it may be beneficial to avoid this ingredient. While this reaction is rare, it may be best to have a discussion with your dermatologist or doctor to determine whether it may be potentially contributing to the sensitivity you are experiencing. 

Other Uses

In addition to its function in cosmetics, polysorbate 80 can be used to prepare a wide variety of products in the food, drug, textile, and metalworking industries.The US Food and Drug Administration has approved polysorbate 80 as a direct food additive as adjuvants of flavoring agents or as multipurpose additives. Additionally, polysorbate 80 has FDA approval as an ingredient in eye drops.

References:
Cosmetic Ingredient Review, 2015. ‘Safety Assessment of Polysorbates as Used in Cosmetics’, Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel.

 

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