What Is Sorbitol?
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is used in skincare as a hydrating and moisturizing agent. Sorbitol also functions as a thickener, improving the texture of formulations. Sorbitol also acts as a prebiotic ingredient, helping to feed the naturally occurring bacteria on the skin. The skin has a natural microbiome that helps to protect the skin from harmful bacteria and infection. When the balance of the microbiome is affected by over washing, harsh products, or illness, it has been linked with weakened skin barrier and a decreased resilience to infection.
Sorbitol is a naturally occurring sweetener that is found in many fruits and plants. Sorbitol was first identified in the berries of a tree called the mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia, by a French chemist in 1872. It can naturally be found in foods such as apples, pears, peaches, and prunes. Sorbitol can also be obtained by the reduction of glucose, which changes the aldehyde group to a hydroxyl group. Thus, sorbitol is classified as sugar alcohol. The majority of sorbitol is made from corn syrup.
the good:Sorbitol helps to visibly hydrate the skin, improve the texture of skincare formulations, and support the health of the skin’s microbiome.
the not so good:Sorbitol generally doesn’t cause any irritation.
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: Keep an eye on the other ingredients in your product to determine if it is suitable for your skin.
What Does Sorbitol Do For Your Skin?
Sorbitol is also used as a humectant or moisturizer in skincare formulations. A humectant is a water-attracting ingredient that pulls water into the skin leaving it hydrated and dewy. Due to its humectant properties, sorbitol is a useful ingredient for those with dehydrated skin.
Sorbitol may also be beneficial for aging skin. As we age our skin slowly loses the ability to maintain water-based hydration. The top few layers of the skin contain natural humectants or Natural Moisturizing Factors. NMF attract and retain water inside of skin cells to help in keeping skin hydrated. As part of the normal aging process, there is a significant decrease in the amount of NMF found in the skin, which leads to dryness and ultimately contributes to wrinkle formation. Therefore, applying products that contain humectant moisturizers can keep skin hydrated while working to reduce signs of aging.
Another function of sorbitol in cosmetics and skincare products as a thickening agent. Thickeners are important part of formulating as they help the product to be applied smoothly and evenly across the skin. This helps to ensure that the key ingredients of your product are getting distributed to where they need to work. Thickeners also help improve the feel of the product. This is mostly a sensory effect but makes the product feel nice on the skin.
You may be familiar with term microbiome in relation to gut health. Microbiome actually refers to a naturally occurring good bacteria balance, which can also be found on the skin. The microbiome is important for skin health, protecting the skin from water loss, damage, and infection. The natural skin microbiome can be damaged from over washing, using disinfecting products and harsh formulations. One way to help support the health of the skin’s microbiome is by feeding the good bacteria on the skin. This is where sorbitol comes in, sorbitol is able to act as a prebiotic, sustaining the bacteria on the skin and supporting the balance.
What Should You Know About Using Sorbitol?
There is one issue with humectants like sorbitol, they need to be formulated with occlusive ingredients. Occlusive ingredients are ingredients that help to form a protective barrier on the skin. This is important when formulating with humectants as without that barrier keeping the moisture in the water is lost to the air. This is important in dry environments as, if there is little to no moisture in the surrounding air, humectants can pull too much moisture from the lower layers of skin, leaving the skin appearing dry. Keep this in mind when looking for products with sorbitol.
What Are The Other Uses of Sorbitol?
Sorbitol primarily functions as a sugar substitute. It is about 60% as sweet as sucrose or sugar. You can find sorbitol in diet foods, cough syrups, mints, sugar-free chewing gum, mouthwash, and toothpaste. The sweetness of sorbitol makes this ingredient useful for lip products, such as lip gloss and lip balm as well.
Is Sorbitol Safe?
Sorbitol has been used for fifty years as a safe ingredient in both the cosmetics and food industries. The US Food and Drug Administration includes sorbitol on the list of direct food substances affirmed as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).
Sorbitol is also recognized as a safe ingredient for skincare and cosmetic formulations. Sorbitol doesn’t produce irritation or worsen the sensitivity and doesn’t produce any toxicity issues.
Purnamawati, S, Indrastuti, N, Danarti, R, & Saefudin, T, 2017. ‘The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review’, Clinical Medicine & Research, vol. 15, pp. 75-87. Cosmetic Ingredient Review, 2002. ‘Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Sorbitan Caprylate, Sorbitan Cocoate, Sorbitan Diisostearate, Sorbitan Dioleate, Sorbitan Distearate, Sorbitan Isostearate, Sorbitan Olivate, Sorbitan Sesquiisostearate, Sorbitan Sesquistearate and Sorbitan Triisostearate’, International Journal of Toxicology, vol. 21, pp. 93-112.