What's the Deal with Polysorbate? - Naturally Blended

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What’s the Deal with Polysorbate?

What's the deal with Polysorbate?

When you come to Plant Therapy, we know you are coming for trustworthy and informative information and DIYs. While searching the blog or website, you probably came across an ingredient or two that made you raise an eyebrow and ask, “What the heck is this, and why do I need it?” In most instances, that ingredient was probably an emulsifier or preservative. When talking about emulsifiers, that questionable ingredient was most likely some variant of Polysorbate. This might raise another question, like “Why would PT recommend Polysorbate?” Let’s talk a little bit more about that. 

 

What is Polysorbate?

In purely basic terms, Polysorbates are a class of emulsifiers used in cosmetics, food preparation, and some pharmaceuticals. As mentioned in the emulsifier blog post we linked above, emulsifiers help incompatible substances like oil and water stick together and prevent separation. This is important for essential oil-based products as it helps dilute the essential oils in products that contain water or Witch Hazel. While there are several different types of Polysorbate, the ones you may see most on our blog are Polysorbate 20 and Polysorbate 80. 

Polysorbate

The Difference Between Polysorbate 20 & 80

The number that follows the term Polysorbate relates to the type of fatty acid connected to the ethoxylated sorbitan part of the molecule. This in and out of itself is an entirely different and separate science lesson, so don’t really worry too much about that; focus on the different uses. 

 Polysorbate 20, unlike Polysorbate 80, is used more in cosmetic formulations rather than as an emulsifier and stabilizer in food. In cosmetics, it serves many purposes. Polysorbate 20 serves as an emulsifier and surfactant, as well as a viscosity modifier, stabilizer, and dispersing agent. It works well for lighter oils such as essential oils and is ideal for DIYs like perfumes or body sprays. 

Polysorbate 80 is used in both cosmetic formulations and as an emulsifying and stabilizing additive in the food manufacturing process. It works best for heavier oils such as carrier oils that aren’t as thin and volatile as essential oils. Due to the enhanced emulsifying properties of Polysorbate 80, it is ideal in DIYs such as bath bombs. It greatly reduces the bathtub’s slipperiness as more of the carrier oil is blended with the water. 

Oil droplets not mixing with water

Is It Safe?

This is probably the biggest question you have, and it’s an important one. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) database, both Polysorbate 20 and Polysorbate 80 receive a score of 1-3, depending on usage and purity. They are both not suspected to be an environmental toxin and are both designated safe for limited use in food. The EWG also reports that they are both generally safe and that there is minimal evidence of sense organ toxicity. 

The critical takeaway here is that not all Polysorbate products are created equal. The dangers and risks associated with Polysorbate aren’t with the product itself, but the contamination concerns of lower quality, lower grade Polysorbate products. In both Polysorbate 20 and 80, the contaminants that cause concern are Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-Dioxane. These contaminants can be avoided by sourcing Polysorbate from reputable suppliers that only provide the best, highest quality products available. 

 

Why Not Use Something More Natural?

The short answer is, there isn’t really another option. There is a natural dispersant called Solubol, but it is a lot harder to source, it is quite a bit more expensive. It also doesn’t have quite the range of ability either. There is of course Everclear,  which can double as both a solubilizer and preservative, but even that isn’t an exact substitution. If you wanted to use Everclear, you would not be able to add the finished product to the bath. It’s also not the nicest on the skin. It’s also not available everywhere.

209 thoughts on “What’s the Deal with Polysorbate?”

  1. Hi,
    Great read. Was not aware. And LOVE the fact you can use Everclear! Don’t have to worry about where to get those 2 additives. Everclear….easy peasy!

  2. Thank you so much for explaining the difference and for being thorough. I love the educational info and research you share.

  3. Wow extremely interesting. You would think the poly 80 would be used for essential oils because of the number 80 being higher than 20.

  4. So I think it’s important to understand this is not a natural product and isn’t completely harmless. Some studies have found it could be more harmful than currently considered. I don’t think it should be treated as if it’s necessary and safe. Yes it makes certain products easier to use but it’s not something needed and should be avoided at all costs if you want your product fully natural. I wouldn’t buy a personal care product with this ingredient and would never purchase something with synthetic preservatives. It’s not necessary and to me defeats the whole point in using natural products in the first place. But I’m glad your company at least opens the discussion on different ingredients. I would just appreciate not acting like ingredients are safe that do not have the extensively research to prove that or that you can’t make an alternative product that still works well enough without it.

  5. Sounds like a bad chemical. Would not have thought otherwise until I read this. Very good to know. Thank Yoy

  6. thanks for explaining the difference of these two in simple terms! i really appreciate it and all the learning you provide.

  7. Thank you for the explanation. Thank you Plant Therapy for the excellent information you provide. This is why I love this company!!!

  8. Great explanation! Excellent quality essential oils. No other can compare and I’ve tried 6 other companies before. Plant therapy simply makes them safe and the best! Thank you! 🙂

  9. I have a better understanding of what a polysorbate is and why it is needed. Thank you, will use this to step out beyond roller bottles.

  10. Thank you for this explanation. The first time I truly understood the difference. I will from now use this in my DIY products

  11. Oh! I had no idea! This is very informative as I am currently researching ingredients to create my own bath/body products for my small esthetics business.

  12. Thank you Plant Therapy for this detailed and information post on Polysorbate. I often wondered what Polysorbate is and if it safe. You have answered my quarry.

  13. Very interesting and good to know. I have used milk for years to solubise oils when adding to bath water. It won’t work for anything else but immediate use. But good if nothing else available and / or very sensitive skin

  14. I appreciate the explanation. It shows PT cares about its customers and giving them knowledge on the products they use

  15. I appreciate how PT shares all this info in one place so we can make wonderful diys. Im still learning of the ratios of Polysorbate but this is very helpful

  16. Thanks for the info. It really helps. And it is nice to know that everclear can be used, but that it is not as gentle.

  17. Interesting. Sometimes trying to do the best healthiest thing is overwhelming so I appreciate PT educating us!

  18. Good information. I have not tried either Polysorbate but will be trying it in the future. Thank you for providing up-to-date education to help us make good decisions in our safe use of essential oils.

  19. Thank you – Love making room sprays which most require distilled water which won’t mix with E.O. until…emulsified!

  20. I am so very happy that I found Plant Therapy! Along with great products, great prices you guys give very valuable information.

  21. Great information.
    I am grateful for Plant Therapy for all the education. Before I found PT, I never even realized the dangers of improper mixing.

  22. Will the health properties of essential oils be still there after using polysorbate? Or is it only fragrance that will stay?

    1. The polysorbate does not affect the therapeutic benefits at all. You’ll get all the essential oil goodness!

  23. I never viewed polysorbate 20/80 in a favorable light. I can honestly say that even after reading this, I still don’t have a positive feeling towards their use in products. However, I can appreciate that the lack of natural preservatives limits your ability to have other options. Thank you for your insight.

  24. Thank you for sharing this was very informative, I always enjoy learning new information that helps with making my diy essential oil creations.

  25. Thank you for breaking down the information and making it understandable. I appreciate the reference links to EWG’s info, too. I’m new to oils but you all make it so easy. I search PT whenever I have questions and I always find some blog post answers. Thanks PT!

  26. I’m glad to know the difference between 20 and 80 to inform a future purchase. I don’t want a slippery tub!

  27. Great information! Do you think PT will ever sell polysorbate so we know we are getting quality product for out diys?

  28. Hey thanks for the information
    Can i ask specifiiclly related other emulsifiers ina form of wax such as PHYTOCREAM, what are the recommendations for those?

  29. Thank you for the info. I would like to know where to purchase polysorbate 20 without Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-Dioxane?

    1. Unfortunately, because Plant Therapy does not align itself with any one company or brand, we are unable to provide sourcing recommendations beyond what we sell on our website. We recommend you research where you can source other high-quality products that you feel fit your family’s needs. A piece of advice we can offer is to never be afraid to ask the company questions on their products. In this case, ask what they are doing to prevent and ensure their products are free from contaminants. If they cannot provide an answer, it might be best to look elsewhere.

  30. I’ve never heard of this, so thank you for educating us 🙂 I’ve heard that emulsifiers make products easier to use as they blend ingredients like oil w/ water better.

  31. An easy read! Thanks PT for breaking it down so it’s easy to understand and helps us be better ingredient/label detectives.

  32. Thank you for that information about the polysorbate 20 and 80, it’s interesting to know the usage of this emulsifier, and how safe it is to use. It really increases my knowledge on diy. I really like to read more of your informative blogs.

  33. I love that you give this information to us! Some things are hard to research and some companies won’t share information.

  34. It is good to learn what to use and not use. It would defeat the purpose of using essential oils only to contaminate ourselves with chemicals to make a mix.

  35. Thank you so much for this. I love learning new things to make sure I am using the correct items to make my creations. This was a huge help

  36. Quite happy to have read this. Starting to venture into DIY body products with my oils and definitely learned a lot of useful information.

  37. Learned something new today. Now I understand why some bath oils, bath bombs leave a very slippery surface in the tub. Thanks for the info.

  38. Thanks for the explanation. I must admit that the word itself, polysorbate, did raise my eyebrows. 🙂

  39. Thanks for this. It is nice you include information even about products people might use but you don’t sell. It shows you care about more than sales.

  40. This was well written and easy to read. I’ve often wondered about polysorbates and what they are. Thanks so much. I’m not afraid of it any longer.

  41. I didn’t realize there were such limited choices for emulsifiers. The grade system makes a lot of sense and only makes me want to buy products that use polysorbate from ethical companies.

  42. Thank you for the explanation, I will keep an eye out for which things contain it on your website and which don’t.

  43. Thank you. Another reason why I love you guys as a company you take the time to keep us customers informed. This in turn helps us make the best decision for our family.

  44. Thank you for the wonderful information. I was not familiar with polysorbate. I found this to be very helpful.

  45. Very interesting read. Now I know the differences and if I will need it. I am an oil newbie and love that PT provides such clear answers to questions on their website.

  46. This a great explanation of what Polysorbate is, the difference between 20 and 80, how they are used, and why they are needed. Is there anyway to identify the quality of the Polysorbate used in food or other cosmetic products not carried by Plant Therapy?

    1. One piece of advice we can offer is to never be afraid to ask the company questions on their products. In this case, ask what they are doing to prevent and ensure their products are free from contaminants. If they cannot provide an answer, it might be best to look elsewhere.

  47. This information was very helpful. Now I understand polysorbate I will be more willing to use things with polysorbates in them after reading what kind! Thank you!

  48. I wish you could give some trusted source ideas. Besides a google search are there any good ways to do the research to find a trusted brand?

    1. One piece of advice we can offer is to never be afraid to ask the company questions on their products. In this case, ask what they are doing to prevent and ensure their products are free from contaminants. If they cannot provide an answer, it might be best to look elsewhere.

    1. Don’t be afraid to ask the company questions on their products. In this case, ask what they are doing to prevent and ensure their products are free from contaminants. If they cannot provide an answer, it might be best to look elsewhere.

  49. I also wish I could buy all the DIY products from Plant Therapy. I don’t do a lot of them because I don’t know where to get the materials.
    Please consider selling them. But I thought this was a great article and I know a lot more now. Thank You!

  50. I have used Polysorbate 20 in some DIY products to emulsify oils & waters. It makes them milky, but other than that it doesn’t seem to be a problem. When I first started using it I went to EWG to find out the level of toxicity and felt comfortable with their research. Thank you for posting a further explanation.

    1. Unfortunately, because Plant Therapy does not align itself with any one company or brand, we are unable to provide sourcing recommendations beyond what we sell on our website. It is up to you to source other high-quality products that you feel fit your family’s needs. A piece of advice we can offer is to never be afraid to ask the company questions on their products. In this case, ask what they are doing to prevent and ensure their products are free from contaminants. If they cannot provide an answer, it might be best to look elsewhere.

  51. I add Polysorbate 20 to almost all of my DIY’s because it makes the product more professional like you bought it at the store. I mainly use it so I don’t have to shake product up every use, and I know the essential oils are distributed evenly. It also last a long time too I normally go thru one 4 oz. Bottle per year so that’s nice.

  52. I feel much better informed about Polysorbate now and plan to acquire some to make DIYs. I have been reluctant to do so before for fear of doing something wrong.

  53. Sorry, but this is what I’ve always heard/read about Polysorbate 80 Source Fred Bloem MD, Polysorbate 80 is a known sterility causing agent in rats. It caused changes to the vagina and womb, ovary deformities and degenerative follicles and this impaired the rats’ ability to reproduce.

  54. This is the reason why I hardly DIYs. I only trust PT. I wish PT will sell polysorbate and other ingredients that is in your DIY recipes.

  55. Thank you for this explanation. After seeing much talk about polysorbate On the blog it’s great to get a better picture of what it is and why we should use it in diys.

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