What Is Polysorbate 20?

I’ve got another ingredient which I’ve covered here today. It’s another ingredient that you’ve definitely seen on skin care product labels. If you don’t have any products at your house, then head on over to the local Sephora and you’ll find that many of them contain polysorbate 20. I know, it sounds “chemical-ly,” but don’t make any assumptions until you read this article completely. My main objective here is to cover this ingredient enough so that you have a solid understanding of what it is and whether or not you should avoid it. Just keep reading and you’ll know all you need to very soon.

Polysorbate 20

What Exactly Is Polysorbate 20?

That’s the magic question of the day and I’ve got the answer for you, fear not! As you know the ingredient lists of the skin and beauty products we use contain many things with complex, scientific names. Lots of people will undoubtedly get confused when reading the ingredient lists, and that’s why I’m sharing the details about this ingredient and many others here on skincare.net. In fact, I’ve covered some of the most widely used ingredients right here on this page.

One of the ingredients is obviously polysorbate 20.  What is it? Well, it’s an emulsifier, surfactant and fragrance carrier. Oh, and it finds its way in many everyday cosmetics products on more occasions than you’ll ever know.

Where Does It Come From?

The commercial or trade name of polysorbate 20 is Tween 20. All polysorbates are used as emulsifiers and have the same/similar composition of ethoxylated sorbitan, which is then esterified with a fatty acid. Sounds super complicated but trust me, you’ll get it, just stay focused. Back to the topic at hand here…

Polysorbate is a synthetic ingredient, but it’s derived from a natural ingredient called sorbitol. Yes, the same thing in that sugar-free gum you eat every day. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is dehydrated, yielding sorbitan, and by adding 20 ethylene oxides, we get a polymer with 20 units of ethylene glycol (the number 20 in the name comes from here). Then the polymer is esterified with lauric acid, and the resulting molecule is polysorbate 20 or Tween 20.

The Uses

Many products need to have specific substances/ingredients added to the formulas in order to lower the surface tension between the ingredients. This is especially true when attempting to mix a liquid and a solid, or liquids that don’t mix well together. These substances are called surface active agents, or surfactants. A surfactant has a hydrophilic and lipophilic end. The hydrophilic end is attracted to water, and water-soluble ingredients and the lipophilic end is attracted to oil and oil-soluble ingredients. It sounds more complicated than it is.

The surfactants assist or cause the emulsification of oils and their subsequent removal. This is especially important for those looking to wash away dirt and oils from the skin. It’s also important when washing dishes or clothes. The polysorbate 20 is the ingredient that makes this possible and is found in body washes or liquid soaps. Head on over to your shower and check the body wash out, my guess is that this is in the washes.

The Effects

As previously stated, the polysorbate 20 is an emulsifier that helps assist with the mixing of oil-based and water-based ingredients. The lipophilic end binds to the oil-based ingredients and the hydrophilic end binds to the water-based ingredient, effectively creating an emulsion between the two ingredients.

This means that those ingredients that you’re using would look like a natural jar of peanut butter (all separated) if it weren’t for this specific ingredient.

The other uses for this ingredient are in pharmaceuticals, solubilizing agents, and being used as a fragrance ingredient as it has a sweet, fruity scent.

Is It Toxic?

This is a synthetic substance and it has an approved daily intake concentration of up to 25mg per kg body weight. You should not exceed that intake level.

As an ingredient meant for use in cosmetic products, polysorbate 20 is rated as safe to use. However, there are some concerns related to possible contamination of polysorbate with 1,4-dioxane (a by-product during the production of polysorbate 20). The 1,4-dioxane can be a potential carcinogen and an allergen problematic ingredient. That is why I suggest that consumers be extra careful when purchasing cheaper products. Those cheaper products are often made with lower quality ingredients and that’s not going to help anyone in the long run, trust me.


Polysorbate 20 is a common emulsifier and a surface active agent in many personal care products. It’s responsible for being able to easily dissolve and wash of the oil, dirt and other grime from the skin. This ingredient is also used as a fragrance in many foods and mouth drops. It can be found under the E432 number. Last but not least, polysorbate 20 is rated safe to use in skincare products and body washes.

If you’re looking for products that contain this ingredient, then I would suggest checking out the Skinpro.com website. You’ll find some super products that they produce which do contain this ingredient. The Hemp Eye Cream by Skinpro contains this ingredient. I’d suggest giving that a try if you want to try something new.

What Is Polysorbate 20?
Rate this post