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Polysorbate 20

Categories: Cleansing Agent, Emulsifier

  • Used as a mild cleansing agent
  • Derived from lauric acid, the primary fatty acid in coconuts
  • Also used as a food additive
  • Can be used to keep oral medications stable

In skin care, polysorbate 20 belongs to a group of cleansing agents most often derived from lauric acid, which is a medium-chain triglyceride (a type of fatty acid) found in coconuts.

Polysorbates for skin function as emulsifiers and have mild surfactant properties; some polysorbates are derived from the food ingredient sorbitol, which occurs naturally in many fruits, while others have a fatty acid component.

In addition to its use in both leave-on and rinse-off skin care products, polysorbate 20 is also used as a food additive to create a “spreading” feel (such as in cooling mint drops). Because of its stability, it is also used in drug delivery systems for oral medications to help keep them stable in the presence of digestive enzymes.

Though there have been some concerns raised about the safety of polysorbate 20, but the independent Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel has ruled it safe as used in cosmetics. The highest concentration of polysorbate 20 as used in cosmetics is in spray deodorants, where it is used in a concentration of 4%.

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