Structural formula of polysorbates 60


What is it?

“Polysorbates are a class of emulsifiers used in some pharmaceuticals and food preparation. They are often used in cosmetics to solubilize essential oils into water-based products.” Wikipedia

What are the effects?

This substance belongs to the groups:

Includes for example Polysorbates 20, Polysorbates 40, Polysorbates 60, Polysorbates 80.

This family of substances might be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. To produce polysorbates, polyol sorbitol is reacted with ethylene oxide. In this reaction 1,4 dioxane can be formed as a by product. The number following, for example polysorbate 80, refers to the number of ethylene oxide moles that has been reacted.

These substances may be derived from animals. It can be sourced from fatty acids but are also commonly derived from plant sources. The polysorbates are included on the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) “Animal-derived Ingredient List”. Look for vegan stamps or ask the manufacturer to know if the ingredient contains animal biological parts.


Even though it is not listed on the ingredient labels, products with polysorbates are likely to contain trace amounts of:

  • 1,4- dioxane – linked to cancer
  • Ethylene oxide –  linked to cancer, organ system toxicity, genetic defects and irritation

How is it used?

Polysorbates are used as fragrance ingredients, emulsifying agents and solubilizing agents in cosmetic* and household products. They are for example found in water-based products where they are used to mix in essential oils.

These substances are also common to find in foods. One example is ice cream, where polysorbates work to make the ice cream smoother and counter melting.


We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.

Did you find this ingredient in a product?

Comment and share with a link!