What is it? Polysorbate 20 is a solubilizer with an HLB of 16.7; we use it to disperse oils into otherwise watery concoctions. Compared to Polysorbate 80 it is better suited to solubilizing essential oils and fragrance oils. From Croda: “[Polysorbate 20 is a] Fully saturated liquid ester, recommended as an emulsifier for O/W systems and effective solubilizer for essential oils and perfumes in aqueous and aqueous/alcoholic systems. Also used as a mildness additive in detergent systems eg baby shampoo and cleansing agent in wet wipes”.

Polysorbate 20 is produced by “produced by reacting the polyol, sorbitol, with ethylene oxide” (source). Some people choose to avoid it because of contamination concerns with ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane. These are known potential contaminants and are carefully monitored and tested for. Purified versions of the ingredients (the ones we use) are safe. You can read the full safety report from the CIR here. Polysorbate 20 is safe for use in cosmetics when used as directed.

INCI Polysorbate 20
Appearance Pale yellow liquid
Usage rate 1–20%
Texture Smooth semi-viscous liquid
Scent Nothing strong; a bit “chemically”
pH 5–7 (1% aqueous solution)
Charge Non-ionic
Solubility Water & oil
Why do we use it in formulations? In watery concoctions like room sprays, body sprays, and hand washes polysorbate 20 is used to disperse essential and fragrance oils evenly so they don’t separate out.
Do you need it? It isn’t essential, but a readily available and cost-effective solubilizer option.
Strengths Inexpensive and effective.
Weaknesses It can have a tacky/sticky skin feel that comes through in finished products.
Alternatives & Substitutions Check out this page to learn more about making solubilizer substitutions.

You cannot Polysorbate 20 instead of a complete emulsifying wax, and you cannot use a complete emulsifying wax in place of Polysorbate 20.

You cannot use a liquid surfactant in place of Polysorbate 20, and Polysorbate 20 is not a good alternative for a liquid surfactant.

How to Work with It Mix the Polysorbate 20 with any essential oil fragrance oils before gently whisking it into the water phase. You will generally need at least 5–10x as much Polysorbate 20 as essential oils—it varies with the essential oil/fragrance oil.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, Polysorbate 20 should last at least 2 years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks It can cause some foaming in your products but it isn’t a foaming surfactant and cannot be used in place of foaming surfactants in formulations.
Recommended starter amount 100mL (3.3fl oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Polysorbate 20

Thank you to Zack for helping with this entry!


Posted on

November 23, 2018