What is Polysorbate 80? Polysorbate 80 is a solubilizer with an HLB of 15; we use it to disperse oils into otherwise watery concoctions. Compared to Polysorbate 20 it is better suited to solubilizing true oils. From Croda: “[Polysorbate 80 is an] O/W [oil-in-water] emulsifier and dispersant often used in conjunction with the appropriate SPAN. Good solubilizing properties, recommended in systems with unsaturated lipid components such as oleyl alcohol and vegetable triglycerides”.

Polysorbate 80 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. It is safe for use in cosmetics when used as directed.

INCI Polysorbate 80
Appearance Pale yellow liquid
Usage rate 1–20%
Texture Smooth semi-viscous liquid
Scent Nothing strong; a bit “chemically”
pH 6–8 (5% 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 80 is used to disperse oils evenly so they don’t separate out.

In oil-based products like cleansing oils and cleansing balms, Polysorbate 80 adds cleansing power and boosts rinse-off.

In bath and body products it is used to ensure the oil in the product disperses into the bath rather than pooling on the top of the bath water, presenting a slipping hazard. The dispersion is also important for essential oils to ensure they are well diluted in the bath water rather than floating in a concentrated blob on the surface.

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 80 instead of a complete emulsifying wax or vice versa.

You cannot use a foaming liquid surfactant in place of Polysorbate 80, and Polysorbate 80 is not a good alternative for a foaming liquid surfactant.

How to Work with It Include polysorbate 80 in your oil phase; it can be hot or cold processed. In liquid/hydrous formulations you generally need more solubilizer than the oil you are trying to solubilize; precisely how much will depend on the formulation, but I’d start with at least 2–3x more polysorbate 80.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, Polysorbate 80 should last at least 2 years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks It can cause some foaming in your products but it isn’t a foaming/lathering surfactant (like the ones in this chart) and cannot be used in place of surfactants in recipes.
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 80

Thank you to Zack for helping with this entry!


Posted on

November 23, 2018