What Is Polysorbate 80 And Why Should You Avoid It?

May 31, 2012

Earlier this week I was in Whole Foods looking for a natural mouthwash per the suggestion of my dentist. Normally I use hydrogen peroxide if I need to swish something around in my mouth, but the dentist suggested I try something to help reduce plaque buildup.

Gazing upon the rows of “natural” mouthwashes, I noticed a trend amongst many of the brands – they contained an ingredient called polysorbate 80. I had no idea what that was, so I looked it up when I got home. Turns out, it has quite a few uses and may not be too good for us. So much for finding a safe mouthwash!

So, what exactly is it?

Polyoxyethylene-sorbitan-20-monooleate, or polysorbate 80 for short, is an amber/golden-colored viscous liquid used as as an emulsifier or surfactant in foods, medicines, skincare products, vaccines… and, of course, mouthwash. It helps bind ingredients like oil and water to each other. It is made from polyethoxylated sorbitan (chemical compounds derived from the dehydration of sugar alcohol) and oleic acid, a fatty acid found in animal and vegetable fats. Doesn’t seem so bad at first glance – it sounds like a mixture of sugar and olive oil! I wasn’t too concerned until I dug deeper into some research.

Turns out that it has been shown to cause a few things none of us would be interested in signing up for if given the choice. There are studies showing that it has been linked to infertility in mice, accelerated the maturation of female rats and resulted in severe ovary deformities, and an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and of tumor growth or recurrence in patients with certain types of cancer. A PubMed article studying polysorbate 80 said that it was a causative agent of a pregnant woman going into anaphylactic shock. In addition, studies have shown that it could be especially harmful to patients with Crohn’s disease.

Hmmm. Doesn’t sound like something I would want to find in anything I buy at the store. Let’s see what the Material Safety Data Sheet for polysorbate 80 has to say:

  • Slightly flammable to flammable in presence of heat
  • Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation.
  • May cause adverse reproductive effects based on animal test data. No human data found.
  • May cause cancer based on animal test data. No human data found.
  • May affect genetic material (mutagenic)

Again – doesn’t sound like an ingredient I would willingly ingest if I had an alternative.

So, what’s it found in?

Polysorbate 80 is in A LOT of products. Here’s a short, generalized list of where it is most often found:

  • Food shortening
  • Chewing Gum
  • Ice Cream
  • Gelatin
  • Vitamins
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Cosmetics
  • Skin Creams
  • Condiments
  • Medicines
  • Vaccines

Ice cream? Say it isn’t so!

If you look closely at the ingredient list of some of the things you buy, chances are you will find polysorbate 80 on the list. Some other names it goes by include Alkest, Canarcel and Tween.

Now, I am not a medical doctor nor do I pretend to be one on TV. But I do try to avoid potentially toxic ingredients in my foods, medicines, and skincare products whenever I can. And from now on, I will be checking labels more closely for polysorbate 80 and avoiding it like the plague. We are exposed to enough potential toxins during our everyday life; we don’t really want to pay for the privilege of ingesting something that could be very, very bad for us.

Image Credit: toxic vector rubber stamp from BigStock.

Filed in: toxic

About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
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Comments (11)

  1. Nancy Christopherson says:

    I have found it in dairy products too! Agh!

  2. Kelli worley says:

    I have been having allergic reactions to random things. I am wondering if is part of it. I am going to be paying much closer attention. Thank you.

  3. Shannon Silva says:

    I was told from a store clerk at whole foods that Neem oil would strengthen your teeth enamel

  4. Lorrie says:

    My kids just had extensive allergy testing through a specialized lab at my Integrative Pediatricians orders. They are off the chart allergic to Poloysorbate 80! Poloysorbate 80 is all new to me. Argh!!! How do we keep our kids safe when so many products are embedded with toxins?.

  5. Karie says:

    I would like to know what it is made from. I am allergic to corn, corn pollen and all corn derivatives. I have a 5 page list of derivatives and polysorbate 80 is on that list. Can polysorbate 80 be made from other things? For example, sorbitol is made from corn, but it can also be made from birch. So, does anybody know if polysorbate 80 can be made from another source?

  6. SHIRLEY YUILLE says:

    PLEASE BE WARE.

    I WAS TAKING 1 CAPSULE 100 MGS.,QUNOL, MEGA COQ10, DAILY. I bought these vits. from COSTCOS WAREHOUSE. I did not know it
    contained POLYSORBAT 80.

    I noticed after taking this vitamin it stopped me from sleeping
    and my entire insides seem to be beating faster even my heart.

    I was taking this product for about two months before I KNEW
    IT WAS THIS QUNOL MEGA COQ10 VITAMINS.

    HOW I DISCOVERED. I STOP TAKING IT AND I COULD SLEEP AND
    MY BODY QUIET DOWN.

    PLEASE DONOT BUY THIS PRODUCT FROM COSTCOS WAREHOUSE.

    I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN SUCH A BIG BOTTLE FOR CHEAP PRICE HAD SOMETHING TOXIC IN IT. I THROW OUT THE BOTTLE.

    SHIRLEY