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
- Skin Creams
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.