Our daily lives see us exposed to toxins in many forms. We breathe them in thanks to polluted air, we unwittingly apply them to our skin, serve them up disguised in our foods, not to mention inhaling cigarette smoke, even as a by-product of someone else’s life choices.
Our modern lifestyle is largely toxic, so much so that ‘detoxing’ is a term that we are used to seeing.
Unfortunately, allergies and disease are also things we are used to seeing, and medical studies are beginning to make connections between some of these toxins and damage to our bodies.
But what of polysorbate 80?
What Is It?
This is a lesser known synthetic compound, also known as Tween 80.
It is an amber/golden-colored viscous liquid. 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.
What Does It Do?
Polysorbate 80 (also known as Tween 80) is a food emulsifier, a surfactant in cosmetics, and an excipient used to stabilize aqueous medicine formulations. This synthetic chemical is a thick yellow liquid that is water-soluble generated from sorbitol, natural sugar alcohol, and the ethoxylation of sorbitan followed by the addition of lauric acid to create a polysorbate-type nonionic surfactant.
Polysorbate substances aid in the dissolution of other components in a solvent in which they would not typically dissolve. They also aid in emulsions’ formation by lowering the emulsified material’s surface tension.
Why Is It Used In Food?
Polysorbate 80 is a food additive with emulsifying qualities used in processed foods (the ability to prevent fats from separating). You can find it in commercially made frozen desserts, baking mixes, icings, and canned veggies, among other items.
Polysorbate 80 is also a defoamer in yeast and cottage cheese and a solubilizer agent in pickles, vitamins, and vitamin-mineral combinations.
If the food product includes polysorbate 80, you should find it among the ingredients on the label.
Why Is It Used In Cosmetics?
Polysorbate 80 is used as an emulsifier to blend oil and water in cosmetics. Polysorbate 80 is a common ingredient in hair care products and is used to blend thicker, heavier oils. Adding this ingredient to oil-based cosmetics may also help to eliminate clumping and settling. It is also a thickener and viscosity modifier since it prevents variations in a product’s viscosity when temperatures vary. It aids in the preservation of both scent and clarity in goods.
Polysorbate 20 is often used in water-based cosmetics to guarantee that essential oils and aroma oils combine well with the bases. Skin fresheners, skincare products, skin washing products, cosmetics bases and foundations, shampoos, permanent waves, and fragrance powders are other goods that include Polysorbate 80.
Why Is It Used In Medicine?
In medicine, polysorbate 80 is a common excipient and solubilizing agent. Polysorbate 80 is in lotions, medicinal preparations (e.g., vitamin oils, vaccinations, and intravenous preparations), and as an excipient in tablets in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.
Docetaxel, epoetin, darbepoetin, and fosaprepitant (used in chemotherapy, supportive care, or prophylaxis) are some of the medications produced with polysorbate 80.
Polysorbate 80 also acts as a solubilizing agent in amiodarone’s antiarrhythmic medication IV preparations.
What Products Is It Used In?
Polysorbate 20 is a benign and stable emulsifier and detergent that many utilize in households, scientific, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical applications.
In food: frozen desserts, shortenings, baking mixes and icings, canned veggies, yeast, cottage cheese, pickles, flavored mouth drops, shortening, margarine, dry mixes, peanut butter, ice cream, baked items, dairy products, dough conditioner
In cosmetics: hair care products, skin fresheners, cosmetics bases, foundations, shampoos, permanent waves products, fragrance powders, bath products, face cleansers, infant shampoos, face creams, linen sprays, balms, ointments, pomades, hair sprays, sunblocks
In medicine: medical lotions, vitamin oils, vaccination preparations, tablets, Docetaxel, Epoetin/Darbepoetin, Fosaprepitant (used in cancer for chemotherapy, supportive care, or prophylaxis), solubilizing agent for IV preparations, washing agent in immunoassays, solubilizing agent for membrane proteins, lysis solutions for mammalian cells in biochemical applications, Amiodarone, vitamin K, Etoposide, different vaccines, protein biotherapeutics, erythropoietin-stimulating medicines
The Effects of Polysorbate 80
Polysorbate 80 links to various side effects, according to a 2018 study. Small amounts of undigested polysorbate 80 in meals may promote bacterial translocation, explaining why Crohn’s disease is becoming more common.
Polysorbate 80 also links to a variety of systemic responses (e.g., hypersensitivity, non-allergic anaphylaxis, rash) and injection- and infusion-site adverse effects in medication formulations (ISAEs; e.g., pain, erythema, thrombophlebitis).
Another study showed that polysorbate 80 causes a patient’s anaphylactoid response, which was non-immunologic. In an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and immunoblot investigations, there were no findings of polysorbate-specific IgE antibodies, supporting the nonimmunologic origin of the anaphylactoid response.
According to rare case reports of liver toxicity, Polysorbate 80 may contribute to liver damage with the IV version of amiodarone. According to amiodarone package labeling, polysorbate 80 leaches DEHP (dioctyl phthalate) from PVC, and one should strictly observe dose instructions.
On the other hand, after reviewing the scientific evidence, the Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel decided that polysorbate 20 is safe in cosmetic formulations.
Should We Be Worried?
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)
However, it is also listed in the handbook of green chemicals.
Important: Not All Polysorbate 80 Is Created Equal
Some cosmetic grade Polysorbate 80 may potentially contain ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane and mono- and diethylene glycol as impurities, although worryingly these carcinogenic contaminants have also been picked up in food additives.
The report on Skin Deep gives Polysorbate a moderate hazard, with a 3/10 rating, but the contaminants ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane have ratings as a high hazard (8/10 and 10/10).
Generally, the cosmetic grade Polysorbate 80 is more likely to contain these impurities. Some natural cosmetics manufacturers are very careful about the quality that they use, and stick to only the food-grade Polysorbate 80.
What about scientific studies?
There are many published studies that analyze Polysorbate 80, but it is important to recognize their limitations before generalizations are made.
This study suggests a link between the ingredient and infertility in mice.
The relative weight of the uterus and ovaries was decreased relative to the untreated controls. ….. Ovaries were without corpora lutea, and had degenerative follicles.
It was seen to accelerate the maturation of female rats and resulted in deformities of the ovary. These effects were demonstrated in newborn mice which were injected with Polysorbate 80. It is certainly a concern when we consider that some vaccines may contain Polysorbate 80.
A separate study suggested that Polysorbate 80 could be a causative agent of a pregnant woman going into anaphylactic shock.
While this is also a worry, I would choose to be wary of this study as research was conducted on just one pregnant woman who had a severe allergic reaction to a multivitamin administered via IV. While doctors identified Polysorbate 80 as the cause, no other incidences of this type of reaction have been reported.
A recent study has shown a real connection between ingesting Polysorbate 80 and the development of bowel problems – it could be a real worry for those with a predisposition to Colitis.
Relatively low concentrations of two commonly used emulsifiers, namely carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, induced low-grade inflammation and obesity/metabolic syndrome in wild-type hosts and promoted robust colitis in mice predisposed to this disorder….These results support the emerging concept that perturbed host–microbiota interactions resulting in low-grade inflammation can promote adiposity and its associated metabolic effects. Moreover, they suggest that the broad use of emulsifying agents might be contributing to an increased societal incidence of obesity/metabolic syndrome and other chronic inflammatory diseases.
In a similar vein, the study linked here connected Polysorbate 80 to exacerbated Crohn’s Disease.
Crohn’s disease is common in developed nations where the typical diet is low in fibre and high in processed food. Primary lesions overlie Peyer’s patches and colonic lymphoid follicles where bacterial invasion through M-cells occurs. We have assessed the effect of soluble non-starch polysaccharide (NSP) and food emulsifiers on translocation of Escherichia coli across M-cells.
Translocation of E coli across M-cells is reduced by soluble plant fibres, particularly plantain and broccoli, but increased by the emulsifier Polysorbate-80. These effects occur at relevant concentrations and may contribute to the impact of dietary factors on Crohn’s disease pathogenesis.
Polysorbate 80 has also been causally linked with an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and of tumor growth or recurrence in patients with certain types of cancer.
Should We Avoid Polysorbate 80?
The evidence suggests that this ingredient is potentially toxic, particularly the lower grade versions – which are typically used in cosmetics that list Polysorbate 80 in their ingredients lists.
It can be considered a concern to accept vaccines that contain the ingredient.
The choice is ultimately down to you, and while we are told that ingesting Polysorbate is not a high risk, there are certainly some worrying issues.
When reading labels, be aware that it can also go by Alkest, Canarcel and Tween.
What are your thoughts? Do you already avoid Polysorbate 80? Or do you consider it safe enough for you and your family?