What Are Polysorbates & How to Use Them in Cosmetics
Polysorbates are in many personal care, food, and some pharmaceutical products, and you’ll find them frequently in perfumes and colognes. Here we discuss what they are and how to use them.
What Are Polysorbates?
Polysorbates are emulsifiers with mild surfactant properties and are used primarily to solubilize essential oils into water-based cosmetics. Since oil and water don’t naturally mix, you need a solubilizer or emulsifier for the oil and water molecules to bond and avoid that layer of oils at the top of your product.
Polysorbates are a class of ingredient, created when the sugar alcohol Sorbitol interacts with 20 moles of ethylene oxide. The number that follows (typically 20 or 80) refers to the type of fatty acid attached to this molecule. For example, Polysorbate 20 can be called polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monolaurate). This produces sorbitan monolaurate. You’ll typically see a number after the name, either 20, 60, or 80. For example, we sell Polysorbate 20.
Polysorbate 20 is a non-ionic surfactant and emulsifier derived from oleic acid, and is a mix of naturally derived and synthetic ingredients. It’s also known as TWEEN20.
How to Use Polysorbates
Polysorbates help prevent the need for “shake before use” products and perfumes, but depending on the specific makeup of your essential oils can cause the liquid to become a little cloudy. You’ll have to experiment with your particular essential oil blend to figure out which oils cause cloudiness and which don’t.
The two most common polysorbates for perfumery are Polysorbate 20 and Polysorbate 80. Polysorbate 80 tends to be a little ‘stronger’ but a little darker, so if you can achieve your desired solubility with Polysorbate 20 that is usually the preferred choice. It works well with essential and fragrance oils and thus is the primary choice for perfumes and colognes. It does not tend to foam, and is considered to be slightly more gentle.
Use polysorbate at a 1:1 ratio with your essential oils, mixing them together. Then add in to your water or alcohol base. Start with a small tester amount—you may need a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio, again depending on the specifics.
A Note On Safety
Polysorbates are considered non-toxic and safe as used in the concentrations found in cosmetic and personal care products. However, there has been some concerns raised about the presence of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Our manufacturer carefully processes our polysorbate to remove the compounds down to 1 part per million, and polysorbates are considered safe to use as directed.
Create Your Own Body Spray
Ready to create your own body spray? It’s easy!
Start with our Body & Linen Spray. It already has a small amount of polysorbate 20, but since you’re adding more essential oils we’ll add more polysorbate 20 as well.
We wanted to create about a half gallon of a spray (64 ounces), so we started with that much base spray. We then mixed together 1.5 ounces of an essential oil blend, in this case our very popular Citrus Burst Essential Oil Blend, with 1.5 ounces of polysorbate 20. Once mixed, we added to the base spray and mixed well. That’s it!
To follow along with our video or get written instructions, check out this recipe for a Citrus Burst Room/Body Spray.