One of the most commonly used variants of polysorbates in the cosmetics industry is polysorbate 20. It is a monolaurate with a hydrophilic-lipophilic balance (HLB) of 16.7. The main ingredients of PS 20 are sorbitan monolaurate, fatty acids with an average alkyl chain length of 12 carbon atoms, and ethylene oxide (EO).
Polysorbate 20 is a nonionic surfactant that can be used in various cosmetics and personal care products. Due to its oily, liquid, and mild nature, PS 20 can be used as a nonionic surfactant and wetting agent, thus enhancing the spreadability of liquids. It is also commonly used as a solubilizer, as it can attach fragrances and essential oils to various types of cosmetic matrices. The substance prevents oil and base materials (such as cream, liquid, or gel bases) from separating. Polysorbate 20 is usually used as a dispersant, as it helps to spread the oil throughout the water and serves as an anti-static agent to prevent the accumulation of static charges. Adding this compound to oily cosmetics can also reduce and prevent clumping or precipitation. In addition, it is used as a thickener and viscosity modifier, as it can prevent viscosity changes in products with temperature changes. It helps products maintain their scent and clarity.
Polysorbate 20 is usually added to water-based cosmetics to ensure that essential oils and aromatic oils mix with the matrix that adds them. Due to its non-irritating and soothing properties, it is commonly used in bath products, face wash, baby products, and shampoos. Other applications of polysorbate 20 include face creams, linen sprays, lotions, perfumes, ointments, hair oils, hair gel, and sunscreens.
As far as the toxicity or potential hazards of polysorbate 20 are concerned, there are no studies to date indicating significant issues. Nevertheless, according to the Safety Data Sheet, the material may irritate mucous membranes and the upper respiratory tract. Ingestion, inhalation, or skin absorption may also be hazardous if not careful. The main side effects of using polysorbate 20 include irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. However, in most studies on material irritancy to the body, polysorbate 20 does not irritate the skin. Its toxicity characteristics have not been thoroughly researched, and carcinogenic data has not been published. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel evaluated the data and concluded that polysorbate 20 is safe as a cosmetic ingredient.