What is Polysorbate 20 (E432)? Uses, Safe, Side Effects

What is Polysorbate 20 (E432)? Uses, Safe, Side Effects


Table of Contents

Polysorbate 20 or Tween 20 (E432) is an emulsifier that is widely used in food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. This compound is classified as an emulsifier and surfactant, possessing surface active properties. It has uses in a wide variety of foods due to its ability to improve solubility of ingredients and enhance both flavor and shelf-life. Polysorbate 20 also helps modify the texture of some foods, such as bakery goods. Similarly, polysorbate 20 has excellent film forming capabilities in the personal care industry.

The compound is a mixture of sorbitan esters and polyoxyethylene ethers with an average molecular weight of 2,340±20 Da. Polysorbate 20 belongs to the group of nonionic surfactants, which are differentiated from ionic surfactants by having a hydrophilic head group that will not dissolve in water.

What is polysorbate 20?

Polysorbate 20 is a surfactant, which is used as an emulsifier in many food products. It is also used as a solvent in cosmetics, creams and lotions.

Polysorbates are nonionic surfactants (surface-active agents) that contain sorbitol esters of fatty acids. They are used as emulsifiers in foods and cosmetics, as solubilizers in pharmaceuticals, and as additives to animal feed.

Polysorbates were first introduced commercially by ICI (UK) Ltd., now called Innospec Inc., starting from 1965 under the trade name Tween.

Two 20 meaning

Polysorbate’s number 20 indicates the type of fatty acid attached to the ethoxylated sorbitan part of the molecule, here monolaurate or lauric acid.

This number 20 after polyoxyethylene indicates how many oxyethylene groups (CH2CH2O) are present in the molecule of polysorbate 20.

Room spray recipe with polysorbate 20


The following ingredients may be used to formulate a room spray containing polysorbate 20:

  • Polysorbate 20, 2-Ethylhexyl Ether
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Water (aqua)
  • Fragrance or Essential Oils

How is Polysorbate 20 made?


In general, it is produced by reacting sorbitol with lauric acid and ethylene oxide.

In the same process as polysorbate 80, sorbitol and lauric acid are esterified first to generate sorbitan esters, which are then condensed with ethylene oxide OR sorbitol and ethylene oxide are initially reacted, then esterified with lauric acid, to make the product.

Lauric Acid


Lauric acid (C12H24O2) is a saturated fatty acid found naturally in food and derived from:

  • coconut oil
  • palm kernel oil
  • yeast extract
  • butter

Lauric acid sold in the market is not pure and is a mixture of several different fatty acids.

As compared to the other three fatty acids, lauric acid has the shortest chain length, yet it is linked to ethoxylated sorbitan to form polysorbate 40, 60, 65, 80.

  • Oleic Acid  (C18H34O2)
  • Stearic acid (C18H36O2)
  • Palmitic acid (C16H32O2)

Difference between polysorbate 20 and 80

Polysorbate 20 and Polysorbate 80 are both emulsifiers. They are used in cosmetics, lotions and shampoos to create a creamy texture that is smooth on skin and hair.

Polysorbate 20 is made from natural vegetable oils such as soybean. It is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It is often used in foods such as ice cream and salad dressing to prevent oil separation. It is also used in medicines such as eye drops to prevent them from forming crystals.

Polysorbate 80 is made from soybean oil or rapeseed oil through an ethoxylation process using ethylene oxide gas to create an alcohol molecule attached to the fatty acid chain of the oil molecule. This makes it more water soluble so it can be added to liquid products like lotions or shampoo without separating out into layers when mixed with water or other liquids (i.e., creating an emulsion). It also increases shelf life by preventing mold growth since it inhibits bacterial growth in these products by disrupting their cell membranes through osmosis (water absorption).

Polysorbate 20 vs 80

Both polysorbates are derived from the same chemical structure, but have different molecular weights. Polysorbate 20 contains a single ester chain (CH2O(CHCHO)nH), while polysorbate 80 contains two ester chains (CH2O(CHCHO)nH). Both polysorbates are water soluble, nonionic surfactants with HLB values ranging between 10-15.

What is polysorbate 20 used for?

Polysorbate 20 is used as an emulsifier in foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. It is a nonionic surfactant that helps to stabilize emulsions by reducing the interfacial tension between the two liquids in a mixture. This allows for the formation of stable mixtures in which one liquid floats on top of another without mixing. Polysorbate 20 uses include the following:


Polysorbate 20 is used as a food additive. It is used in baked goods, candy, canned frosting, milk products, ice cream and frozen desserts. It helps to maintain the texture and consistency of these products by preventing crystallization or separation of ingredients.

Polysorbate 20 in skin care


As an emulsifying and surfactant, polysorbate 20 is used in cosmetics and skin care products. Furthermore, it functions as a viscosity modifier, dispersing agent, solubilizer and stabilizer to blend oil with water.

The purpose of it is to dissolve fragrance, colors, and essential oils in water, if it is not present, these ingredients and water will separate.

As a high HLB emulsifier, it can also be combined with low HLB emulsifiers (e.g. sorbitan esters) to provide oil in water or water in oil emulsions.

The following cosmetic products may contain it:

  • skin care products
  • hair products
  • Bath oils
  • shampoos
  • body sprays
  • face wash
  • Lotions
  • deodorant


Polysorbates are used to increase the solubility of hydrophobic compounds (such as pharmaceutical drugs) in water. They also reduce surface tension between different liquids allowing them to mix better.



Polysorbate 20 is used to dissolve or disperse medications so they can be taken orally or by injection.



Other Names
  • Polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan esters
  • Tween 20
CAS Number9005-64-5
Chemical formulaC58H114O26
Molecular Weight1228



  • Hydrophilic groups: long polyoxyethylene groups
  • Lipophilic group: lauric acid



Viscous liquid that is clear and yellow to yellow-green in color.

Hydrophilic – Lipophilic Balance (HLB)

16.7, oil in water (O/W) emulsion


  • Soluble in water
  • Soluble in ethanol, methanol, ethyl acetate.

Is Polysorbate 20 Safe to Eat?

Yes, it has been approved as a safe ingredient by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), as well as the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).



In food, polysorbate 20 can be used as a synthetic flavoring and adjuvant.


The Commission Regulation (EU) No 231/2012 lists polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate (E432) as a food additive, categorized as “Other additives other than colours and sweeteners”.

Safety re-evaluation in 2018

In 2018, its safety was re-evaluated along with other polysorbates (40, 60, 65, 80). No genotoxicity, carcinogenicity, or developmental toxicity concerns were identified, and the ADI was set at 25mg/kg bw/day.

UK Food Standards Agency

They fall under the category of “Emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners, and gelling agents”.


Function Class: food additives and emulsifier.

Acceptable daily intake: ADI “0-25mg/kg bw” was set in 1973.

What are the benefits of Polysorbate 20?

Polysorbates are a class of emulsifiers that help to solubilize or dissolve one liquid into another. They are used in many products to stabilize, suspend and improve the texture of the product.

The benefits of Polysorbate 20 include:

  • It is non-toxic and biodegradable, so it can be safely disposed of in landfills or sewage systems without contaminating the environment.
  • It can be used as a food additive as well as a solvent for flavorings and colors.
  • It is an excellent emulsifier for oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions, which helps keep ingredients mixed together properly while also preventing them from separating.
  • It can help keep ingredients mixed together by stabilizing mixtures that would otherwise separate over time. For example, it can help keep oil from separating from water when making salad dressing or mayonnaise.

What are the possible Side Effects of Polysorbate 20?

Polysorbate 20 is a chemical compound that belongs to the family of polyethoxylated sorbitan esters. It is a mixture of different esters that are derived from sorbitol and oleic acid. Polysorbate 20 is used as an emulsifier, thickener and stabilizer in the food industry. The presence of this chemical compound in food products can be a potential health hazard to consumers with allergies. Some of the possible side effects associated with the consumption of foods containing polysorbate 20 are discussed below.

Polysorbate 20 side effects including:

Allergic Reactions

Some individuals may experience allergic reactions after consuming foods containing this chemical compound. These reactions include skin rashes, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat and anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction). In order to prevent these reactions, people who are allergic to Polysorbate 20 should avoid eating foods that contain this ingredient.

Skin irritation.

Because polysorbate 20 is a detergent, it can irritate your skin if it comes into contact with it for too long or if you use too much of it at once. The irritation may develop as redness and swelling around the area where the product was applied; this is most likely to happen if you’re using a lot of polysorbate 20 or applying it to sensitive areas of your body (such as around the eyes).

Hyperactivity in Children

A study published in The Lancet found that children who consumed foods that contained artificial colors and preservatives were more likely to suffer from hyperactivity compared to those who did not consume such products. The researchers stated that they suspected that these artificial ingredients may cause hyperactivity in children because they were unable to test other chemicals.

Where to buy polysorbate 20?


The most popular polysorbate 20 is Tween 20. You can find it in most grocery stores, pharmacies and online at Amazon.

Frequently asked questions


Is polysorbate 20 natural?


No, polysorbate 20 is a manmade chemical, and it does not occur naturally in nature.

Is polysorbate 20 halal?

Yes, polysorbate 20 is halal. Most manufacturers use vegetable-based polysorbate 20 (typically made from soybeans). If you are looking for foods made with polysorbate 20 that are suitable for Muslims, check the label to make sure it does not contain any animal products.

Is polysorbate 20 vegan?


Polysorbate 20 is vegan. Polysorbate 20 is a food additive used to stabilize ingredients in cosmetics, food, and medicine. It’s made from non-animal plant oils and fatty acids, so it’s entirely plant-based and not derived from animals.

In fact, polysorbate 20 is typically made from soybean oil or canola oil.

Is polysorbate 20 kosher?


Yes, polysorbate 20 is kosher, as it contains no animal or meat byproducts and is made from vegetable oil.

Is polysorbate 20 gluten free?


Yes, polysorbate 20 is gluten-free. Polysorbate 20 is an emulsifier that helps mix water with oil to create a smooth, uniform texture in cosmetics and beauty products. It has been deemed safe for use in foods and cosmetics by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it should be fine for people who are sensitive to gluten.

Is polysorbate 20 safe for skin?

Yes, polysorbate 20 has been studied extensively, and the research shows that it’s safe for use on skin. In fact, it’s one of the most widely used surfactants (a type of ingredient) in cosmetic formulas.

Is polysorbate 20 safe?

Yes, polysorbate 20 is safe to use in foods.

What is polysorbate 20 made of?


Condensed with approximately 20 moles of ethylene oxide and other related components, the partial laurate esters of sorbitol and their mono- and dihydrides are combined.


The uses of Polysorbate 20 can be found not only in cosmetic products but in the food industry as well. It is considered safe to consume and can be used by those with certain medical conditions that could still use oil based products to avoid complications such as stomach upset. There are some people that need to avoid this ingredient though; for instance, a person should not eat it if he or she is allergic to peanuts (note: it is found in chocolate), or if he or she has leukemia.

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng is the author of gradechemical.com, she is the co-founder of the grade chemical network. She has been in grade chemical company since 2017, with a working knowledge of food chemical .

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