What is Polysorbate 80 (E433) in Food? Uses, Safe, Side effects

What is Polysorbate 80 (E433) in Food? Uses, Safe, Side effects

What is Polysorbate 80 (E433)

Table of Contents

Polysorbate 80 ( E433 ) or Tween 80 and span 80, is a non-ionic surfactant and a polyethoxylated sorbitan ester. Sometimes it can be used as an emulsifier in food. It’s often used in cream based desserts and only certain FDA approved products are allowed to contain it. In some other countries, the compound is considered safe for human consumption. Though its chemical structure contains ethylene oxide, it’s not known to have any contamination with 1,2-epoxybutane.

What is polysorbate 80?


Polysorbate 80 is a synthetic surfactant or detergent that can be found in many types of foods, cosmetics and medicines. It is a mixture of three esters made from sorbitol, oleic acid and polyoxyethylene 20 moles of ethylene oxide. The latter makes it an ethoxylated alcohol.

The name polysorbate 80 refers to the fact that there are 80 ethoxylated groups on each molecule. This gives it a very high ‘hydrophilic’ (water-loving) character that helps break down fats and oils in food products so they can be easily mixed with water-based liquids like juice or milk.

What are 80 (after polysorbate) and 20 (following polyoxyethylene) stands for?

  1. The number 80 refers to the fatty acid attached to the polyoxyethylene sorbitan part of the molecule, here monooleate or oleic acid.
  2. In this molecule, 20 represents the total number of oxyethylene groups (CH2CH2O).

What foods contain polysorbate 80?


Polysorbate 80 is an emulsifier and surfactant used in foods and cosmetic products. It is a common ingredient in ice cream, candy, baked goods, salad dressings and many other food products.

Polysorbates are a family of chemicals that can be derived from either plant or animal sources. Polysorbates are also used as emulsifiers in cosmetics and beauty products such as shampoo and conditioner, makeup remover and even hair gel.

Foods that may contain polysorbate 80 include:

  • Ice cream
  • Candy bars
  • Vegetable oil spreads (such as peanut butter)
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces like ketchup or chocolate syrup
  • Baked goods (breads, cakes, cookies)

What is the substitute for Polysorbate 80?

Polysorbate 80 is a commonly used emulsifier in cosmetic formulations. It is often used as a preservative to inhibit bacterial growth and extend shelf life. Polysorbate 80 also acts as a surfactant, which means it lowers the surface tension between two liquids and allows them to mix together smoothly.

There are several alternatives for polysorbate 80 in cosmetic formulations, polysorbate 80 substitute including:

Polysorbate 20 is another nonionic surfactant that can be used as an alternative to polysorbate 80. It has similar functional properties, although it has a higher HLB value (7 compared to 5) and may be less effective at lowering surface tension between two liquids. Like polysorbate 80, this compound is also used as an emulsifier or foaming agent in food products such as ice cream and baked goods.

Cetyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol used as a thickener, emollient and stabilizer in cosmetics and personal care products like shampoos or conditioners. It also functions as an emulsifier or foaming agent in various household items like shampoo, lotion and body wash products. Cetyl alcohol does not have any antibacterial properties.

How is Polysorbate 80 made?


Polysorbates (20,40, 60, 65, 80) are ethoxylated sorbitan esters produced from sorbitol, a specific fatty acid, and ethylene oxide (average of 20 polymerized ethylene oxide molecules per polysorbate 80 molecule).

Oleic acid is the fatty acid used in the production of polysorbate 80.

Let’s look at its two raw materials.


Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol (polyhydric alcohol) that has 4 hydroxyl groups (-OH). It is produced by the hydrogenation of sorbitol which is then hydrolyzed to produce sorbitol. The hydrogenation takes place using a catalyst such as nickel/palladium on a carrier like silica or alumina, at elevated temperatures (200-300°C) and high pressure (20-30 bar).

Oleic Acid


Oleic acid is produced from oleic acid which is obtained from vegetable oil. The process involves catalytic hydrogenation of the acid followed by hydrolysis of the resulting fatty acid ester.

Oleic acid is also present in nature in the form of triglycerides, like other fatty acids. These are some of the vegetable oils that are high in oleic acid:

  • Olive oil
  • Pecan oil
  • Canola oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Macadamia oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Grape seed oil
  • Sea buckthorn oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Poppyseed oil

Manufacturing process

There are generally two steps in the manufacturing process of polysorbate 80, according to the FDA:

  • Obtaining sorbitan esters through esterification of oleic acid and sorbitol.
  • The condensation of sorbitan ester with ethylene oxide.

A polysorbate 80 product can also be produced by reacting sorbitol and ethylene oxide first, then esterifying it with oleic acid, as outlined below:

  • A mixture of sorbitol and sorbitan is obtained by partially dehydrating sorbitol.
  • By adding ethylene oxide to the mixture, sorbitan polyethylene ether can be obtained.
  • Making it react with oleic acid.



Other Names
  • Tween 80
  • Polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monooleate
CAS Number9005-65-6
Chemical formulaC64H124O26
Molecular Weight1310



Image Source

  • Hydrophilic groups: Polyoxyethylene groups, which are ethylene oxide polymers
  • Lipophilic group: oleic acid



A viscous, thin, oily liquid at 25°C that has a lemon-to-amber color.

Hydrophilic – Lipophilic Balance (HLB)

15, gives oil in water emulsions, O/W


A viscosity agent, it has a viscosity of 300-500 centistokes (at 25°C).



In Water

It is soluble in water due to its long polyoxyethylene chains.

In Organic Solvents


Soluble in most solvents, such as ethanol, methanol, ethyl acetate, toluene.

Difference between polysorbate 20 and polysorbate 80

Polysorbate 20 vs 80

Polysorbate 20 and polysorbate 80 are both emulsifiers, a type of additive that helps keep oil and water from separating. They are used in foods, cosmetics, toothpastes and other products. Although the two additives have similar names and purposes, they are actually quite different.

Polysorbate 20 is a nonionic surfactant derived from sorbitan monostearate (SMS), which is made from vegetable oils or animal fats. It is used as an emulsifier in foods, cosmetics and personal care products. Polysorbate 80 is also a nonionic surfactant but it’s made from sorbitane monooleate (SMO), which is derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. It’s used as an emulsifier in foods, cosmetics and personal care products too.

The main differences between polysorbate 20 and polysorbate 80 have to do with their chemical structure.

What is polysorbate 80 used for?


Polysorbate 80 is a nonionic surfactant made from sorbitan monooleate. It’s used in foods, cosmetics, and drugs as an emulsifier and stabilizer. Polysorbates are also used in other industries including paper, paint and textile manufacturing.

Polysorbate 80 is a clear, viscous liquid that can be slightly yellow or colorless. It has a mild taste and smell similar to sucrose (table sugar) or ethyl alcohol.

Polysorbate 80 in food


Food manufacturers use polysorbates to make products creamier and to reduce their water content. Ice cream manufacturers use polysorbates to help stabilize the emulsification of flavors, colors, and other ingredients.

Polysorbate 80 is also used in a variety of food applications, including salad dressing and mayonnaise.

Ice cream

Polysorbate 80 is a common food additive that is often used in ice cream to enhance the taste of ice cream. It also prevents milk fat and water from separating after freezing; it also helps prevent ice crystals from forming during freezing of the product; and it maintains a smooth texture for rapid melting during serving.



Polysorbate 80 is used to prevent the separation of water and oil in pickles.

Vitamin supplements

Vitamin supplements sometimes use polysorbate 80 as an emulsifier to help dissolve vitamins in water-based liquids like juice or milk so they can be taken orally.

Butter sauce

Polysorbate 80 can be used to make a smoother butter sauce with less separation between the liquid and fat layers than if the ingredient were not present. This can help prevent curdling of the butter sauce when heated too quickly over high heat or added directly to hot food products such as sauces or gravies where there may be rapid temperature changes that could result in curdling.

Polysorbate 80 in skin care


Polysorbate 80 comes from the fatty alcohol sorbitol and polyoxyethylene, which is a large molecule made up of ethylene oxide units. In cosmetics and personal care products, it functions as a cleansing agent that removes oils and fats from the skin and hair.

Among the products that may contain polysorbate 80 are:

  • Bath bombs
  • Shampoo
  • Body butter
  • Soap

Polysorbate 80 uses in pharmaceuticals

In pharmaceuticals, polysorbate 80 is used as an emulsifying agent by itself or combined with other ingredients such as lecithin (phosphatidylcholine). This helps it mix better with oils and fats so they can be taken by mouth without being destroyed by stomach acid before they reach your intestines where they can do their job.

Drugs containing polysorbate 80

Polysorbate 80 is also used to keep drugs stable when they’re injected into the body. The drug can be dissolved into an emulsion with polysorbate 80 before being injected into the patient’s bloodstream.

Polysorbate 80 in eye drops

The most common use for polysorbate 80 in medicine is eye drops to treat eye infections caused by bacteria called conjunctivitis (pink eye). Because these infections are usually caused by viruses rather than bacteria, antibiotic drugs won’t work against them but polysorbate 80 does.

Is Polysorbate 80 Safe to Eat?

Yes, it has been approved as a safe food additive by the United States, 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 80 is a multifunctional ingredient that functions as an emulsifier, defoamer, solubilizing agent, dispersant, surfactant, wetting agent, and adjuvant.

This substance can be found in the following foods and at maximum levels:

  • Ice cream 0.1%
  • Yeast defoamer 4ppm
  • Pickles, pickled products 500 ppm
  • A maximum intake of 175-475 milligrams of polysorbate 80 per day is recommended for vitamin preparations
  • Shortenings and edible oils 1% (with polysorbate 60 or not)
  • cottage cheese 0.008%
  • Whipped edible oil topping 0.4% with/not sorbitan monostearate/polysorbate 60/polysorbate 65
  • Gelatin desserts and mixes 0.082%
  • Barbecue sauce 0.005%


As an authorised food additive, polyoxyethylene sorbitan monooleate (E433) is listed in Commission Regulation (EU) No 231/2012 as an addition other than colours and sweeteners.

Approved uses

Polysorbates 20 (E432), 40 (E434), 60 (E435), and 65 (E436) are listed together with their application in polysorbate formulations with maximum use levels of 500-1000 mg/kg. There is a use for it as a “quantum satis” in liquid food supplements and power drinks (not for infants and young children). Foods that may contain it include:

  • Flavoured fermented milk products
  • Milk and cream analogues
  • Fat emulsions for baking
  • Sugar confectionery
  • Chewing gum
  • Decorations, coatings and fillings
  • Fine bakery wares
  • Soups, sauces
  • Desserts

Safety re-evaluation in 2018

It was based on studies of genotoxicity, carcinogenicity, developmental toxicity, and other safety research that EFSA established the ADI of 25 mg/kg of body weight/day.

UK Food Standards Agency

It is categorized under “Others”

Food Standards Australia New Zealand


The code number 433 for this ingredient is approved in Australia and New Zealand.


Function Class: food additives and emulsifier.

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

What are the benefits of polysorbate 80?

Polysorbate 80 is an emulsifier, a type of chemical that helps blend together substances that would otherwise not mix. It has a variety of uses in the food industry, and sometimes it’s added to processed foods.

The primary benefit of polysorbate 80 is that it makes oil and water mix with one another. This can be helpful when creating foods such as salad dressings and ice cream, which traditionally would need to be shaken to blend together.

Polysorbate 80 also acts as a stabilizer in some products, helping them retain their shape and texture over time.

In addition to these benefits, there may be some other health benefits associated with polysorbate 80. Some studies indicate that the emulsifiers found in this chemical may help prevent colon cancer cells from growing by preventing cancer-causing chemicals from reaching them through the lining of the intestine (called mucosal immunity).

What are the possible side effects of polysorbate 80?

Polysorbate 80 side effects include:

  • Blood brain barrier disruption
  • Two carcinogens: ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane
  • Some allergic symptoms

Blood brain barrier disruption


Polysorbate 80 is used to solubilize drugs in the pharmaceutical industry, but it has also been found to increase permeability of the blood brain barrier (BBB). This means that the drug can cross into the brain more easily, with potentially dangerous consequences. The BBB is a layer of cells that separates circulating blood from the brain, preventing toxins and pathogens from entering your brain. The BBB also protects your brain from certain medications, which is why some drugs are delivered directly into the cerebrospinal fluid instead of intravenously.

Ethylene Oxide

Ethylene Oxide. Ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen and has been linked to cancer in humans. It is used as a sterilizing agent for medical equipment and supplies. It also causes reproductive harm in animals, including birth defects in mice and rats.


Polysorbate 80 is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen. In fact, the FDA requires that any product containing polysorbate 80 must be labeled with a warning about the presence of this contaminant (FDA 2009). The FDA does not require testing for 1,4-dioxane in cosmetics or personal care products but does recommend that manufacturers conduct their own tests and label their products accordingly (FDA 2009).

Polysorbate 80 allergy

Polysorbate 80 can cause an allergic reaction in some people. This can include skin irritation, swelling, itching and hives.

Other possible adverse effects

Polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose (sodium CMC) may be associated with gut inflammation, according to a 2015 study.

Where to buy polysorbate 80?

Polysorbate 80 can be purchased from a number of different suppliers or manufacturers. You can purchase this ingredient from online retailers such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba. You can also find it at stores like Walgreens and CVS if you prefer to shop for it locally.

Frequently asked questions

Is polysorbate 80 natural?

No, polysorbate 80 is a man-made chemical that has been used for decades as an emulsifier and stabilizer in foods. The ingredient is found in everything from ice cream to salad dressing, and it can be found in most of the products you use every day.

Is polysorbate 80 halal?

Yes, polysorbate 80 is halal. Polysorbate 80 is a food additive that is used as emulsifier and solubilizer in many food products like ice cream, mayonnaise, salad dressing and baked goods. It is a non-ionic surfactant which means that it does not have any ionic charges on the molecule.

Is polysorbate 80 gluten free?

Yes, polysorbate 80 is gluten-free.

This ingredient is made from sorbitol, which comes from corn or wheat. Because it’s not made from wheat or barley (which contain gluten), it doesn’t contain any gluten itself.

Is polysorbate 80 vegan?

Yes, polysorbate 80, also known by the chemical name polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monostearate and the INCI name polysorbate 80, is a nonionic surfactant used as an emulsifying agent in cosmetics and food products.

The ingredient is derived from soy or coconut, so it is vegetarian and vegan-friendly.

Is polysorbate 80 kosher?

No, polysorbate 80 is made from vegetable oils and can be found in many non-dairy milks and yogurts, as well as ice cream and other dairy products. It’s made by reacting oleic acid with sorbitol and hexane, which makes it vegetarian-friendly. However, it’s not kosher because it contains non-kosher ingredients—hexane and sorbitol—and is manufactured by a company that doesn’t follow kosher rules. So while the final product may be vegetarian-friendly, it isn’t kosher.

What is polysorbate 80 made of?

An appropriate name for the substance is polyoxyethylene ethers of partial oleic acid esters of sorbitol and its mono- and dihydrides.


In the end, if you’re considering whether you should consume or avoid Polysorbate 80, it’s probably worth consulting a doctor. The full range of its effects remain to be determined (including any long-term effects), and there are clearly some risks associated with consuming this additive—at least in high concentrations. If you’re in a situation where you can’t consult a doctor, it may still wise to err on the side of caution.

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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