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What Is Polysorbate 80?

A pack of chewing gum containing polysorbate 80.
A beaker of polysorbate 80.
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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Polysorbate 80, also known as polyoxyethylene sorbitan monooleate or Tween™ 80, is an amber-colored, viscous liquid with a slightly bitter taste. It is used primarily as an emulsifier in food products, cosmetics, vitamins, medicines, and vaccines. The product is a derivative of sorbitol and oleic acid, and is manufactured worldwide.

Emulsifiers help bind ingredients together and keep them from separating, most commonly with oil and water. It is also a surfactant — a substance that reduces the surface tension of a liquid — which results in an easier, smoother spread. Frequently, it is used in ice cream and frozen desserts to resist melting. Polysorbate 80 is also used as an emulsifier and surfactant in products such as shortening, condiments, chewing gum, dietary foods, and whipped dessert toppings, as well as a host of cosmetic creams and lotions.

This compound is also used as a solubilizer, meaning that it aids in dissolving ingredients that would not otherwise dissolve or that would not fully dissolve. As a solubilizer, it is found in pickled foods, gelatin desserts, liquid soaps, bath gels, and vitamins. It also can be found in many medications.

The liquid also can be used with yeast and cottage cheese as a defoamer. It is used as a wetting agent in the cleaning and preparation of some foods, such as poultry. By contrast, it can be used in products not intended for consumption such as herbicides.

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In the 1980s, Polysorbate 80 was put forward as a potential cure for baldness, and was initially well received; however, in 1986, a lengthy hearing involving manufacturers, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the US Postal Service, a court ruling prevented manufacturers from making anti-baldness claims. Since that time, it may still be purchased as a hair and scalp treatment, provided there are no hair growth claims.

There has been some controversy over the potential health risks of Polysorbate 80. The primary concern involves injection of the chemical into the body, and a study in 1993 showed that its injection into baby female rats resulted in malformed reproductive organs. Years later, reports of this study caused many to question if this compound was safe when used in flu vaccines for the H1N1 virus.

The chemical has also been linked to anaphylactic shock, though not conclusively. There is also a risk of allergic reaction. No studies where it was administered orally, however, have found any health risk, and no risks have been found in studies using human subjects.

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Discuss this Article

anon324006
Post 9

I had a profound anaphylactic reaction to an intramuscular injection containing hydrocortisone, lignocaine, polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose. Since I had negative challenge tests to both the hydrocortisone and lignocaine, my consultant is looking to test next for polysorbate 80 and cmc. LL, London UK

anon310276
Post 8

I have been using pure polysorbate 80 as a scalp cleaning agent for 30 years. I wash and rinse my hair with a fragrance free shampoo, rub about a tablespoon of polysorbate 80 into my scalp, leave it on for a minute or two while I shower and then shampoo and rinse again. It doesn't prevent baldness, but it may slow hair loss and certainly keeps the scalp cleaner.

Twinlab used to sell it in 8 ounce bottles, as did The Vtamin Shoppe, but stopped about 12 years ago. I purchased 5 gallons from a manufacturer and put it in 1 gallon glass bottles and stored them in my refrigerator; that lasted about seven or eight years.

I found that Vitamin Research Products sold it in 8 ounce bottles so I have been using that, except just now they stopped selling it. Puritan's Pride sells it with niacin and biotin added, one of the original versions sold by Twinlab, but I prefer the pure stuff.

I have 2 1/2 bottles left and I'm trying to find a good new source now. Since I only use it topically and wash it out after a couple minutes I do not believe it is harmful to me in any way; it actually creates a feeling of improved circulation to the scalp and neck due to its vasodilating, histamine releasing properties, and it's emulsifying properties and neutralization of DHT helps keep sebaceous oils from building up on the scalp.

kevinba99
Post 7

If you are making shampoos then you need to to look at Ingredients To Die For. They have many surfactants and solubilizers that are safer than Polysorbate 80.

anon247634
Post 6

Buy organic or better yet, make it yourself. Maybe if we weren't in such a big hurry all of the time to amuse ourselves, we could live healthier. Let's give these corporations a message. We don't want to be poisoned by these chemicals anymore.

anon231411
Post 5

A supplier from the usa has suggested we use Polysorbate 80 as an ingredient in dough for making Bread. They claim it as water retention to make bread more soft. can anyone comment on it please?

anon214161
Post 4

I have been making my own shampoo and conditioner and am having a difficult time finding solubilizers or emulsifiers that are safe. This is the first time I have paid attention to all these additives in food and cosmetics. No wonder so many of us end up with cancer!

P.S.: If you are worried about food additives and cosmetic additives, then you should be very worried about vaccines.

All the cell lines they use are now contaminated with animal retroviruses and the FDA, NIH etc., has done nothing to deal with the problem. It's looking like XMRV (Xenotropic Murine Leukemia Retrovirus) is a very real virus originating from vaccines. They have now found several different strains indicating it has infected humans. Pretty sad.

anon144022
Post 3

no wonder they are targeting pregnant women to give the flu vaccines to - to damage the developing babies' reproductive systems. remain on guard!

anon102384
Post 2

My thoughts on this are that no tests have been conducted on human subjects as this would be akin to experiments as in the Holocaust where reproductive organs were experimented on. Fast forward 70 years and here we are again, only this time, the 'doctors' are sanctioned by the FDA, CDC, NIH: the true axis of evil, among other 'regulatory' agencies.

anon78890
Post 1

I have yet to come across any conclusive studies, replicable studies relating this to anaphylactic shock. The toxicology studies done on rats showed that this polysorbate-80 does not cause infertility but when it was given to pregnant rats, the birth weights of the offsprings were significantly lowered.

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