January 28, 2023

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

Table of Contents Grade Chemical

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 Anbu Chem 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).

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.