polysorbate 80

This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!

Ingredient: Polysorbate 80 (aka polyoxyethylene sorbitan monooleate or Tween™ 80)

What it is: Polysorbate 80 is made from natural sorbitol and plant-based oleic acid.

What it does: Currently, the main use of Polysorbate 80 is as an emulsifier or defoamer in foods, vitamins, medicines, and vaccines. But, this versatile ingredient can also act as a surfactant in soaps and cosmetics, as well as a solubilizer – which is what we use it for. As a solubilizer in our mouthwash, it helps dissolve ingredients so that they can more easily blend together.

Why we use it: Polysorbate 80 is extremely versatile and effective while also being non-toxic, non mutagenic, non carcinogenic, with very little potential for human skin irritation, sensitization, or phototoxicity. It’s in The Handbook of Green Chemicals and it’s Whole Foods Premium Body Care approved (whose standards, developed by a team of scientists over the course of years, are some of the strictest available). If these credible sources give it a thumbs-up, we do too.

Why we’re featuring it today: Since we launched our Honest Mouthwash, we’ve been hearing some comments from our community about using Polysorbate 80 because it doesn’t have the best online reputation. Today, we wanted to take the opportunity to assure everyone that in this circumstance there should be nothing to worry about. Just as we do with all of our ingredients, we carefully vet all the science (not media hype) and apply it to our specific formulations and intended use. Here’s what we learned:

  • One of the primary concerns people have regarding Polysorbate 80 is toxic contamination from carcinogenic ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane – a legitimate concern indeed. But, we’re extremely selective about our sourcing and manufacturing partners and this is not an issue for our food-grade (not the lesser quality cosmetic-grade) Polysorbate 80.

  • Another legitimate concern people have is it’s almost ubiquitous use in foods and we find that disturbing, too. It’s not a natural part of our diet and probably shouldn’t be consumed in large amounts. Even so, it’s estimated that in Europe and the U.S. people eat about 100 mg of Polysorbate 80 in foods every day, but a 2008 study concluded that there was no observable adverse effects at doses up to 140,000 mg for an average adult. Aside from that window of safety, in the case of mouthwash, you’re supposed to spit it out — anything you might absorb or unintentionally swallow would be nominal and not expected to cause any risks whatsoever.

In addition to the concerns above, as we were researching this ingredient, we also saw claims of health risks made on various websites that both misrepresented and sensationalized the science and featured extremely specific exposures that do not extrapolate to mouthwash (as above). Here’s what we read:

  • Polysorbate 80 is “linked to infertility in mice” and “severe ovary deformities.” The actual study in referred to in this case demonstrated reproductive impacts, but not infertility per se and it was only after injecting newborn mice with Polysorbate 80. Certainly concerning for vaccines containing Polysorbate 80, but not mouthwash.

  • Polysorbate 80 is “linked to anaphylactic shock in pregnant women.” This “study” was actually one pregnant woman who had a severe allergic reaction to a multivitamin administered via IV. Doctors identified Polysorbate 80 as the cause, but no other incidences of this type of reaction have been reported.

  • Polysorbate 80 can “increase the risk of tumor growth, stroke, heart attack, heart failure and more.” These references turned out to be potential side effects of a drug called darbepoetin alfa which is sometime used with patients undergoing chemotherapy or those with chronic kidney disease. We noticed that this drug is sometimes referred to as such: “Generic Name: darbepoetin alfa (polysorbate 80).” The parenthetical inclusion of Polysorbate 80 makes one assume the two names are interchangeable and one in the same, but that is not the case at all. Darbepoetin alfa is made from Chinese hamster ovary cells and is NOT the same thing as Polysorbate 80. It’s only written this way because the commercial preparation of this drug includes Polysorbate 80 — but that does not mean Polysorbate 80 on it’s own causes all of these terrible side effects. Talk about a vast misinterpretation of the facts! Who knew a couple of little parentheses could lead to such confusion!

All in all, we’re confident in the safety of our choice to use Polysorbate 80 in our mouthwash and hope everyone considers the factual evidence — and not just the internet hype. Please do let us know if you have additional questions or concerns. We’re always happy to address them!



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  • Jo

    Thank you for keeping us better informed :-) appreciate the extra effort you put in to keeping these products safe and natural :-)

  • HealthyOne

    Thank you for the information. I use the Honest Mouthwash and it’s great. I find it very refreshing and my mouth feels so good after using it. It doesn’t burn like those mouthwashes that contain alcohol and tons of other ingredients. To everyone at The Honest Company–keep up the great work. I love your products!

  • Nadia

    I appreciate you go the extra mile to inform and educate everyone about the ingredients in your products. Especially with Polysorbate 80 and further explaining why you have recently used it. It’s absolutely wonderful and that’s how I know Honest is the best company out there.

  • Ellie

    You always have to take what you read with “a grain of salt”. I appreciate your company going the extra mile to explain the science and actual applications behind your products.

  • Slugger Benjamin

    Every time I shop at the Honest Company I know that my dollars are going towards a search for the truth about chemicals that I do not have the time to fully research myself. This is a great example of what goes into protecting your customers. Best of all, I know that if ever a chemical is scientifically proven to be harmful, the Honest Company would remove it immediately, without ANY concern for profits!!! That is SO RARE in today’s retail market. I’m truly thankful this company and these products are available in my country.

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      We are thrilled to hear that you are enjoying our Honest products. We appreciate your support and that we have been able to make you rest easier and give you one less thing to worry about as a busy parent! We feel lucky to have you as a part of the Honest family and thank you for joining the Honest movement!

  • http://subscriptionlovin.blogspot.com/ Holly Pettersson

    I now know WAY more than I probably needed/wanted to know. Although, that makes me think about all of the other products that I know nothing about and probably should! Why would anyone want to use anything containing Chinese hamster ovary cells – OMG! Thank you Honest Company for explaining things and making your products safe to use in my home and on my body!

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      You’re very welcome! We appreciate your support and having you as a part of the Honest family. Please don’t hesitate to ask us any questions or let us know how we can make your life easier at home.

    • Kidney patient

      People with kidneys that work poorly, especially those on dialysis require various drugs that we’re not thrilled to take either. Many of us need meds made from Chinese hamster ovary cells in order to produce new red blood cells.

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  • Liz

    My son is allergic to polysorb. 80. Any products that do not contain it?

    • http://www.honest.com/ Honest

      Hi, Liz! The only Honest product that contains Polysorbate 80 is our Mouthwash. All of our other products should be perfectly safe to use with your son. Let us know if you have any additional questions!

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  • Kdgoldrtu

    Polysorbate 80…I would not want to eat it! If you are looking for a safe, non-toxic surfactant to use around the house take a look at our website http://www.kdgoldrtu.com

  • Ginkal

    This shit is included in the vaccins that they want to give our babys, watch out parents!!!!

  • disqus_dWOTJTo9QZ

    I have done an experiment on the effect of sun light on the reactivity of Polysorbate 80 and found that Polysorbate 80 can react with the amino acid lysine under light exposure. I hope this tips has some use in formulating better skin and beauty products.

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  • concerned parent

    Medical study just confirmed (Feb 2015) that Polysorbate 80 causes diseases similar to ulcerative colitis and chron’s disease in laboratory mice.

    • http://dchealthybites.com/ Lauren @ DC Healthy Bites

      I was just reading this exact study.

  • Reese

    Me too!

  • ForGMOEducation

    This post is a little deceiving about Polysorbate 80. Also, why not just call it soap for simplicity and understanding? You say that the level of Polysorbate 80 in vaccines is a cause for “concern.” However, the studies that you link actually do not come to that conclusion. There are only negative health consequences for rats at much higher levels than one could reasonably get from a vaccine or a normal vaccination schedule.

  • vickiel

    This stuff is being researched for opening the blood brain barrier. Not something to put in kids products. Your post is not so, well… “HONEST.”

  • A.G.

    To use this is a mouthwash is not so bad, but sometimes it is an ingredient of processed foods. This latter use should be avoided at all costs.