An Honest Look At Potassium Sorbate

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: Potassium Sorbate

What it is:

Potassium sorbate is a salt of sorbic acid which is naturally found in some fruits (like the berries of mountain ash). The commercial ingredient is synthetically produced creating what is termed a “nature identical” chemical (chemically equivalent to the molecule found in nature).

What it does:

Two words: Fights bacteria. Most personal care products are made with a lot of water and a variety of nutrients (consider all of the natural oils and botanicals in Honest products!) which makes an incredibly hospitable breeding ground for microorganisms. What’s worse — the product might smell and look just fine, but be swarming with bacteria or fungi that are dangerous to your health. Effective preservatives are vital for ensuring safety!

Why we use it:

Potassium sorbate is a food-grade preservative that has been effectively used for decades and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) to preserve food products (1). Studies using dilutions similar to what’s used in body care products found it’s practically non-irritating and non-sensitizing (2). In fact, the toxicity of potassium sorbate is pretty close to that of table salt (3,4)! What’s more, it’s included in the Handbook of Green Chemicals, it’s approved by the Natural Products Association, and is also Whole Foods Premium Body Care approved. And their 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.


  1. Select Committee on GRAS Substances (SCOGS) Opinion: Potassium sorbate. Retrieved October 14, 2015, from
  2. Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Sorbic Acid and Potassium Sorbate. (1988). UITO International Journal Of Toxicology Int. J. of Toxicology, 7(6), 837–880.
  3. Material Safety Data Sheet: Potassium Chloride. Accessed October 14, 2015 from
  4. Material Safety Data Sheet: Sodium Chloride. Accessed October 14, 2015 from

This post was revised as of 11/23/2015.

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  • GatorGal15

    Thank you for addressing this issue. I know there is also much controversy over the preservative phenylethanol. After much research, many companies are re formulating to exclude this ingredient. The Honest Company uses it in only some of its personal care products, such as the hand soap. I was wondering if you could address your opinion on this ingredient as you did here with potassium sorbate.

  • What about these peer reviewed studies that found issues:
    1. Does potassium sorbate induce genotoxic or mutagenic effects in lymphocytes? – YES
    2. Mutagenicity and DNA-damaging activity caused by decomposed products of potassium sorbate reacting with ascorbic acid in the presence of Fe salt –

    • Hello Fooducate,
      Thanks for joining the conversation! In regards to the studies you’ve shared:

      The first study found genotoxicity, but not mutagenicity. The two impacts are indeed different with mutagencity being much more concerning. Genotoxic compounds are actually much more common than you’d think — like isothiocyanates found in cruciferous vegetables and pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in comfrey tea. Scientists actually estimate that over 99% of our exposure to this class of compounds is via natural sources. Also, while in vitro studies are certainly important in helping us understand biological interactions, they cannot be so easily extrapolated to real life (in vivo) exposures. Considering exposure levels and routes is vital to understanding the potential impact of a chemical.

      The second study demonstrates toxicity after PS reacts with two other ingredients. This simply doesn’t translate to our use of PS.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Please let us know if you have additional questions.

  • efrentart

    in baking can I have the ratio of the amount of potassium sorbate needed to a kilo of flour? please send me in the unit of gram.

  • anohkos

    thank you!

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