What is Potassium Sorbate?

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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 http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/gras/scogs/ucm261027.htm
  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. http://doi.org/10.3109/10915818809078711
  3. Material Safety Data Sheet: Potassium Chloride. Accessed October 14, 2015 from http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9924693
  4. Material Safety Data Sheet: Sodium Chloride. Accessed October 14, 2015 from http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9927593

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


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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  7. Christine Chen

    Is anyone from Honest Company able to address my concern or question?

  8. The molecular structure is exactly the same as the one that occurs in nature. So, yes it is plant based, as it occurs naturally in berries.

    Here is the thing: Unless you want to make all your own home products, you are going to have to use products with preservatives. Some are worse than others. As far as I am concerned, PS is one of the less harmful ones. I would rather have it in my makeup than have molds, yeasts and bacteria. But then again, I make a lot of my own products and I eat mainly raw, whole foods.

    Honestly, I think that most Americans just complain about things and expect other people to fix them. If you don’t like preservatives, then BUY WHOLE FOODS.

  9. Most of those websites did NOT have citations. Anyone can post anything they want on the Internet. So do some fact-checking first.

    Also, ANYTHING in higher amounts can cause death or allergic reactions. If you take massive amounts of Vitamin C, you’ll experience diarrhea and a host of symptoms.

    The approved amount of PS is in regulation with the effects. It is safe. The last article seems like it is discussing PS on its own, as in, a science experiment in college where you are using PS on it’s own. This is NOT the same as having small amounts mixed into products in a chemical lab by chemists.

    Stop with the fear mongering.

  10. To answer your question about inhibitor of mold and yeast, yes it is. But you have to search deeper than that. I hate all these articles online from “health” food companies touting that every single chemical is bad. PS is antimicrobial and here is an article from an actual scientific journal, the NIH, or National Institute of Health.


    I feel like most of these comments are just trying to tear down a company started by Jessica Alba. beauty and brains, should be an amazing combination. Jealous much? For me, I’m glad that someone is doing something positive and she is able to spread the world because of her name. To me it’s amazing and positive.

  11. Christine Chen

    I’m not jealous at all. I like Jessica Alba. Just trying to get clarification on the ingredients. Thanks!

  12. Dagmar Kugler

    Christine Chen, I am also trying to figure out how a product that prevents mold and fungus can prevent bacteria. The only thing I can think of off hand is how in nature bacteria and mold work closely together, such as in a SCOBY which in this case is a beneficial thing, means those naturally occurring microorganisms produce a beneficial product, such as kombucha. Not sure how I feel about synthetic production of natural preservatives. Kind of like a cubic circonia versus a real diamond. Overall, it’s not as bad as some chemicals, and seems to keep down the growth of all kinds of tiny unwanted bugs. I personally wouldn’t mind it so much in cleaners, but would prefer to not to eat it.

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  14. Priya Bansal

    That’s not true at all. I’ve been using natural products for 4 years and have gone without using anything but the most basic preservatives (like lemon). I don’t make anything at home. For example, I typically buy shampoo bars whose only ingredients are essential oils and lye (ash water)

  15. Mrs. Real

    Of course, the bars you buy that are made with those ingredients you mentioned don’t need preservatives. ????

  16. Laura I recently used a facial wash for oily combo skin from whole foods that contains potassium sorbate. EWG gives it a 3 for strong evidence of Skin irritation. I chose this product because it was the only affordable one that had the least amount of irritating ingredients. Unfortunately after using this product my face burned, felt tight and all the moisture had been drained despite the fact it contains some wonderful counteracting moisturizing ingredients. I tried this 3 times, i call it my rule of 3s for products. each time my face burned. I have a sever breakout now. Needless to say I will not be using a so called organic product with potassium sorbate. Just so you are aware NIH has a study that shows a small group of individuals have a pseudo allergy or mild erythema to PS. They concluded more research needed to be done, but the truth remains I’m one of those small few who have a hypersensitivity. In a person with normal skin this may not be the case, but in a person who has hypersensitivity I would not recommend products with this ingredient.

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