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.

References:

  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.