Polysorbate 20


Cleansing Agent

No known benefits

Polysorbate 20 at a glance

  • Used as a mild cleansing agent
  • Derived from lauric acid, the primary fatty acid in coconuts
  • Also used as a food additive
  • Can be used to keep oral medications stable

Polysorbate 20 description

In skin care, polysorbate 20 belongs to a group of cleansing agents most often derived from lauric acid, which is a medium-chain triglyceride (a type of fatty acid) found in coconuts. Polysorbates for skin function as emulsifiers and have mild surfactant properties; some polysorbates are derived from the food ingredient sorbitol, which occurs naturally in many fruits, while others have a fatty acid component. In addition to its use in both leave-on and rinse-off skin care products, polysorbate 20 is also used as a food additive to create a “spreading” feel (such as in cooling mint drops). Because of its stability, it is also used in drug delivery systems for oral medications to help keep them stable in the presence of digestive enzymes. Though there have been some concerns raised about the safety of polysorbate 20, but the independent Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel has ruled it safe as used in cosmetics. The highest concentration of polysorbate 20 as used in cosmetics is in spray deodorants, where it is used in a concentration of 4%.

Polysorbate 20 references

  • Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, January 2021, epublication
  • Children, December 2019, epublication
  • Cosmetic Ingredient Review, July 2015, pages 1-48
  • Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces, April 2013, Volume 104, pages 200-206
  • Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, July 2011, Volume 10, Issue 3, pages 281-288

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not Rated