Found in cosmetic and household products, polysorbate 20 is an ingredient that is used for its emulsifying properties. Emulsifiers are components that hold products together by preventing oil and water from separating. Polysorbate 20 is added to products like moisturizers, facial cleansers, body washes, toners and air fresheners, as well as body and linen sprays. Whether you make your own beauty products or purchase them, you may have to find an alternative to polysorbate 20, as it can occasionally cause skin irritation.


Basics

Polysorbate 20 is derived from sorbitol, a natural ingredient. However, polysorbate 20 is not a natural ingredient. In fact, it is a carcinogen due to the fact that it is treated with 20 parts of ethylene oxide. There are other, higher grades of polysorbate, such as polysorbate 40 and 80. The higher the number, the more parts of ethylene oxide it has been treated with. People who make their own beauty products often use polysorbate 20 as an emulsifying agent. However, you can still create rich, creamy products using other emulsifying components.

Alcohol

Alcohol is often used as an alternative to polysorbate 20. Alcohol works as an emulsifying agent, keeping water and essential oils from separating. It is typically found in things like room and linen sprays. However, alcohol must be used with caution, as it can dry the skin and irritate the lungs and eyes. You also need to use a great deal of alcohol for it to work properly as an emulsifying agent.

Oils

Some oils, such as coconut oil and turkey-red oil, can serve as an alternative to polysorbate 20 due to their emulsifying properties. Turkey-red oil is available for purchase at pharmacies and health food stores. It is commonly used in bath oils, but rarely used in other cosmetic products because it gives the product a slight red tinge. Coconut oil is a safe, all-natural alternative to polysorbate 20. It keeps oil and water from separating, and also has a pleasant scent.

Borax and Beeswax

Borax is a natural alkaline mineral. It is also known as sodium borate. Borax, when combined with beeswax, serves as a natural alternative to polysorbate 20. The combination of borax and beeswax creates friction, with emulsification being the end result. Beeswax will also work to thicken cosmetic products, in addition to working as an antiseptic, healing and softening agent. However, you must be careful when choosing beeswax and borax as an alternative to polysorbate 20. In certain applications, beeswax can clog the pores.

Lecithin

Lecithin is another polysorbate 20 alternative. While it typically makes up no more than 3 percent of a compound, lecithin adds thickness and richness in beauty products. It may take a few tries before you find the right balance of lecithin when making your own products. Lecithin is derived from soybeans, corn, rapeseed and egg yolks. It is also commonly used in conjunction with beeswax and borax as an emulsifier.