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Polysorbates are a group of emulsifiers used in food preparation and pharmaceuticals. In cosmetics, polysorbates are used to solubilize essential oils into products with a water base. Derived from sorbitan and esterified with fatty acids, polysorbates are oily liquids. The number 60 following polysorbate refers to the fatty acid chemically associated with the polyoxyethylene sorbitan component of the molecule, in this case monostearate.

Usage in Food

Polysorbate 60 is used in imitation cream, baked goods and frozen desserts. It works in a similar manner as monoglycerides and diglycerides, but requires smaller amounts. Polysorbate 60 helps whiteners dissolve in coffee, keeps dill oil solubilized in dill pickle jars, prevents baked good from going stale, and prevents oil from desolubizing in artificial whipped cream. Polysorbate 60 is well-known as an additive in the popular snack cakes Twinkies.

Usage in Medicine

Polysorbate 60 is used in medical products, such as cream treatments for acne, and topical treatments for mouth sores, such as Orajel. People trying to stimulate hair growth might use the chemical to break up sebum, which can prevent new hair from growing. Polysorate 60 also is used in some vaginal itch treatments, such as Monistat.

Usage in Cosmetics

Members of the polysorbate family aid in the combination of ingredients that are usually insoluble. Due to the prevalence of water and oil in cosmetic products, polysorbates are extensively used. They also reduce the surface tension of creams and liquids, which aids in the process of emulsifying. Polysorbate 60 is used in numerous cosmetic products, including shampoos, skin softeners, scented powders, makeup bases and foundations, exfoliants, sunless tanners and anti-aging creams.

Safety Issues

According to the "Journal of National Cancer Institute," the "Journal of Nutrition" and the FAO Nutrition Meetings Report Series, polysorbate 60 can cause detrimental reproductive effects, organ toxicity and cancer in high doses. However, the FDA designated the chemical as safe for limited use in food. According to the Environmental Canada Domestic Substance List, polysorbate 60 is not suspected as an environmental toxin.

FDA Specifics

According to the FDA, polysorbate 60 may not exceed 0.61 percent of cake mix when used alone or with polysorbate 65, and the total percent of all polysorbates may not exceed 0.66 percent. When used for confectionery coating or cacao products, it may not exceed 1 percent of the total product weight.