Polysorbate 80 is a nonionic surfactant and emulsifier often used in foods and cosmetics. This synthetic compound is a viscous, water-soluble yellow liquid. 

Use in food: Polysorbate 80 is used as an emulsifier in foods.
For example, in ice cream, polysorbate is added up to 0.5% (v/v) concentration to make the ice cream smoother and easier to handle, as well as increasing its resistance to melting. Adding this substance prevents milk proteins from completely coating the fat droplets. This allows them to join together in chains and nets, which hold air in the mixture, and provide a firmer texture that holds its shape as the ice cream melts.

Use in health and beauty: Polysorbate 80 is also used as a surfactant in soaps and cosmetics (including eye drops), or a solubilizer such as in a mouthwash. Polysorbate 80 is regarded as a safe chemical in skincare and is used as an emulsifier to combine oil and water. The cosmetic grade of polysorbate 80 may have more impurities than the food grade. Polysorbate 80 can be used in:

  • Moisture Cream
  • Moisture Lotion
  • Cleansers
  • Shower Gel
  • Shampoo

Medical use: Polysorbate 80 is an excipient that is used to stabilize aqueous formulations of medications for parental administration, and used as an emulsifier in the manufacture of the popular anti arrhythmic amiodarone It is also used as an excipient in some European and Canadian influenza vaccines Influenza vaccines contain 25 μg of polysorbate 80 per dose.] It is also used in the culture of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Middlebrook 7H9 broth. It is also used as an emulsifier in the estrogen-regulating drug Estrasorb.

Laboratory use: Some mycobacteria contain a type of lipase (enzyme that breaks up lipid molecules). When added to a mixture of polysorbate 80 and phenol red, they cause the solution to change color, so this is used as a test to identify the phenotype of a strain or isolate.

Pharmaceutical use: Polysorbate 80 is a hydrophilic nonionic surfactant commonly used as an ingredient in dosing vehicles for pre-clinical in vivo studies (e.g., pharmacokinetic studies, etc.).