Final report on the safety assessment of Sodium Metaphosphate, Sodium Trimetaphosphate, and Sodium Hexametaphosphate

Int J Toxicol. 2001:20 Suppl 3:75-89. doi: 10.1080/10915810152630756.


These inorganic polyphosphate salts all function as chelating agents in cosmetic formulations. In addition, Sodium Metaphosphate functions as an oral care agent, Sodium Trimetaphosphate as a buffering agent, and Sodium Hexametaphosphate as a corrosion inhibitor. Only Sodium Hexametaphosphate is currently reported to be used. Although the typical concentrations historically have been less than 1%, higher concentrations have been used in products such as bath oils, which are diluted during normal use. Sodium Metaphosphate is the general term for any polyphosphate salt with four or more phosphate units. The four-phosphate unit version is cyclic, others are straight chains. The hexametaphosphate is the specific six-chain length form. The trimetaphosphate structure is cyclic. Rats fed 10% Sodium Trimetaphosphate for a month exhibited transient tubular necrosis; rats given 10% Sodium Metaphosphate had retarded growth and those fed 10% Sodium Hexametaphosphate had pale and swollen kidneys. In chronic studies using animals, growth inhibition, increased kidney weights (with calcium deposition and desquamation), bone decalcification, parathyroid hypertrophy and hyperplasia, inorganic phosphaturia, hepatic focal necrosis, and muscle fiber size alterations. Sodium Hexametaphosphate was a severe skin irritant in rabbits, whereas a 0.2% solution was only mildly irritating. A similar pattern was seen with ocular toxicity. These ingredients were not genotoxic in bacterial systems nor were they carcinogenic in rats. No reproductive or developmental toxicity was seen in studies using rats exposed to Sodium Hexametaphosphate or Sodium Trimetaphosphate. In clinical testing, irritation is seen as a function of concentration; concentrations as high as 1% produced no irritation in contact allergy patients. Because of the corrosive nature of Sodium Hexametaphosphate, it was concluded that these ingredients could be used safely if each formulation was prepared to avoid skin irritation; for example, low concentration in a leave-on product or dilution of a higher concentration as part of product usage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenicity Tests
  • Cosmetics / adverse effects*
  • Cosmetics / chemistry
  • Cosmetics / toxicity
  • Eye Diseases / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Phosphates / adverse effects*
  • Phosphates / chemistry
  • Phosphates / toxicity
  • Phosphorous Acids / adverse effects*
  • Phosphorous Acids / chemistry
  • Phosphorous Acids / toxicity
  • Polyphosphates / adverse effects*
  • Polyphosphates / chemistry
  • Polyphosphates / toxicity
  • Skin Diseases / chemically induced
  • Teratogens / chemistry
  • Teratogens / toxicity
  • Toxicity Tests, Acute


  • Cosmetics
  • Phosphates
  • Phosphorous Acids
  • Polyphosphates
  • Teratogens
  • trimetaphosphoric acid
  • metaphosphoric acid
  • sodium polymetaphosphate