Final report on the safety assessment of sorbitan caprylate, sorbitan cocoate, sorbitan diisostearate, sorbitan dioleate, sorbitan distearate, sorbitan isostearate, sorbitan olivate, sorbitan sesquiisostearate, sorbitan sesquistearate, and sorbitan triisostearate

Int J Toxicol. 2002;21 Suppl 1:93-112. doi: 10.1080/10915810290096414.


Sorbitan fatty acid esters are mono-, di-, and triesters of fatty acids and sorbitol-derived hexitol anhydrides. They function as surfactants in cosmetic formulations. Previously, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel had reviewed the safety of several of these sorbitan fatty acid esters (Sorbitan Laurate, Sorbitan Oleate, Sorbitan Palmitate, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Sorbitan Stearate, Sorbitan Trioleate, and Sorbitan Tristearate). This safety assessment is an addendum to that report that includes Sorbitan Caprylate, Sorbitan Cocoate, Sorbitan Diisostearate, Sorbitan Dioleate, Sorbitan Distearate, Sorbitan Isostearate, Sorbitan Olivate, Sorbitan Sesquiisostearate, Sorbitan Sesquistearate, and Sorbitan Triisostearate. Although concentrations of these ingredients up to 25% have been reported to be used, most commonly they are used at less than 10%. These esters may be hydrolyzed to the fatty acid and anhydrides of Sorbitol. Fatty Acids are absorbed and metabolized. Sorbitan fatty acid esters were relatively nontoxic via ingestion in acute and long-term studies. They were generally minimal to mild skin irritants in animal studies, except that Sorbitan Isostearate applied to the skin was a moderate irritant in one rabbit study and when injected intradermally caused mild to severe irritation in guinea pigs. Sorbitan fatty acid esters did not sensitize guinea pigs. The fatty acid component, tested alone, typically caused only slight irritation and sensitization, and was not photosensitizing. Sorbitan fatty acid esters were not ocular irritants. Fatty acids are normal components of diet for which no data were available concerning reproductive or developmental toxicity, but Sorbitol had no adverse effects on the reproduction of CD rats during a multigeneration feeding study and was not a reproductive toxin at doses of 3000 to 7000 mg/kg/day for 2 years. Overall these esters and their corresponding fatty acids were not mutagenic, but Sorbitan Oleate was reported to reduce DNA repair following ultraviolet radiation exposure in human lymphocytes in culture. Sorbitan Laurate and Sorbitan Trioleate were cocarcinogens in one mouse study, but Sorbitan Trioleate and Sorbitan Oleate were not tumor promoters in another study. In clinical tests, Sorbitan fatty acid esters were generally minimal to mild skin irritants and were nonsensitizing, but Sorbitan Sesquioleate did produce an allergic reaction in fewer than 1% of patients with suspected contact dermatitis and addition of Sorbitan Sesquioleate to the components of a fragrance mix used in patch testing increased both irritant and allergic reactions to the fragrance mix. Careful consideration was made of the data on the cocarcinogenesis of Sorbitan Laurate and Sorbitan Trioleate, but the high exposure levels, high frequency of exposure, and absence of a dose-response led to the conclusion that there was not a cocarcinogenesis risk with the use of these ingredients in cosmetic formulations. Accordingly, these ingredients were considered safe for use in cosmetic formulations under the present practices of use.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Consumer Product Safety*
  • Cosmetics / adverse effects*
  • Cosmetics / chemistry
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polysorbates / adverse effects*
  • Polysorbates / chemistry
  • Toxicity Tests


  • Cosmetics
  • Polysorbates