Final report on the safety assessment of sodium sulfite, potassium sulfite, ammonium sulfite, sodium bisulfite, ammonium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite and potassium metabisulfite

Int J Toxicol. 2003;22 Suppl 2:63-88. doi: 10.1080/10915810305077x.


Sodium Sulfite, Ammonium Sulfite, Sodium Bisulfite, Potassium Bisulfite, Ammonium Bisulfite, Sodium Metabisulfite, and Potassium Metabisulfite are inorganic salts that function as reducing agents in cosmetic formulations. All except Sodium Metabisulfite also function as hair-waving/straightening agents. In addition, Sodium Sulfite, Potassium Sulfite, Sodium Bisulfite, and Sodium Metabisulfite function as antioxidants. Although Ammonium Sulfite is not in current use, the others are widely used in hair care products. Sulfites that enter mammals via ingestion, inhalation, or injection are metabolized by sulfite oxidase to sulfate. In oral-dose animal toxicity studies, hyperplastic changes in the gastric mucosa were the most common findings at high doses. Ammonium Sulfite aerosol had an acute LC(50) of >400 mg/m(3) in guinea pigs. A single exposure to low concentrations of a Sodium Sulfite fine aerosol produced dose-related changes in the lung capacity parameters of guinea pigs. A 3-day exposure of rats to a Sodium Sulfite fine aerosol produced mild pulmonary edema and irritation of the tracheal epithelium. Severe epithelial changes were observed in dogs exposed for 290 days to 1 mg/m(3) of a Sodium Metabisulfite fine aerosol. These fine aerosols contained fine respirable particle sizes that are not found in cosmetic aerosols or pump sprays. None of the cosmetic product types, however, in which these ingredients are used are aerosolized. Sodium Bisulfite (tested at 38%) and Sodium Metabisulfite (undiluted) were not irritants to rabbits following occlusive exposures. Sodium Metabisulfite (tested at 50%) was irritating to guinea pigs following repeated exposure. In rats, Sodium Sulfite heptahydrate at large doses (up to 3.3 g/kg) produced fetal toxicity but not teratogenicity. Sodium Bisulfite, Sodium Metabisulfite, and Potassium Metabisulfite were not teratogenic for mice, rats, hamsters, or rabbits at doses up to 160 mg/kg. Generally, Sodium Sulfite, Sodium Metabisulfite, and Potassium Metabisulfite were negative in mutagenicity studies. Sodium Bisulfite produced both positive and negative results. Clinical oral and ocular-exposure studies reported no adverse effects. Sodium Sulfite was not irritating or sensitizing in clinical tests. These ingredients, however, may produce positive reactions in dermatologic patients under patch test. In evaluating the positive genotoxicity data found with Sodium Bisulfite, the equilibrium chemistry of sulfurous acid, sulfur dioxide, bisulfite, sulfite, and metabisulfite was considered. This information, however, suggests that some bisulfite may have been present in genotoxicity tests involving the other ingredients and vice versa. On that basis, the genotoxicity data did not give a clear, consistent picture. In cosmetics, however, the bisulfite form is used at very low concentrations (0.03% to 0.7%) in most products except wave sets. In wave sets, the pH ranges from 8 to 9 where the sulfite form would predominate. Skin penetration would be low due to the highly charged nature of these particles and any sulfite that did penetrate would be converted to sulfate by the enzyme sulfate oxidase. As used in cosmetics, therefore, these ingredients would not present a genotoxicity risk. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel concluded that Sodium Sulfite, Potassium Sulfite, Ammonium Sulfite, Sodium Bisulfite, Ammonium Bisulfite, Sodium Metabisulfite, and Potassium Metabisulfite are safe as used in cosmetic formulations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Consumer Product Safety*
  • Cosmetics / chemistry
  • Cosmetics / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Reducing Agents / chemistry
  • Reducing Agents / toxicity*
  • Sulfites / chemistry
  • Sulfites / toxicity*
  • Toxicity Tests


  • Cosmetics
  • Reducing Agents
  • Sulfites
  • metabisulfite