Sorbitan Oleate is a derivative of oleic acid (an omega 9-fatty acid) and sorbitol (a carbohydrate which is referred as alcohol sugar or polyol). It is used in a wide variety of products in cosmetic industry in skin care products, moisturizing products, eye products (makeups) and in skin cleansing agents such as soaps and body washes. It actually works as an emulsifier i.e. help different components to skincare products from separating. When used in a fragrant skincare products it functions as being a base to guarantee an even distribution of the fragrance. 


It is a derivative of oleic acid (an omega 9-fatty acid) and sorbitol (a carbohydrate which is referred as alcohol sugar or polyol). Before learning about Sorbitol Oleate as a whole, let’s learn about Oleic acid and Sorbitol individually.

Sorbitol is a naturally occurring product found in raspberries, blackberry, apples, cherries, strawberry, plums, peaches and avocado. In mammals, it is synthesized from glucose which is then converted into fructose and it may also be found in lens of patients with type 2 diabetes [1, 2]. It has a great many effects of skin with the main effect being its property to act like a humectant and a surfactant i.e. a product which helps in preserving moisture in the skin [3, 4]

Oleic acid on the other hand is an omega 9 fatty acid found in olives, sea buckthorn and grape seeds. In skin, it act as a texture enhancer and a cleansing agent. It also help to protect and bind other volatile and photo labile substances in the skin care products. 



The toxicity of Sorbitan Oleote on the cellular integrity of skin was accessed in a trial research in 1992. In the research, a culture of human skin cell layer i.e. keratinocyte was taken which is responsible for preventing skin to dry. 10% aqueous Sorbitan Oleate was applied to the above mentioned fragment of skin. After 24 hours of exposure it was observed that there was mild to no changes in the structural integrity of the skin, it was also observed that it cause no drastic effects on the activity of mitochondria (an organelle in the cell responsible for energy producing and carrying out certain important biochemical reactions). Thus making Sorbitan Oleate safe for the use of skin without any unwanted side-effects [5].


On the other hand, many products containing a percentage of 1.75% to 2% of Sorbitan Oleate have been tested repeatedly on humans as well. In a trial, the products with above mentioned percentage of Sorbitan Oleate was tested for 4 days on human skin. The product resulted in mild irritation of the skin. However, the specific ingredient in the product which resulted in irritation was not able to be determined. Another research confirmed that about 2% of Sorbitan Oleate is not sensitive to skin and can never result in irritation, redness or swelling of the skin [6].


One of the research was also conducted to observe the beneficial health effects of Sorbitan Oleate other than the moisturizing effects and its role as a humectant. It was postulated that the product is non-phototoxic (i.e. it is not sensitive to light) and is non-photoallergenic (i.e. may not result in an allergic reaction when exposed to light) [7].


  1. Taylor, R., & Agius, L. (1988). The biochemistry of diabetes. Biochemical Journal, 250(3), 625.
  2. Marino, G., Bertazza, G., Magnanini, E., & Altan, A. D. (1993). Comparative effects of sorbitol and sucrose as main carbon energy sources in micropropagation of apricot. Plant cell, Tissue and Organ culture, 34(3), 235-244.
  3. Combined Inventory of Ingredients Employed in Cosmetic Products (2000) and Revised Inventory (2006) | DOI:10.5281/zenodo.2624118
  4. Osol, A., Anderson, J. T., & Hoover, J. E. (1975). Remington’s pharmaceutical sciences: a treatise on the theory and practice of pharmaceutical sciences, with essential information about pharmaceutical and medicinal agents. Also a guide to the professional responsibilities and services of the pharmacist as a member of the health team… a textbook and reference work for pharmacists, physicians, and other medical scientists. Mack Publishing Company.
  5. Roguet, R., K. G. Dossoe, and A. Rougier. 1992. Use of in vitro skin recombinants to evaluate cutaneous toxicity: A preliminary study. J. Toxicol. Cutan. Ocul. Toxicol. 11:305–315
  6. Lanigan, R. S., & Yamarik, T. A. (2002). 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. International journal of toxicology, 21, 93-112.
  7. Elder, R. L., ed. 1985. Final report on the safety assessment of sorbitan stearate, sorbitan laurate, sorbitan sesquioleate, sorbitan oleate, sorbitan tristearate, sorbitan palmitate, and sorbitan trioleate. J. Am. Coll. Toxicol. 4:65–121.
Shopping Cart