Sorbitan Stearate: What Is It, Cosmetic Uses & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: October 16, 2023
Table of Contents

Navigating the world of cosmetics can often feel like taking a crash course in chemistry. Countless scientific names and terminologies are thrown around, each promising to hold the secret to flawless skin or ageless beauty. Unraveling these complexities helps us become more knowledgeable consumers and better understand what exactly we are applying to our skin!

One such ingredient that you might have come across within the list of components in your cosmetic products is Sorbitan Stearate. You may be pardoned for thinking it sounds more like a character from a science fiction movie than an ingredient in your skincare routine. However, Sorbitan Stearate is more commonplace than you might think.

This article explores Sorbitan Stearate’s intricacies, delving into its formulation, the reasons for its widespread use in cosmetic products, and its potential side effects.

What is Sorbitan Stearate?

Sorbitan Stearate is a synthetic ingredient frequently used in cosmetics and beauty products. It’s a non-active ingredient (i.e., it supports the product’s overall formulationrather than delivering targeted skin benefits); its primary function is that of a surfactant and emulsifying agent. It reduces the surface tension between ingredients, allowing oil and water components to mix smoothly, creating a uniform texture, and preventing the separation of ingredients.

The ingredient is derived from sorbitol and stearic acid. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol found in various fruits, while stearic acid is a naturally occurring fatty acid present in various plants and animals. The concentration of Sorbitan Stearate in cosmetic products typically ranges from 0.5% to 2%.

Who Can Use Sorbitan Stearate?

Sorbitan Stearate is generally suited to all skin types. It helps to create a smooth and consistent texture in products, and it can be particularly beneficial for those with dry skin, as it helps to keep moisture locked in.

Given its synthetic nature, Sorbitan Stearate is also suitable for vegans and vegetarians as it contains no animal-derived ingredients.

Regarding safety for pregnant or breastfeeding women, there’s no current research indicating that Sorbitan Stearate poses any risk. However, it’s always wise for expectant or new mothers to consult a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to their cosmetic routine.

Sorbitan Stearate’s Cosmetic Uses

Sorbitan Stearate enjoys an array of uses in the cosmetics industry, primarily owing to its function as a surfactant and an emulsifying agent. Its benefits are multifold and can be elaborated as follows:

  • Texture Improvement: Sorbitan Stearate dramatically enhances the texture of creams, lotions, and other skincare formulations. Lowering the surface tension between oil and water components allows them to blend seamlessly, creating a uniform and smooth texture. This nature of the ingredient can be particularly appreciated when the product is applied to the skin, creating a pleasant experience for the user.
  • Ingredient Stabilization: Products that contain a mix of oil and water-based components often struggle with ingredient separation. Sorbitan Stearate mitigates this challenge by binding these divergent ingredients together, increasing the product’s overall stability. This significantly enhances the shelf life of such products and ensures a consistent application each time.
  • Viscosity Control: Sorbitan Stearate is a valuable ingredient for controlling the thickness of cosmetic products. By adjusting the proportion of Sorbitan Stearate in formulations, manufacturers can modulate the viscosity, leading to the creation of products that range from light lotions to thick creams. This versatility is pivotal to customizing skincare items according to consumer preferences and needs.
  • Moisture Retention: An indirect benefit of Sorbitan Stearate’s emulsifying property is increased moisture retention. By forming a uniform and stable emulsion, it traps water molecules within the product, preventing rapid evaporation. When applied to the skin, these products provide lasting hydration, which is critical for maintaining skin health and preventing dryness.

By understanding how these benefits are derived from the natural properties and functions of Sorbitan Stearate, we can appreciate the integral role it plays in the formulation of various cosmetic products.

Sorbitan Stearate Potential Side Effects

Reactions and side effects to cosmetic ingredients like Sorbitan Stearate can differ vastly among individuals. This is primarily due to the unique nature of each person’s skin type, which can range from dry to oily, sensitive to resistant, and everything in between.

While Sorbitan Stearate is generally well-tolerated, like any ingredient, it can potentially cause some side effects:

  • Skin Irritation: Some people might experience mild skin irritation, such as redness or itchiness, particularly if they have sensitive skin.
  • Allergic Reaction: Individuals might occasionally experience an allergic reaction to Sorbitan Stearate. This could manifest as hives, severe redness, or swelling.

If you experience any of these side effects while using a product containing Sorbitan Stearate, it is advisable to stop using it immediately and consult a dermatologist or a healthcare provider.

It’s worth noting that adverse reactions to Sorbitan Stearate are rare, and, by and large, it is considered safe and effective in cosmetic applications. However, individual responses can vary, which underscores the importance of patch testing when introducing any new cosmetic product into your regimen. By following our patch testing guide and applying a small amount of product on a discreet area of the skin, you can monitor for any adverse reactions before using the product more extensively. This simple step can be instrumental in ensuring a positive and safe skincare experience.

Comedogenic Rating

The comedogenic rating of Sorbitan Stearate is 1/5.

This means it has a very low chance of clogging pores and causing breakouts. The rating is assigned based on the molecule’s size and its interaction with the skin’s pores.

Due to its larger molecular size, Sorbitan Stearate is less likely to penetrate into pores, which significantly reduces its potential to cause blackheads or acne. Accordingly, this ingredient can be considered suitable for individuals who are prone to acne or breakouts.


Understanding the constituents of skincare products is essential for making informed decisions. However, it’s important to note that not all ingredients have a direct, immediate impact on the skin. Some ingredients, such as Sorbitan Stearate, primarily support the overall formulation and ensure the product’s consistency and stability. These non-active ingredients are crucial for the product’s integrity and efficacy over time.

Sorbitan Stearate is a good ingredient due to its ability to stabilize formulations, emulsify ingredients, and enhance the texture of cosmetic products. Its value lies in its function, which fosters the efficient delivery of the active ingredients to our skin.

Despite its scientific-sounding name, Sorbitan Stearate is a fairly common ingredient in cosmetics. It shares similar functions with other emulsifiers such as Polysorbate 20 or Ceteareth-20. While it might not enjoy the same popularity as ingredients like hyaluronic acid or retinol, its role in product formulation is no less critical.

Concerns about this ingredient mainly center around potential skin irritation or allergic reactions, which are indeed rare. Generally, Sorbitan Stearate is safe for most skin types, including those that are acne-prone. However, as with all skincare products, it’s recommended to monitor your skin’s reaction when introducing a new product to your routine.

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