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What is Polysorbate 20 / Tween 20?

What is Polysorbate 20 / Tween 20?


Polysorbate 20, also known by its trade name Tween 20, is a nonionic surfactant commonly used in various industries. It belongs to the polysorbate family, which are esters of sorbitol and its anhydrides. Polysorbate 20 is produced through the ethoxylation of sorbitan monolaurate, resulting in a versatile compound with emulsifying and solubilizing properties.

Function and Uses:

Polysorbate 20 serves as a surfactant, emulsifier, and solubilizing agent. Its primary function is to reduce the surface tension between two substances, allowing them to mix more easily. As an emulsifier, it stabilizes emulsions by dispersing immiscible substances, such as oil and water, into a homogeneous mixture. Additionally, it enhances the solubility of hydrophobic substances in aqueous solutions.


Polysorbate 20 finds widespread applications across various industries:

  • Pharmaceuticals: In pharmaceutical formulations, it is utilized to solubilize poorly water-soluble drugs, improve drug delivery, and stabilize emulsions in topical preparations and oral medications.
  • Personal Care Products: Commonly found in skincare products, shampoos, and cosmetics, polysorbate 20 acts as a gentle surfactant and emulsifier, enhancing product texture and stability.
  • Food Industry: It is employed in food products as an emulsifier in beverages, sauces, dressings, and bakery items to ensure uniform mixing and prevent ingredient separation.
  • Textile Industry: Polysorbate 20 facilitates the dispersion of dyes and pigments in textile dyeing processes, ensuring even color distribution.
  • Agrochemicals: In agricultural formulations, it assists in the dispersion and application of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers by improving their solubility and spreading properties.

Product Examples:

  • Pharmaceutical Industry: Oral suspensions, topical creams, and ointments.
  • Personal Care Products: Lotions, creams, shampoos, conditioners, and body washes.
  • Food Industry: Salad dressings, sauces, soft drinks, and ice cream.
  • Textile Industry: Textile dyeing and printing formulations.
  • Agrochemicals: Pesticide and fertilizer formulations.


Polysorbate 20 is synthesized industrially by ethoxylation of sorbitan monolaurate, a reaction involving the addition of ethylene oxide to the sorbitan monolaurate molecule. The resulting product is then purified to obtain polysorbate 20.


Polysorbate 20 is a clear, yellowish liquid with a mild odor. It is soluble in water and miscible with most organic solvents. The compound is stable under normal storage conditions and exhibits good emulsifying and solubilizing properties over a wide range of pH levels.


In summary, Polysorbate 20, or Tween 20, is a versatile chemical compound widely used across pharmaceutical, personal care, food, textile, and agrochemical industries. Its role as a surfactant, emulsifier, and solubilizing agent makes it indispensable in various applications, contributing to product stability, efficacy, and uniformity. Understanding its functions and applications is essential for optimizing formulations and achieving desired product performance.


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