What to Know About Emulsifiers in Food and Personal Care Products

What to Know About Emulsifiers in Food and Personal Care Products

A binder called an emulsifier is found in goods including packaged meals, household cleaners, and personal hygiene products. Overindulging in them is associated with higher risks of cancer, gastrointestinal problems, and inflammation.

Emulsifiers are chemicals that aid in the blending of two substances, such as water and oil, that don't normally combine. Your store-bought ice cream or boxed cookies just wouldn't have the same consistency or texture without an emulsifier, and their shelf life would also be shortened.

This also applies to many other personal care items, such as lotion or shampoo.

Despite being widely accepted as safe and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), emulsifiers may have some unintended health impacts. This is particularly the case when ingesting foods and beverages that include emulsifiers. This is important to know.

What are emulsifiers used for?

Emulsifiers are substances that combine two or more liquids that would not normally mix to form stable emulsions. Oil-in-water emulsions are frequently a fundamental component of goods in the following sectors:
  • paint
  • pesticide
  • cosmetic
  • detergents
  • processed foods
  • supplements
  • personal care
  • pharmaceutical
An emulsion added to a product can enhance its:
  • texture
  • smell
  • taste
  • appearance
  • shelf life
For instance, you must manually mix the oil and nut spread each time you open a container of "natural" peanut butter if you have ever purchased it without an emulsifier. It will also expire sooner than your average tub of name-brand peanut butter, so you'll need to keep it refrigerated to keep it from going bad.

Examples of common emulsifiers

Typical emulsifiers found in food and drink products are as follows:
  • carrageenan
  • guar gum
  • xanthan gum
  • polysorbates
  • gelatin
  • egg protein
  • whey protein
  • soy lecithin
  • fatty acids derived from animal or vegetable fat
  • phosphatides of ammonium
Several processed goods that you may buy at your neighbourhood grocery shop contain these additives, including:
  • mayonnaise
  • margarine
  • salad dressing
  • ice cream
  • chocolate
  • nut kinds of butter
  • deli meats
  • candy
  • frosting
  • sauces
  • dairy items (such as cheese slices)
  • dairy substitutes (such as soy milk)
  • packed baked items, breads, etc.
  • crackers in a package and other snacks
Emulsifiers that are frequently found in cosmetics and personal hygiene products include:
  • ceteareth
  • beeswax
  • glyceryl stearate and stearate
  • Castor oil with hydrogenation
  • Cetyl alcohol, or cetearyl
These components are frequently found in the following products:
  • lotion
  • sunscreen
  • mascara
  • face or body wash 
  • both conditioner and shampoo
  • chapstick, gloss, lipstick, and so forth.
Other goods that frequently have emulsifiers in them are:
  • laundry detergent
  • glue or latex paint
  • household cleaners
  • wax or polish for cars, floors

Are emulsifiers safe?

Emulsifiers, like many other additives in processed foods and personal care items, are deemed safe by the FDA in most cases, but this does not imply that excessive use of them is beneficial. In the meantime, dietary emulsifiers are categorised as an emerging safety issue by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Consuming emulsifiers has been associated with an increased risk of food allergies, cancer, and gastrointestinal inflammation, according to a preliminary study.

Researchers concluded that eating specific emulsifiers may increase the risk of acquiring colon cancer in a 2021 study conducted on mice. Additionally, it has been discovered that the emulsifiers polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose exacerbate the growth of colon cancer tumours.

Researchers believe that excessive emulsifier use may be the cause of this relationship because it can lead to increased inflammation and detrimental effects on the gut microbiota. Emulsifiers generally appear to reduce gut bacterial diversity.

Researchers found in a 2022 study that feeding mice emulsifiers—particularly polysorbate 80—increased the symptoms of food allergies in the animals.

In the meantime, studies published in 2021 connect metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel disorders, and intestinal inflammation to common food emulsifiers. Researchers note that polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose, two synthetic emulsifiers, appear to be especially harmful.

Researchers came to the following conclusions in a big 2022 study involving around 103,000 French adults:
  • Xanthan gum, sodium citrate, and fatty acid mono- and diglycerides have all been linked to an elevated risk of cancer in general.
  • An increased risk of breast cancer has been associated with E331, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, total lactylates, total celluloses, and carob bean gum.
  • Triphosphates, E415, and carrageenan have all been connected to a higher risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
Additionally, a small body of data from 2020 on mice indicates that reducing emulsifier consumption may help with Crohn's disease symptoms.

Emulsifier safety in skincare

It's not as simple as merely eating them that poses a risk: Researchers found in a 2023 study that using emulsifiers in cosmetics, lotions, and soaps in excess can damage the skin barrier and lead to contact dermatitis or eczema.

Keep learning about nutrition

Eliminating processed meals generally lowers your intake of emulsifiers and other potentially dangerous compounds, such as:
  • trans fats
  • aspartame
  • food dyes
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • sodium nitrite
  • sodium benzoate
Try to "shop the perimeter" the next time you visit the grocery store if this seems too much. You can avoid filling up on too many processed items found in the centre aisles by sourcing the majority of your food from the fresh food areas, which are typically located on the store's outside boundaries.

But remember that not all processed foods are made equal: A Bolognese sauce with dozens of ingredients (perhaps including some emulsifiers) is not as healthy as a can of tomato sauce with just two or three components.


Emulsifiers are often used additives in personal care and processed food items. Despite being FDA-approved, new research shows that eating some emulsifiers increases the risk of allergies and cancer as well as gut inflammation and microbiota alteration.

In mice, emulsifiers included in cleaning supplies and cosmetics have also been linked to contact dermatitis.

Research nowadays is scarce, particularly those involving human subjects. It's critical to carry out further study so that firm conclusions may be drawn.

You can reduce your exposure to emulsifiers by consuming fewer processed meals if you discover that you respond negatively to foods that contain an excessive amount of emulsifiers. Buying natural cleaning supplies, skincare, and beauty items can also help prevent potential skin disorders.

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