In this article, you will learn what polysorbate 80 is, its most common uses, and where it came from.
Next, I’ll discuss the research surrounding polysorbate 80 use for hair growth, and what this means for those suffering from male-pattern baldness.
Last, you’ll learn about polysorbate 80 availability and cost, and how to obtain it for your own use.
What is Polysorbate 80?
Polysorbate 80 is a decades-old synthetic compound commonly found in foods and cosmetics. It is both a surfactant and an emulsifier.
It belongs to a class of compounds called polysorbates. Other polysorbates are polysorbate 20, polysorbate 40, and polysorbate 60. The numbers 20, 40, etc refer to the total number of oxyethylene -(CH2CH2O)- groups in the molecule.
Polysorbate 80s list of applications is almost endless. You can find it things like:
- floor cleaners and other cleaning products
- ice cream, where it makes it more resistant to melting and easier to handle
It is considered safe for human use.
Can Polysorbate 80 Treat Hair Loss?
Starting in the 1970s polysorbate 60 (and later polysorbate 80) joined the list of potential hair loss treatments.
Polysorbates were first popularized by the Helsinki Formula. This was a hair loss formula shampoo and conditioner developed by a Finnish researcher, Dr. Ilona Schreck-Purola.
The Helsinki formula caused quite a sensation when it was first released. Numerous companies produced and marketed various versions of the Helsinki Formula.
When Rogaine came along, however, its popularity waned. Eventually, the FDA banned its advertising and the Helsinki Formula came off the shelves.
Certain hair loss products on the market today claim to be loosely based on the original Helsinki Formula.
What Did the Clinical Data Show?
In 1974, the University of Helsinki reported an uncontrolled study with 110 patients and no placebo arm. The topical preparation contained polysorbate 60. The researchers noted gross hair regrowth in 42% of subjects after 16 weeks of therapy. The lack of a placebo control group was a significant disadvantage in this study.
A controlled study in 1985, however, compared polysorbate 60 to placebo in 141 men. The efficacy measures included scalp hair measurements, as well as evaluations of the before and after photographs by blinded dermatologists. The patients also reported their own subjective assessments of how well the treatment had worked for them.
Polysorbate 60 did not outperform placebo, suggesting it was an ineffective hair loss treatment (1).
In the words of the researchers:
No statistically significant difference was noted between control and treatment groups when both the measurement and photographic data were analyzed, indicating that polysorbate 60 is not an effective remedy for [Male Pattern Baldness].
What the researchers found particularly striking, however, was the very high number of men who reported experiencing (subjective) hair regrowth. This was 22% in the placebo group, versus 28% for the polysorbate group.
The difference was not statistically significant. According to the authors of the paper, however, this very high percentage of 22% in the placebo group”suggests why even well-meaning advocates of any new baldness “cure” could become convinced of its efficacy” (1).
It is also worth considering that in the 1970s & 80s, there were a large number of testimonials from both patients and their prescribing doctors in favor of the Helsinki formula.
Today, polysorbate 80 is a marginal choice for men with hair loss problems. As a result, it is difficult to find even anecdotal evidence on its efficacy.
Having said that, when the Helsinki Formula was being dragged through the courts in the early 1990s, the makers of the products were able to find a large number of users willing to testify that the product had worked for them.
How to Use It
As a standalone treatment method, you apply Polysorbate 80 directly to the scalp.
Simply add a few drops to your palm (or apply to the scalp directly) and massage into the scalp until thoroughly covered. Rinse with lukewarm water about 10-15 minutes after application.
You may apply the compound daily, but keep an eye on how your scalp responds to the emulsifier. You may experience dryness, as the polysorbate may be drawing too much oil from your scalp. In this case, apply less frequently (3-5x/week) or for shorter periods of time (5-10 minutes).
Like most hair loss treatments, if you see no results after three or four months, you should discontinue treatment.
Availability and Cost
Polysorbate 80 is an over-the-counter product that does not require a doctor’s prescription. It is available as a standalone ingredient, and this is the cheapest and most effective way to introduce Polysorbate into your hair care routine.
The appearance of polysorbate 80 is liquid with a pale yellow color (you can also find polysorbate 60, in the form of wax flakes).
Price varies by retailer. Amazon, for example, has 16 fl. oz. available for $16.59 plus shipping. You can also buy it from specialty cosmetics stores, both online as well as brick-and-mortar.
You can also find polysorbate 80 as an ingredient in various hair loss shampoos and topical formulations. In such cases, it is impossible to isolate and evaluate the contribution of polysorbate 80 to any potential regrowth.
If you’re looking to treat hair thinning and regrow hair, then polysorbate 80 could be worth looking into. After all, there is some scientific research to back its effectiveness, and there are hardly any side effects.
Having said that, it is almost certain that many men will show no objective response to treatment. If after three or four months you see that polysorbate 80 is not giving you results, you can try alternative treatments.
Before undertaking any hair loss treatment, even with over-the-counter products, you should consult with your dermatologist or general doctor. This is especially the case if you switch to FDA-approved hair loss treatments like minoxidil and finasteride.