Preservation is a tricky business. All formulations that contain a large amount of water need to be preserved and all preservatives have some kind of drawback. Potassium sorbate has been used for a long time but has recently been very widely used in products that have some kind of natural story about them. How natural is it?

Potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid. Sorbic acid gets its name from the latin name for the rowan tree, and sorbic acid was first isolated from rowan berries. S0 that is a nice story. Is the potassium sorbate in the product on your bathroom shelf produced by rosy cheeked peasants harvesting rowan berries and extracting it in their cottages? Not really.

Both potassium sorbate and sorbic acid are used in vast quantities in the food industry. They are related, distantly, to sugars. In nature most sugar is burnt for energy but some gets used to make other useful bits and pieces like the sorbic acid in rowan berries. I assume in the berries it has some kind of preservative activity.


From the UK, Colin Sanders has been a formulator of cosmetic and topical pharmaceuticals for 27 years. Over that time he has formulated nearly every category of product including shampoos, cosmetic skin creams, pharmaceutical skin creams, face masks, lip balms and so on. Colin has been an active member of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists since 1985, and in 1999, organized the first of the Formulate shows. His degree is in environmental science, and he continues to take a keen interest in the impact of human activities on the planet. Colin regards himself as an environmental activist and all round green. When not in the lab, he writes a blog, Colin’s Beauty Pages, with the intention of entertaining and hopefully informing users of cosmetic and personal care products with some insider insights, a bit of science and his own opinions.

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