What is Sorbitol?

Sorbitol (chemical formula: C6H14O6), also known as glucitol, appears as a white crystalline powder. It is soluble in water, glycerol and propylene glycol, as well as slightly soluble in methanol, ethanol, phenol, acetic acid and acetamide. Sorbitol is faintly sweet in flavour and available in technical, pure and food grades.  

What is Sorbitol used for?

Sorbitol is synthesised by a process of reducing glucose. It is used in the production of cosmetics, tobacco, textiles, food and laxatives. 

As a hygroscopic substance (it attracts moisture), sorbitol is used in the manufacture of cosmetic creams, as well as toothpastes and mouthwashes.

Because of its sweet flavour, sorbitol is used to produce many diet foods and sugar-free products including ice cream, mints, chewing gum and cough syrups. 

You may have noticed the “laxative effect” warning on the packet of your sugar-free gum and mints.
You may have noticed the “laxative effect” warning on the packet of your sugar-free gum and mints.

Sorbitol Hazards

The routes of exposure for sorbitol include inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. 

Inhalation of sorbitol may worsen existing conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, circulatory or nervous system damage or kidney damage, however sorbitol is not typically a hazard via inhalation due to its non-volatile nature. 

Similar to inhalation, ingestion of sorbitol may be damaging to those with pre-existing organ damage. Symptoms can also include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, gas and diarrhoea, however ingestion of insignificant quantities is not thought to be a cause for concern. 

Skin contact with sorbitol is not thought to cause irritation, but good hygiene practices are recommended in any case to ensure exposure is kept to a minimum.

Eye exposure can cause irritation characterised by tearing and temporary redness. Abrasive damage may also result.

Sorbitol Safety

If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Other measures are usually unnecessary.

If swallowed, immediately provide a glass of water to the patient. First aid is generally not required, but if in doubt, seek medical attention. 

If skin exposure occurs, flush the affected skin and hair with running water and soap. Seek medical attention in the event of irritation.

If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water. Contact lenses should be removed by a skilled professional. Seek medical treatment if irritation continues. 

Sorbitol Safety Handling

Emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and there should always be adequate ventilation to remove or dilute any air contaminants (install local exhaust if necessary). 

The PPE recommended when handling sorbitol includes; safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, dust respirators, lab coats, safety boots and rubber or PVC gloves. A skin barrier cream is also recommended in the event of skin exposure.

Sorbitol is present in some of the foods we eat everyday, but handling commercial quantities can involve stricter instructions. Always check the SDS to ensure you always have the know-how to keep yourself out of harm’s way. Click here for a trial of our SDS Management Software or contact us at for more information about our chemicals management solutions.