Sorbitol is a sweetener with benefits. Known to thicken soaps and lotions, it is also a humectant which makes the skin and mouth feel smooth.
Sorbitol has a wide range of uses in the cosmetic and food industries where it can be either found in a crystalline or syrupy form. It was first isolated in 1872 from the juice of the rowan tree berries by a French chemist called Jean-Baptiste Boussingault, but can be now extracted from various natural sources. For example, the sorbitol found in Lush products is synthesized from corn syrup.
Despite its sweet taste, sorbitol is safe for use on the teeth as it’s not metabolised by the bacterias responsible for tooth decay. Left without food, they can’t survive and therefore can’t make damage.
The humectant and stabilising properties of sorbitol are also very appreciated in soap making. This is why Lush started using sorbitol in 2014, which replaced propylene glycol (another stabilising ingredient that was derived from petrochemicals). Although sorbitol worked well, we weren’t entirely happy with the result as it was making some soaps a little too firm and lathering less. In 2018, a source of vegetable-based propylene glycol was found and gradually reintroduced into the soap range to improve quality.