Polyols (Sugar Alcohols) in Personal Care Products

Polyols, or sugar alcohols, offer skincare benefits. They can act as humectants, emollients, texture enhancers, solvents, and lubricants in personal care products.
5 min read

Polyols, also called polyalcohols or sugar alcohols, are naturally occurring carbohydrates containing multiple hydroxyl groups. They are popularly used as sweeteners in food products to replace table sugar. In the personal care industry, polyols offer skincare benefits and act as sweeteners in oral care products without the drawbacks of traditional sugars. Sugar alcohols can act as a humectant, emollient, texture enhancer, solvent, and lubricant in cosmetic formulations. 

What are Polyols?

Polyols are hydrogenated carbohydrates produced by reducing their carbonyl groups to primary or secondary hydroxyl groups. Xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol, glycerol, and maltitol are all sugar alcohols. The chemical structures of these polyols are provided below.

Chemical structure of maltitolA black background with a black square

Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikidata
Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

How are Polyols Produced?

Polyols are naturally occurring substances. However, they can also be produced through chemical synthesis, hydrogenation, and fermentation. Bacteria, yeast, or fungi can be used for fermentative production of polyols. They can also be made synthetically by catalytic hydrogenation of the sugars. 

Applications in the Personal Care Industry

HumectantSugar alcohols have humectant properties, so they can attract and retain moisture. For this reason, they can improve the efficacy of moisturizing products.
Sweetening AgentSugar alcohols provide sweetness to oral care products like toothpaste and mouthwash without promoting tooth decay. They can help improve the taste of these products without compromising oral health.
EmollientSugar alcohols act as emollients and help soften and smooth the skin by forming a protective layer on the skin’s surface. This can help to improve the texture and appearance of the skin.
Texture EnhancerSugar alcohols can help improve the texture of personal care products, making them smoother and easier to apply. They can contribute to the overall feel and consistency of products like creams, gels and lotions.
SolventSugar alcohols can act as a solvent that can dissolve other ingredients and help them blend smoothly.
LubricantSugar alcohols contribute to a smooth and slippery texture, improving the spreadability of products.

Product Examples

Skincare Moisturizers, lotions, creams, serums, and facial masks
Oral Care Toothpaste, mouthwash, and chewing gum
Hair Care Shampoos, conditioners, hair masks and styling products
Makeup Foundations, lipsticks, lip balms and eyeliners
DeodorantsDeodorants and antiperspirants

Properties of Polyols

Molecular Weight34412215210192.1 g/mol
Melting Point150℃122℃94℃101℃17.8°C
Physical FormPowder, crystals (granules) & syrupPowder, crystals (granules) & syrupPowder, crystals (granules) & syrupPowder, crystals (granules) & syrupLiquid
Solubility175g/100g water47g/100g water200g/100g water235g/100g water126g/100 mL
Calorific Value2.1 cal/g0.2 cal/g2.4 cal/g2.6 cal/g4.32 kcal/g
Relative Sweetness80-90%60-70%80-100%50-60%60-70%
Shelf Life24-36 months24-36 months24-36 months24-36 months24-36 months
ClaimsNon-cariogenic, Plant-based*, Organic*, Non-GMO*, Natural*, Allergen-free*Non-cariogenic, Plant-based*, Organic*, Non-GMO*, Natural*, Allergen-free*Non-cariogenic, Plant-based*, Organic*, Non-GMO*, Natural*, Allergen-free*Non-cariogenic, Plant-based*, Organic*, Non-GMO*, Natural*, Allergen-free*Non-cariogenic, Plant-based*, Organic*, Non-GMO*, Natural*, Allergen-free*
Storage ConditionsCool, dry & dark place < 40℃)Cool, dry & dark place < 40℃)Cool, dry & dark place < 40℃)Cool, dry & dark place < 40℃)Cool, dry & dark place < 40℃)

Typical Formulations


Components% Composition
Erythritol (80 µm)40
Purified water20
Sodium alginate0.5
Sodium CMC1
Xanthan gum0.05
Sodium fluoride0.21
PEG 60005
Saccharin sodium0.05
Abrasive silica10
B-Glycyrrhetinic acid0.01

Source: Google Patents 

Moisturizing Gel

PartComponent % Composition
Part ADeionized waterqsp 100%
Ultrez 100.4
Part BSodium hydroxide 30%0.4
Deionized water4.0
Part CPotassium sorbate0.1
Part DP13.0

P1 is a solution comprising between 2000 ppm and 20000 ppm of homarine and 20% of erythritol. Erythritol is used in the formulation for its osmo-protective effect.

Source: Google Patents  

Deodorant Stick

Components% Composition
Vegetable glycerin66.0
Sugar alcohol blend3.0
Beta cyclodextrin0.5
Microcrystalline cellulose & alginate0.6
Herbal extract blend0.5
Sodium stearate6.0
Inulin & Alpha glucan oligosaccharide1.0
Waterqs to 100

Source: Google Patents 

Formulation Considerations

Cooling Effect

Polyols have a high heat of solution, so dissolving their crystalline forms in the mouth creates a pleasant cooling sensation. The cooling effect of polyols varies. Erythritol has the strongest cooling effect and isomalt the mildest. While this effect may be desirable for peppermint and menthol products in oral care, it may be unsuitable for other products.


Phase StabilityStable against crystallization
Oxidative StabilityStable
Light StabilityStable
pH Stability3.5-12

Effects on the Properties of Personal Care Products

  • Effects of molecular weight: Typically, as the molecular weight of a polyol decreases, osmolality increases, freezing point decreases, viscosity decreases, and boiling point increases.
  • Emulsifying and texturizing: Sugar alcohols can act as emulsifiers, as they can help to stabilize emulsions. Additionally, they can help improve cosmetic products’ texture and mouthfeel. 
  • Viscosity improvement: The viscosity of sugar alcohols increases with heat. The viscosity of erythritol and xylitol are relatively low and thus add less body compared to maltitol. 

Beneficial Effects on Skin

  • Enhanced moisturization: Polyols, particularly glycerin, act as humectants, helping to bind water within the skin, thereby promoting hydration.
  • Reduced trans-epidermal water loss: Polyols decrease water loss by keeping the skin hydrated, improving skin barrier function.
  • Smooth skin surface: Studies show that polyols can improve skin surface roughness, contributing to a smoother appearance.
  • Non-irritating properties: Certain polyols, such as glycols, are gentle on the skin, making them suitable for sensitive skin types.

Safety and Regulatory Considerations

FDA InformationIn the United States, the regulation of polyols in cosmetics falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
EU Information Polyols used for purposes other than food, feed, or pharmaceuticals are subject to the requirements of the REACH Regulation.

Identification Numbers

IUPAC Name4-O-α-D-Glucopyranosyl-D-glucitol(2S,3R)-butane-1,2,3,4-tetrol(2S,4R)-pentane-1,2,3,4,5-pentol(2R,3R,4R,5S)-hexane-1,2,3,4,5,6-hexol1, 2, 3- Trihydroxypropane
CAS Number585-88-6149-32-687-99-050-70-456-81-5
EC Number209-567-0205-737-3201-788-0200-061-5200-289-5

Fun Facts About Polyols

  • Sugar alcohols are hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture from their surroundings. This property can help keep products stable by preventing them from drying out or becoming too hard.
  • In addition to their moisturizing properties, some sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol also exhibit mild preservative properties, helping to extend the shelf life of certain personal care products.

Additional Resources