What Is Polyglyceryl-4 Oleate?

What Is Polyglyceryl-4 Oleate?

This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!


Polyglyceryl-4 Oleate

What it is:

Polyglyceryl-4 Oleate is an ester of oleic acid and polyglycerin-4. You may be asking: What the heck is an ester and what are oleic acid and polyglycerin-4? We’re here to make this (a little) less complicated than it seems. Here’s what it all means:

  • Poly = many molecules, in this case: 4.
  • Glycerine is a naturally occurring alcohol compound that’s found in vegetable oils, animal fats, and human skin oils. Ours come from palm and coconut oil.
  • Oleic acid is a fatty acid that occurs naturally in various animal and vegetable fats and oils. Ours comes from olive oil.
  • In chemistry, an ester is produced through the reaction of an alcohol and an acid (precisely what the two aforementioned ingredients are).

It’s pretty amazing what scientists can do with simple plant oils!

What it does:

Glycerine is naturally water-loving (the structure of the molecules make it like a magnet to water molecules) and fatty acids like oleic acid are naturally oil-loving. When you combine these qualities into one compound, you have the perfect ingredient for helping keep all of the other ingredients in a formula together! In technical terms, it’s called an “emulsifier” and if you want to visualize it at work, think of what it looks like when you mix oil and water – they quickly go their separate ways (the oil floats up and the water sinks down). If you added an emulsifier and mixed it all up, all three ingredients would remain evenly dispersed as one, uniform final product. In our Honest Deodorant, it helps create a stable mixture for a consistent, refreshing experience every time.

Why we use it:

This plant-based, mild emulsifier is an excellent alternative to the more questionable standard alternatives like polyethylene glycol (PEG) and triethanolamine (TEA). Not only that, it’s Whole Foods Premium Body Care approved – and their standards, developed by a team of scientists over the course of years, are some of the strictest available. If they give it a thumbs-up, we do, too. And the icing on the cake is that it’s also approved for use in ECOCERT Certified cosmetics — a stamp of approval that gives us great confidence in the safety and sustainability of this ingredient. (ECOCERT is based in Europe and is one of the largest organic certification organizations in the world, conducting supply chain inspections in over 80 countries!) Ester is awesome!

Why we’re featuring it today:

There are an increasing amount of sources that recommend avoiding ingredients you can’t pronounce. It’s a great starting point for trying to better understand what’s inside your products, but it certainly doesn’t mean that anything difficult to pronounce is inherently bad. Polyglyceryl-4 oleate is a great example.

Fear of the unknown is basic human nature, but researching, learning and familiarizing yourself with what’s unknown is far more productive and empowering. We know when it comes to the oodles of ingredients used in everyday products, no one has the time to research every single one – that’s why we do our best to do it for you! If there’s ever a specific chemical we use (or even one we don’t use) that you’re curious about, let us know and we’ll try to get it in our research queue for a post like this on our blog. It’s part of our mission to educate and make life easier for you – that’s the Honest way!

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.