Sometimes described as ‘E202,’ potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid. It does occur naturally in fruits like berries; however, it’s manufactured on a large scale by combining potassium hydroxide with sorbic acid. It’s incorporated into antiperspirants and mainstream personal care products as a preservative to control fermentation and extend their shelf-life. It’s also used in the preparation of food, drinks, and dietary supplements for the same reason. The potassium sorbate listed on your consumer product will more likely be from synthetic sources.
Although generally considered safe, results from several studies indicate potassium sorbate can pose a myriad of health risks if you’re allergic but continue using it, or if it’s used in greater amounts over long periods of time. As an allergen, potassium sorbate can trigger an exaggerated response of the immune system, producing reactions such as skin irritation, redness, and burning and itchy rashes. It can also irritate the eyes, mouth as well as the respiratory system, producing unpleasant symptoms such as nasal congestion and runny nose.
Potassium sorbate use has been linked with migraines. It can damage white blood cells culminating in reduced immunity. It can be toxic to, and damage, the DNA if the product being used also contains ascorbic acid or vitamin C. Potassium sorbate can give kidney problems if used in excessive amounts. Prolonged use can result in nausea, vomiting, stomach discomfort and diarrhea, which can hasten the loss of vital nutrients from the body. It’s best to avoid potassium sorbate if you’ve got hyperkalemia, or are allergic to potassium.