Sorbitol, or glucitol as it is sometimes called, is a slow-metabolizing sugar alcohol derived from fruits, corn and seaweed. It's a sugar substitute found in foods such as frozen desserts, sugar-free chewing gum and diabetic candies. Sorbitol is only about 60% as sweet as sugar, however. It is also used as a thickener and moisturizer in beauty products.
Since it's very slow to be metabolized by the body, sorbitol does not cause insulin levels to increase as much as sugar. It also doesn't lead to tooth decay and is used in many sugar-free cough syrups. It is a popular addition to gel toothpastes as it helps add transparency.
Sorbitol is added to soaps, especially transparent glycerin bar soaps. It has moisturizing qualities and may be found in lotions and moisturizing soaps. The sugar alcohol has been used in cosmetic products for close to a century and is a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) product by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This sweetener can have a laxative effect, and it is not recommended for consumption by children and those with sensitive digestion symptoms or a gastro-intestinal condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Sorbitol can cause diarrhea, bloating and gas unless it's consumed in small quantities. It may also cause abdominal pain in some cases.
Sorbitol's chemical formula is C6H1406. It may be used in cigarette production as a moisturizing substance as well as a sweetener in some diet drinks. It is also used, along with sucrose, to preserve the freshness of surimi proteins used in producing imitation crab.
Most that used in the food and cosmetics industry today comes primarily from corn. The People's Republic of China is a large producer of sorbitol. Different grades include food grade for food and beverage products, cosmetic grade for cosmetic and personal health products, and vitamin C grade used to produce supplement tablets.