Cetearyl Alcohol – How Fatty Alcohols Can Be Extra Helpful Than You Thought.

What is cetearyl alcohol?

Cetearyl alcohol is a Fatty alcohol used in skin care and cosmetic formulations to improve the texture and sensory feel of products. It also has the added benefit of softening and soothing the skin.

Cetearyl alcohol, also called cetyl stearyl alcohol, is a mixture of fatty alcohols, mainly cetyl and stearyl alcohols. Cetyl alcohol is derived from Palm oil and stearyl alcohol is derived from stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid. Fatty alcohols are a hybrid between alcohols and fatty acids or oils. There is often a misconception that cetearyl alcohol dries out the skin because the name contains alcohol. The reality is actually the opposite. Cetearyl alcohol is a white, waxy solid, usually in flake form. It is insoluble in water but soluble in alcohol and oils.

the breakdown

Cetearyl alcohol

the good: Improves the texture and sensory feel of products and helps soften and soothe the skin.

not that good: Cetearyl alcohol is made from palm oil, which has ethical problems with the sustainability of its harvest.

For whom is that? All skin types except those who have an identified allergy.

Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients

Keep an eye on: Look out for brands that use ethically harvested palm oil sources.

Why is cetearyl alcohol used?

Cetearyl alcohol has many functions in cosmetics and skin care products, including use as an emollient, emulsion stabilizer, surfactant, opacifier, and viscosity enhancer.


Cetearyl alcohol is a softening, helps to improve spreadability and texture and to provide the skin with a light protective barrier. Emollients are occlusive ingredients that provide a protective layer that prevents water loss from the skin. Hence, cetearyl alcohol has the ability to soften and smooth the skin, which helps reduce rough, flaky skin. In addition, because of its emollient properties, cetearyl alcohol is widely used in hair conditioners and other hair products.


Another function of cetearyl alcohol is as a Emulsifier. An emulsifier is required for products that contain both water and oil components. Oil- and water-based ingredients do not stay mixed in a formulation, but separate and split over time. To address this problem, an emulsifier such as cetearyl alcohol can be added to help the two-ingredient types stay dispersed and create a stable emulsion.


Cetearyl alcohol also acts as a Surfactant. Surfactants are ingredients that reduce the surface tension between two substances, such as two liquids or a liquid and a solid. Another task of surfactants is to degrease and emulsify oils and fats and to float and wash off dirt. This is possible because one end of the surfactant molecule is attracted to water while the other end is attracted to oil. For example, surfactants attract and wash away oil, dirt, and other impurities that have built up on your skin over the course of the day. Because of these properties, cetearyl alcohol is found in many different detergents and body wash products. Cetearyl alcohol also increases the foaming power of products.


The last important function of cetearyl alcohol is that of a viscosity increasing agent. The term viscosity refers to the thickness of a formulation. As a viscosity increasing agent, cetearyl alcohol acts to thicken formulations, to make a product less fluid and more spreadable.

Don’t alcohols dry?

Because of its name, cetearyl alcohol is often misunderstood as harmful to the skin because it is an alcohol. It is true that some alcohols, such as ethyl or rubbing alcohol, can extremely dry out the skin. In the case of fatty alcohols that have an oil component, however, the opposite is the case. As a fatty alcohol, cetearyl alcohol is known to be effective in nourishing and softening the skin and hair.

What is the difference between cetearyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol and cetyl alcohol?

As Healthline discussed, cetearyl alcohol is actually a combination of cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. They are all fatty alcohols but differ slightly in the number of carbon atoms in their carbon chain. For example, cetyl alcohol has 16 carbon atoms, stearyl alcohol has 18, and cetearyl alcohol as a combination has 34.

Is cetearyl alcohol vegan?

In general, cetearyl alcohol is a vegan ingredient as it is mostly obtained from plant-based products. It can be obtained from animal sources such as sperm whales, but this source is very rare.

If you are looking for a vegan product, check with the brand that the ingredients are all vegan and that they a Not tested on animals Brand.

Is Cetearyl Alcohol Safe?

the US Food and Drug Administration Added cetearyl alcohol to its list of acceptable food additives. the Expert panel for the review of cosmetic ingredients, a group responsible for assessing the safety of cosmetic and skin care ingredients has evaluated the scientific data on cetearyl alcohol. Based on the investigations carried out, the panel of experts came to the conclusion that this ingredient is non-sensitizing, non-toxic and safe to use in cosmetic products.

Cosmetic Ingredient Review, 1988. ‘Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Isostearyl Alcohol, Myristyl Alcohol, and Behenyl Alcohol’, Internal Journal of Toxicology, vol. 7, number 3.

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