What’s cetearyl alcohol?

Jun 28, 2022 | Ingredients

What’s cetearyl alcohol?

1. Structure

Cetearyl alcohol is a mixture of two saturated fatty acids – cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol.  The ratio between these two fatty acids can vary from 50:50, 70:30, 30:70 (stearyl:cetyl) and all of these variations will perform a bit differently.

I would say that 70:30 ratio is more widely common and some suppliers don’t even mention this ratio. However, this information can usually be found in additional documents of ingredient.


Cetyl alcohol chemical structure


Stearyl alcohol chemical structure


Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) chemical structure

As can be seen from the pictures above stearyl and cetyl alcohols are very similar in their structure. Cetyl alcohol has 16 carbon atoms while stearyl has 18 carbon atoms. Both of these molecules are very different from ethyl alcohol molecule which has only 2 carbon atoms. 

All these three molecules share alcohol group -OH and this is the reason why all of them are known as alcohols. However, their chemical structure differs and their properties also differ from one another. Ethanol is liquid while both cetyl and stearyl alcohols are solid alcohols.

If you like to know more about cetyl alcohol, read this:


2. Basic properties

Cetearyl alcohol properties

INCI Cetearyl alcohol
Function Co-emulsifier, thickener, emollient and emulsion stabilizer
Type Oil-in-water co-emulsifier, non-ionic, non-ethoxylated
Origin Fatty alcohol derived from vegetable fatty acids. Usually palm oil or coconut oil
Appearance Waxy white solid pellets
Usage rate 1-5 % in lotions, 5-25 % in balms and other anhydrous products
Scent None
Absorption rate Medium-fast
Solubility Oil
Skin type All skin types, but interesting for dry skin
Approximate melting temperature 50°C / 122°F
HLB value 15.5
Shelf life Store somewhere in a cool, dark and dry environment. It should last at least two years
When to include it It needs to be melted, so include it your heated oil phase
How much do you need it? 100 g (3.3 oz.) is enough
Alternatives Cetyl alcohol or behenyl alcohol, but the end products won't be the same.

3. Is cetearyl alcohol bad for skin/hair?

It is safe to use on the skin and hair, however there could be people that are reacting to it badly. If you are one of those people – just don’t use this ingredient in your formulations. 

This ingredient is a mild emollient which moisturizes, softens and protects the skin. It differs a bit from cetyl alcohol as it has a bit reduced slip and glide. It gives more richness and is a bit heavier. Though it is far from the feeling that waxes have.

Cetearyl alcohol makes the hair soft and moisturized. It also smooths the hair fibers and adds some slip, which in turn helps to detangle hair better. This is why cetyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol are found between the first 5 ingredients in conditioners.


4. Where to use cetearyl alcohol?

Cetearyl alcohol can be used in a wide range of cosmetic products, but mainly it is used in lotions and conditioners. In lotions it is used for its  thickening and lotion stabilizing properties. Here it is usually used in small amounts 1-4% is enough to thicken a lotion quite a lot.  

If you would like to know how cetearyl alcohol can thicken a lotion, here is a nice post about it. 

In hair care formulations it is used in higher amounts for detangling, moisturizing abilities. It also acts as a surfactant – it means that it lowers the surface tension and the dirt can be washed better.

In higher concentrations cetearyl alcohol can be used in anhydrous (waterless) formulations such as body balms, body scrubs, salves, lip balms.  Here it is used in 5-25%. 



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