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What’s cetyl alcohol?

Jun 15, 2022 | Ingredients

You have probably seen an ingredient called cetyl alcohol. But what it is exactly and why we use it in cosmetics?

What’s cetyl alcohol?

1. WHAT’S CETYL ALCOHOL?

Cetyl alcohol is a saturated fatty acid that acts as an emollient and thickener. It is usually used in lotions as a co-emulsifier which brings a lot of slip and glide to the formula and adds some viscosity.

Even though it has a word ‘alcohol’ in it, it is very different from the volatile alcohols, such as ethanol. The main difference could be seen if we looked at their chemical structure. 

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Cetyl alcohol chemical structure

Ethanol-chemical-structure

Ethanol chemical structure

As it can be seen from the pictures above cetyl alcohol molecule is much longer than ethanol molecule. It has 16 carbon atoms, while ethanol (ethyl alcohol) molecule has only 2 carbon atoms. 

The main group that both of these molecules share is alcohol group and it is written red as -OH in the pictures above. This is why both of them have a word ‘alcohol’ in them – just because they have the same -OH (alcohol) group in their chemical structure.

Cetyl-alcohol

Cetyl alcohol properties

INCI Cetyl 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
Appearance Waxy matte white solid pellets
Usage rate 1-5 % in lotions, 5-30 % in balms and other anhydrous products
Scent None
Absorption rate Fast
Solubility Oil
Skin type All skin types, but interesting for dry skin
Approximate melting temperature 52°C / 125.6 °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 Cetearyl alcohol or behenyl alcohol, but the end products won't be the same.

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3. Is cetyl alcohol bad for hair or skin?

It depends. There could still be a possibility that a person is allergic to this ingredient. But for people that are not allergic to it, cetyl alcohol is safe to use in facial or body formulations as well as hair care formulations. 

Fatty alcohols act as emollients on the skin and cetyl alcohol is no exception as it is a mild emollient. It soothes the skin and forms a protective layer to trap the moisture. 

Cetyl alcohol on hair acts as emollient as well and helps to smooth and seal hair cuticles. In this way the hair are softer and moisturized. It also provides a good slip to the hair which then helps to detangle hair more easily.

In hair care formulations such as conditioner can act as an opacifier (it makes the whole product opaque).

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4. Where to use it?

Cetyl alcohol can be used in various formulations, but mainly it is used in lotions to thicken and stabilize them. It also adds good slip and glide to lotions upon application which is always a nice thing to feel when using a cosmetic product. Usually it is used 1-5 % in lotions.

This ingredient can also be used in a variety of anhydrous (without water) formulations. It is an excellent ingredient in body butters – it makes them less greasy and more heat stable. Cetyl alcohol can be used in body scrubs, facial balms, salves and lip balms. In anhydrous formulations it is used 5-30%.

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