Cetearyl alcohol is one of those ingredients that pops up a lot, without being easy to remember what it is and what it does in skincare. It is often combined with Cetearyl glucoside, adding to the confusion. This ingredient spotlight covers what Cetearyl alcohol is, how to use it in skin and hair care, and its role in skin and hair care.
What is Cetearyl Alcohol?
Cetearyl Alcohol is a favorite fatty alcohol of many formulators due to its versatility, dry but emollient feel, and the luxurious thickness it imparts.
Cetearyl Alcohol is a combination of two other fatty alcohols, namely cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol (or Stearic acid)—thus the name Cetearyl. Both are vegetable-derived and very unlike the simple alcohols familiar at the bar in cocktails. Instead, fatty alcohols are light, non-greasy emollients and create a dry, powdery finish with a fluffy texture. They help stabilize emulsions and this results in a slightly thicker product. The Cetearyl Alcohol we use at Essential is sustainably derived and has an approximate ratio of 70:30 Cetyl Alcohol to Stearyl Alcohol.
How Cetearyl Alcohol Works in Skin Care
The functions of Cetearyl alcohol in skin care are wide-ranging and include emollient, emulsifier, emulsion stabilizer, foam busting, opacifying, as a surfactant, and to control viscosity (mainly to thicken). Cetearyl alcohol is found in numerous moisturizing skin and hair care products, including creams, lotions, conditioners, and anhydrous products such as body scrubs. For more on emulsifiers, check out this article.
When on the skin in lotions, Cetearyl alcohol boosts softness and minimizes stickiness that can come from other ingredients. It is technically a liquid crystal emulsifier (though it does not form crystals in products), and this helps it mimic skin layers for better absorption, holding water on the skin longer.
How to Use Cetearyl Alcohol in Cosmetics
Presenting as white to off-white flakes, this oil soluble ingredient usage rates depend on the product. Although acceptable at 0.5 to 10%, it is typically used at <1.5% in facial emulsions—higher percentages can feel too hydrating, as if you are almost sweating. In creams and lotions it is used at 1%-3%.
When adding Cetearyl alcohol, heat to 54C (129F), to add to melt/oil phase.
Cetearyl Alcohol and Cetearyl Glucoside
You will often see Cetearyl alcohol and Cetearyl glucoside bundled together—we sell this combination too—because they make a great self-emulsifying lotion or cream with a luxurious feel.
Cetearyl Glucoside is derived from starch, and on its own is emulsifying and a surfactant. It forms low-viscosity emulsions and is ideal in gel-creams and lotions, also leaving skin hydrated but not oily.
When used together, Cetearyl alcohol and Cetearyl glucoside are used at 3%-6% in emulsions for rich emollient creams and lotions. They work well with sensitive skin and you can get the combination here.
There are many wonderful applications for Cetearyl alcohol and although the name may put some people off, the chemistry highlights what a wonderful hydrating, light, and easy-to-use ingredient it is.