Cetearyl Alcohol at a Glance
- Fatty alcohol with emollient (softening/smoothing) properties for skin
- Known to be gentle and safe (unlike skin-damaging/drying forms of alcohol such as SD or denatured)
- May also be used to alter the thickness of a formula or influence the foaming capacity of a cleanser
- Can be derived naturally, as in coconut fatty alcohol, or made synthetically
- As a raw material, it is a white, waxy solid (often in flake form)
Cetearyl Alcohol Description
Cetearyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol that is a mixture of cetyl and stearyl alcohols. It can be derived naturally, as in coconut fatty alcohol, or made synthetically. Unlike the skin-aggravating/drying forms of alcohol (typically listed as SD alcohol, denatured alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol), cetearyl alcohol is an emollient that is gentle, safe, and good for skin.
Beyond cetearyl alcohol’s emollient ability to provide a softening and smoothing effect, it is also used as a carrying agent for other ingredients. Additionally, it can be used to alter the thickness of a formula or to influence the foaming capacity of a cleanser.
It is almost always combined with similar-feeling ingredients to create a product’s texture and slip sensation when applied to skin.
According to the U.S. FDA, cosmetic products labeled "alcohol free" are allowed to contain cetearyl alcohol, because the effects are so different from skin-damaging forms of alcohol. We repeat: fatty alcohols like cetearyl alcohol do not pose a risk of sensitizing or drying out your skin.
As a raw material, cetearyl alcohol is a white, waxy solid (often in flake form). It is not soluble in water but is soluble in alcohol and oils. In the majority of skin care formulas, cetearyl alcohol is present in under a 5% concentration, although higher amounts are permissible.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review has a long history of recognizing cetearyl alcohol as safe in the present practices of use.
Cetearyl Alcohol References
CosmeticsInfo.org, Accessed March 2021, ePublication
FDA Cosmetic Labeling Claims, August 2020, ePublication
Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists of Korea, June 2009, pages 103-110
Journal of the American College of Toxicology, 1988, pages 359-413
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!