I’ve been itching to get my hands on some cetearyl alcohol for a while now—readers keep asking me about it, I see it in ingredients lists all the dang time, and I’ve been reading all kinds of lovely things about it! Now that Windy Point has it available in smaller quantities (NDA has it, but you have to buy 1kg!) I scooped some up and decided to kick our relationship off with one of my quick guides. Hopefully you find it useful!
Cetearyl alcohol (also known as cetostearyl alcohol and cetylstearyl alcohol) is a combination of cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol—two fatty alcohols derived from coconut and palm oils. The ratio of the blend does vary; the stuff I have from Windy Point is 30/70 (so is the version from Lotion Crafter), whilst the stuff from NDA is 50/50, so keep that in mind. Cetearyl alcohol comes as white pellets, much like emulsifying wax and other fatty alcohols and acids, so make sure you’re keeping your lids and labels straight!
It melts at 50°C (122°F), which is slightly higher than cetyl alcohol (49.3°C [120.7°F]) and lower than stearic acid (69.3°C [156.7°F]). We use cetearyl alcohol in concoctions for thickening, stabilizing emulsions, and its wonderful velvety emollient feel. The version NDA sells is named “Emulsifying Wax O”, which is terribly misleading as you will not be able to create an emulsion with plain ol’ cetearyl alcohol no matter what it is called. Usage rates are typically stated at up to 25%, but that will obviously vary with what you’re making. A lotion would likely use 2–3% for some thickening, whilst an emulsified sugar scrub or cleansing balm would use more for structure.
Before I had used cetearyl alcohol I’d read that it was somewhere between cetyl alcohol and stearic acid, so I was expecting something with good slip, but some richness that cetyl alcohol doesn’t have (but stearic acid does). I was not disappointed! This inexpensive, versatile ingredient will definitely be popping up in recipes in the future.
I followed the same methodology I’ve used with my wax experiments. I compared eight different ratios (by weight) of cetearyl alcohol and olive oil: 1:1 through 1:8, with the one being the cetearyl alcohol. I weighed one gram of cetearyl alcohol into eight different dishes, and then added 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. grams of olive oil. I melted the contents of each dish in a water bath, swirling to combine, and leaving them at room temperature for about two hours to solidify before starting my poking and prodding.
General observations at the start
They all have a bit of a “sweaty” appearance on the surface. They appear to have set up well at room temperature.
1:1 (50% cetearyl alcohol)
Very solid/firm; I cannot press a finger through it. I can scrape up a few small shavings with my fingernail. Left sitting on my skin, those shavings don’t melt, but if rubbed in they move around fairly easy and vanish. The slip is a bit skiddy at first, but once the mixture warms up and is moving, it has a wonderful almost silicone-y slip on the skin. Left sitting on the skin I can easily find the skiddy patch on the back of my hand—motion and warmth seems key to good slip with this mixture.
1:2 (33.33% cetearyl alcohol)
Also very firm—I can’t press a finger through this one. Fingernail shavings come up much more readily than 1:1, and are a bit creamy once I pass the harder top layer. The creamy part of the mixture massages into the skin really nicely; the top skin is definitely harder and less inclined to melt. A rich, velvety feel with a slightly powdery finish.
1:3 (25% cetearyl alcohol)
Still quite firm, but I can smash through with a finger tip. The mixture does not melt readily if just left on the skin, but once you start rubbing it in it is lovely. Wonderful, luxurious slip that feels rich without being greasy or sticky. Somewhat miraculously, I wouldn’t even really describe it as oily. It’s very cool.
1:4 (20% cetearyl alcohol)
I pressed through the surface of this one easily and it shattered into some larger pieces. There is definitely a harder top and a softer bottom layer. It does not liquify quickly if it’s just sitting on the skin, but as soon as I start to glide it around it melts readily. Fantastic velvety slip with a lovely rich feeling.
1:5 (16.66% cetearyl alcohol)
Easy to press through, similar layer and shatter to 1:4. Same lovely, rich slip once massaged in.
1:6 (14% cetearyl alcohol)
Easy to press through with a finger; we’re now getting into creamy/squishy territory rather than snap territory. Feels mostly like a thick, rich, but not greasy oil when massaged into the skin. Still solid, but not stubbornly so.
1:7 (12.5% cetearyl alcohol)
I can press through this one easily; it reminds me of a softer balm, but without the substance of one made from wax. It is somewhere between a liquid oil and a soft butter in consistency—reminiscent of coconut oil, but not as oily/runny. Same great slip and rich skin feel.
1:8 (11% cetearyl alcohol)
Rich, soft, and creamy, but still does not liquify readily on the skin. Fantastic rich slip when massaged in.
2:9 (18% cetearyl alcohol)
I did this one a bit differently; after examining 1:1 through 1:8 I put all the experiments in a single bowl, melted them together, and then stirred the mixture consistently as it cooled to get a bit of an idea of how the consistency changes when it is stirred while cooling instead of being allowed to sit still. It was not massively different from the higher ratio experiments, which makes sense as the percentages are fairly close. It is soft and almost fluffy, with an appearance similar to that of sugar soaked in oil (though not rough at all). Once massaged into the skin it readily melts and is very smooth, velvety, and creamy.
General absorptions at the end
Fairly slow to absorb. Great slip, rich & velvety feel. It’s a good thickener, and describing it as being between cetyl alcohol and stearic acid is actually pretty accurate. In addition to use in lotions I think it would be lovely in a cleansing balm or emulsified sugar scrub.
|1:3||Yes||Yes||Slow to Average||No||Great|
|1:4||No||Yes||Slow to Average||No||Great|