Cetearyl Alcohol

What is it? A fatty alcohol we use as a thickener in lotions, salves, body butters, and more. It is a blend of cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. It is found as a component in many emulsifying waxes, likes Emulsifying Wax NF and BTMS-25.

Cetearyl alcohol is available in a variety of different blends of cetyl and stearyl alcohol, and these different blends will perform differently. The cetearyl alcohol I use is 30% cetyl alcohol and 70% stearyl alcohol (also referred to as 30/70 cetearyl alcohol). You can also purchase 50/50, 60/40, and 70/30.

Cetearyl alcohol is considered natural. It is technically possible to make cetearyl alcohol from animal sources, but every cetearyl alcohol I’ve ever seen for sale to cosmetic makers has been vegan (generally made from palm and/or coconut oils).

INCI Cetearyl Alcohol
Appearance Small white beads, flakes, or pellets; it’s easy to confuse with other white pellets like emulsifying wax. The specific appearance isn’t important—the INCI and the ratios of the two component ingredients are what maters.
Usage rate 1–25% (lower amounts are typically for emulsions, higher amounts are typically for anhydrous products)

The CIR has not identified an upper allowable limit, but I doubt you’d ever need more than 40%.

Texture Once melted into our products it adds a lovely, velvety rich skin feel.
Scent Nothing much; perhaps a bit fat-like.
Absorbency Speed Fast to medium
Approximate Melting Point 50°C (122°F)
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? Cetearyl alcohol adds body and thickening with a mid-weight velvety richness. It can be used to thicken products like cleansing balms and emulsified sugar scrubs where we don’t want the weight of wax, or it can be used with wax to improve the skin feel of the final product.

While cetearyl alcohol will stabilize emulsions it is not an emulsifier on its own, and will not work in formulas designed to work with a complete emulsifying wax. I have found it sold as “emulsifying wax O”, which is really quite misleading.

Learn more about how cetearyl alcohol thickens our emulsions effectively and beautifully with these two blog posts from Realize Beauty:

Do you need it? I sure love it and would highly recommend it—it’s inexpensive, versatile, and has a long shelf life. If you can get 100–200g that’ll last you quite a while. That said, if you already have cetyl alcohol and stearic acid you can probably do without it.
Strengths It’s a strong thickener without the weight and tack of waxes. At 1–4% it offers beautiful body and silkiness to lotions and conditioners, and I love it as a thickener in cosmetics where we can have thickening without the drag or tack of wax. It has more richness than cetyl alcohol, but isn’t as stiff as stearic acid.
Weaknesses It is a bit of a niche ingredient.
Alternatives & Substitutions Cetearyl alcohol is sort of the mid-way point between cetyl alcohol and stearic acid, so I would try a blend of those two ingredients to replace cetearyl alcohol. If you are replacing 30/70 cetearyl alcohol I would start with 60% cetyl alcohol and 40% stearic acid.

If you only use cetyl alcohol the end product will have a slightly lower melting point and will have less substance to it in the way that a liquid oil has less substance than a butter.

If you only use stearic acid the end product will have a higher melting point and will be heavier/creamier. In an emulsion you may also get a stronger soaping effect.

How to Work with It Include cetearyl alcohol in your heated oil phase; it needs to be melted into products.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, cetearyl alcohol should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Watch the ratios of the two components in your cetearyl alcohol! It is possible to purchase 50/50, 60/40, and 30/70, and those two versions will function differently. My recipes use 30/70 cetearyl alcohol.

Despite having “alcohol” in the name, cetearyl alcohol is not drying or irritating to the skin as it is not “that kind” of alcohol. The alcohols people typically worry about in skin care products are volatile liquid alcohols like ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Cetearyl alcohol is very different!

Recommended starter amount  100g (3.3oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Cetearyl Alcohol


Posted on

November 23, 2018