Cetyl Alcohol

What is it? A fatty alcohol we use as a thickener in lotions, salves, body butters, and more.
INCI Cetyl Alcohol
Appearance Small white beads or pellets; it’s easy to confuse with other white pellets like emulsifying wax.
Usage rate 1–30% (lower amounts are typically for emulsions, higher amounts are typically for anhydrous products)
Texture Once melted into concoctions it gives a beautiful, silky finish. Learn more here.
Scent Nothing much; perhaps a bit fat-like
Absorbency Speed Fast
Approximate Melting Point 49°C (120°F)
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? Cetyl alcohol thickens and adds body to out concoctions as well as improving slip. It’s an emollient and it thickens/hardens without the weight or tackiness of wax.

I’ll include it in lotions with smaller oil phases to give them body without added weight, and in anhydrous products to make them silkier. Cetyl alcohol also helps stabilize emulsions, but it is not an emulsifier on its own.

In something like a body butter bar I’ll often reduce the wax in a formulation and replace the lost thickening power with cetyl alcohol to give the end product better slip and skin feel.

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.
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.
Weaknesses It can crystallize and/or settle out in thinner anhydrous products.
Alternatives & Substitutions Cetyl alcohol is hard to swap out. You’ll need lightweight thickening/hardening with lots of slip.

If you’re making a lotion or conditioner and it’s used at 4% or less, cetearyl alcohol is probably your best alternative. Cetearyl alcohol makes for a heavier, fluffier end product, so keep that in mind. Learn more about cetearyl alcohol here.

If cetyl alcohol is functioning as the main thickener in an anhydrous product, keep in mind that it will also be contributing to the silky finish of the product as well as the firmness. Cetearyl alcohol is probably still your best option, but the end product will be different. You could try blending cetearyl alcohol with some super-slippy lauryl laurate for a slip boost.

I don’t recommend using a true wax as an alternative for cetyl alcohol. Candelilla and carnauba waxes could work in some situations as they’re thinner/glassier/glossier waxes. Faux waxes (“waxes” that are actually hydrogenated vegetable oils—check the INCI!) may be a decent alternative in some situations, but you will have to do some experimentation to determine usage rates and if the end feel still works for you.

Stearic acid isn’t a great alternative for cetyl alcohol—you can learn more about it here. It is a much creamier, heavier thickener. I find oils thickened with cetyl alcohol feel like viscous oils, while oils thickened with stearic acid feel like butters.

How to Work with It Include it in your heated oil phase; it needs to be melted into products.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, cetyl alcohol should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Despite having “alcohol” in the name, cetyl 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. Cetyl 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 Cetyl Alcohol


Posted on

November 23, 2018