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|
BWHAHAHAHAAHA! Keep your lids and labels straight indeed!
I’ve mentioned in the past how much I love these Quick Guide posts! Thank you for your time and effort to make these for us!
Ditto for cosmetic powders! We had some whoopsies at workshops where only the lids of powders were labelled and participants weren’t paying attention and they all got swapped around… that resulted in quite a lot of ingredient waste as in some cases it was impossible to be certain about what was what 🙁
I know!!! My business partner can tell you horror stories about when she first began helping me out in making stuff, “They’re ALL WHITE POWDERS!!!!!”
Hahahahaha, they’re all white powders, white pellets, and amber liquids!
Thanks a lot.
I tried using Cetearyl alcohol but ended up with a product that I had to tweak to get to the right consistency.
Your observation has helped me.
trying to make lip gloss, but more creamy. can’t figure out how to get it creamy with the gloss base
I’m confused…stearic acid, stearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate….do I need to use any of them if I am using a complete emulsifying wax like Ritamulse?
Does this not contain enough in the thickening and stabilizing department?
Oh, and then there is xanthan gum! (really, I just love to say xanthan gum!)
Good question and it made me think. I’m just learning too and it is all terribly confusing so I went back and read it over again a couple of times. Each time absorbing a bit more information. It’s like learning a new language. Somewhere I heard the Inuit have 50 words for snow. And similarly all these chemicals have slightly different qualities. So,question is, how far down the rabbit hole are we willing to go. I started with recipes off pinterest and it was fun. But I also know that since I started using Marie’s recipes, the quality of my skin has improved dramatically. Not forgetting to mention the quality of the product. As she learns more, the creams are getting softer and smoother and richer. I for one am absolutely thrilled to have found Marie. Her bold spirit and generous nature has given her the courage to share her journey with us. So with all that said, I think it’s up to you to decide if you are happy with your oil, water, and complete emulsifier recipe.
Thanks for sharing, Isabel! You’re right, that rabbit hole is so dang deep… I still look further down it and wonder if it’s worth it… and then I usually trip and fall and find myself 10 feet deeper LOL.
Hey! So, that’s sort of like saying “if you have self-rising flour, do you really need eggs?”. I would say “it depends, but I would recommend it”. If you’re making simple biscuits or something, just self-rising flour is fine. If you want to make a cake, you’ll need eggs. If you want to make scrambled eggs the self-rising flour is irrelevant, and you absolutely need eggs.
Also, ALL the emulsifying waxes I’m using are complete emulsifying waxes. Ritamulse has nothing on Olivem1000 in terms of “complete-ness”.
Stearic acid, stearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, and glyceryl stearate are thickeners and stabilizers. Including them separately from the e-wax gives you more control over the consistency of your end product—you can choose whether you prefer the richness of stearic acid or the silkiness of cetyl alcohol, and both those ingredients have uses in projects that don’t require an emulsifying wax at all. Some emulsifiers are said to need them more than others, but I’ve worked with a pretty wide variety of complete emulsifying waxes and have yet to break any emulsions without one. I definitely wouldn’t say you need all of them by any means, but one or two will come in very useful, and they’re really inexpensive.
I’d encourage you to mix up a 1% blend of xanthan gum and water, put some on your skin, and let it dry. I, personally, cannot stand the way it feels on my skin as it dries, so I tend not to include it in leave-on products, especially for ones that will cover larger areas of the skin 🙂
Now, you absolutely CAN make a lotion with just emulsifier + water + oil + preservative, but I’d compare that to an eggless cake, or perhaps a cake from a box. It will definitely be a cake, and you will be proud of it because you made it, and it’ll probably taste pretty nice, but it is unlikely to be the best cake you’ve ever eaten. It’s a great place to start, to be sure, but if you want to step up your cake/lotion game you’ll want to branch out to more than what your emulsifier offers 🙂
I came upon this again by accident, and reading these comments again on my confusion over all the thickening, rich-ening, Emulsifing, slipping ingredients, I have come quite a way! But I still love your cake batter comparison, it really helped me understand.
Although, I have to confess, I was back re-reading your experiments with all the above as I am trying to make a cream “just so”, so I am apparently still a novice! And I never did try xanthan gum, your description of it was enough for me to ignore it. (Though I still think it is hilarious to say, I don’t know why!!) Thanks for helping all of us with your sharing of knowledge, and your patience, which must be tried over, and over again!
Thanks so much, Val! I don’t think the desire to make things “just so” is ever met or ever goes away—our standards just keep going up as we learn more 😀 Thanks for DIYing with me, and happy making 🙂
You are doing a wonderful job. I request you to post recipes with Glyceryl stearate citrate, Distearyl diammonium chloride which will every much useful to achieve different textures. Thanks for your efforts. Regards.
Thank you so much! I’ll keep it in mind 🙂
hola, muchas gracias por compartir tu experiencia. Una pregunta, el alcohol cetearilico podría usarse en una mascarilla facial? Cuál sería el porcentaje de uso para una mascarilla? Y en qué fase debería incorporarla?
Just to be clear… you used the Cetearyl alcohol from windy point which is 30/70 for this quick guide not the 50/50 from NDA, am I read ing that correctly? I have a bag from NDA that I made the happy accident of ordering instead of a complete emulsifyig wax the first time I made lotion way back. I ended up getting a complete ewax and using this one in the lotion and trying the lotion with cetyl alcohol and I always like the feel of the cetearyl more. It has a fluffier feel to it. I just wonder how the 30/70 is going to compare to the 50/50 because windy point is cheaper for the Kg than NDA.
Yes, the stuff I used is 30/70, not 50/50. I’ll be interested to hear what you think if you try the other one!
Thanks for all the information and experimentation to guide all of us newbies through the creams lotions and potions maze. I look forward to the adventure
Thanks so much, Christine!
Hi, read over this a few times. I am a Goat Milk Soap maker. Recently making Liquid hand soap and Body wash. My goal is for the rinsed skin to have a silky feel, not a grippy feel. Also to use to thicken and create a nice consistency in my product. I think Cetyl alcohol might work. I haven’t a clue how to translate what you are doing in lotion to the dilution phase of a liquid soap. I use glycerin & water soluble Shea butter and it is better but just doesn’t have that “wow my skin feels amazing” factor after they rinse. Is there advice/place for me to begin to use this in my body wash? I cannot find even really good instructions on the product to prep or blend.
Hey Joyce! In order to incorporate cetearyl alcohol or cetyl alcohol into diluted liquid soap you’d also have to emulsifying it, which would require so much agitation that I worry about it working up a massive lather. Incorporating a lot of extra fat into the soap will also decrease lather significantly. Perhaps take a look at glyceryl stearate SE? The emulsifying part of it is soap-based + it can function as both an emollient and thickener. Happy making!
Thanks for the valuable info sharing. A lotion can vary considerably in its (oil and wax)/water composition.
In my understanding, the emulsifier is always calculated as a certain percentage of oil phase ingredients. How about these co-emulsifiers or thickners (Cetyl, Cetearyl). Should they be calculated as a % of oil phase or the total formulation.
I am reading lots of recommendations of Cetyl alcohol to be 3% of formulation. But how would this work if oil phase is increased considerably.
I would really appreciate your input.
Hey! Thickeners are typically added as a function of how thick you want your end product to be, which is impacted by the size of the oil phase in that a larger oil phase tends to make for a thicker end product regardless of added thickeners. If you are making something with a fairly large oil phase (say, 27%), that will already be a pretty thick end product—I would not add 3% cetyl alcohol to that unless I wanted a body butter sort of consistency. If I was making something with a small oil phase (12%?), 3% cetyl alcohol as a part of that 12% would make more sense. You will need to do some of your own experiments to see what you think, though! Happy making 🙂
Can ceteraryl alcohol therefore be a substitute for cetyl alcohol and if making a body shimmer oil what’s the ratio to use to one cup of oil
It should work, yes. The percentage you’d want will vary with the end consistency you’re aiming for—I would let this guide be a good starting point and do your own experiments 🙂
Hi! Wonderful post. I was wondering if you have ever used cetyl alcohol with virgin coconut oil and beeswax. I’m trying to figure out how to improve the melting point of my balms and I’m intrigued by the idea that I could possibly stabilize it with cetyl alcohol. Any insight you can provide would be very appreciated.
Hey Christina! I likely have, though I can’t remember which formulas off the top of my head. Cetyl alcohol does have a lower melting point than beeswax, but I have combined the two to improve the feel of beeswax. You’ll have to dive into the finer points of experimenting yourself, though 🙂 Happy making!
Thanks for taking the time to respond to this.
Of course! I know Marie truly enjoys these quick guides! Have you checked out all of them?
I noticed that you most times seem to use a blend of stearic acid and cetyl alcohol as thickeners for cleansing balms but if I didn’t want to use stearic acid could I mix it with cetearyl alcohol and cetyl alcohol instead to solidify my cleansing balm or could I use either cetearyl alcohol or cetyl alcohol alone and just up the percentage? Do you think it would still solidify the cleansing balm?
You can, but you’ll need to make your own adjustments until you like the end product. I’ve found using 100% cetearyl alcohol to thicken cleansing balms results in the same applesaucey consistency seen in the 2:9.
Really appreciate all that you do and share. It has been really helpful for me.
I’m so glad to hear it!
It sounds to me like cetyl and cetearyl could be good ingredients for a solid deodorant stick that is firm with nice glide. Any recommendations as to which might be better, and starting percentages? I currently use a recipe with butters, waxes, zinc ricineolate, and mag hydroxide. Thanks!
PS -maybe you would consider revisiting deodorant formulation? With odor control coming from zinc ricineolate and mag hydroxide, no baking soda is needed.
I’d probably start with cetearyl as it’s a bit creamier, though which % is hard to say given everything else in your formulation. You’ll have to try it and see 🙂
Hello, I’m currently trying to formulate a face cream using just cetearyl alcohol and stearic acid as a co emulsifier, but it keeps coming out liquidy. Can i not just use those two or do i need an additional thickening agent? i have 72.5% water, 16% oils, 5% cetearyl alcohol and 4% stearic acid and 1% preservative. I’d appreciate any tips on how to thicken it up
Hi Michelle, I don’t see an emulsifier in your formula. You need an emulsifier to be able to mix water and oils and keep them together. The thickeners alone won’t do. I hope this helps!