What is Cetearyl Alcohol?

We often hear that alcohol is bad for you (in most forms – cheers!). But if you ever looked at the ingredient list on the back of your skincare or personal care products, you will find that most of them contain “Cetearyl Alcohol.” It sounds a little intimidating but is it really? On the blog today, we’ll help you understand more.

 The basics

Cetearyl alcohol can be found under others names such as: Cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol or cetostearyl alcohol. The purpose of it is to keep creams from separating into oil and liquid. It’s also used as a thickener and a foaming agent in certain products. Cetearyl alcohol is plant derived is made by combining fatty alcohols from plant sources such as coconut fatty alcohol.

 What is a fatty alcohol?

Though it’s called “alcohol”, these are not actually alcohols in the true sense of the word. By this term, its means that the fatty acids have been exposed to hydrogen, this process creates a somewhat waxy texture.

 What does this mean for your skincare?

If you’re still intimidated by the word “alcohol” because it’s usually associated with being drying, we totally understand. That’s because many alcohols (ethanol or rubbing alcohol), are, in fact, very drying. Have you noticed that when you use astringents or hand sanitizers, there is a fast-drying and skin tightening effect? That’s because the alcohols used in these products tend to be the drying kind. When overused, these products can cause flaking, excessive or itchiness.

 However, because the chemical structure of fatty alcohols are different than the more common alcohols, they have a very different effect on your skin. Without going too much into the science, the alcohol group in fatty alcohol (-OH) is attached to a very long chain of hydrocarbons (fats). This structure lets fatty alcohols trap in water and provides a soothing feel to the skin.

 Ingredient Safety

Cetearyl Alcohol is generally classified as being of no to low hazard or toxicity. They are safe for use in personal care and beauty products. In clinical studies, cetearyl alcohol was found to have no significant toxicity and was non-mutagenic (a mutagen is a chemical agent that changes your DNA). DNA changes can be very detrimental and is often a cause of serious diseases, such as cancer.

 According to the FDA, even cosmetic products labeled “alcohol free” are allowed to contain cetearyl alcohol and other fatty alcohols. Cetearyl alcohol is also included on the FDA list of safe and permitted food additives.

 Cetearyl Alcohol is said to be non-irritating for the skin. But as with many skin care products, there’s still a small risk of allergic reaction to cetearyl alcohol. If you have sensitive skin and you are unsure of how your skin will react, make sure to do a patch test on the skin prior to using it on body or face.

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