Cetearyl Alcohol

What is it?

Cetearyl alcohol is a white, solid material in the form of waxy flakes. It has properties that both attract and repel water, which is why it's so widely used in skin and hair care products. It can be derived naturally from plant oils or prepared synthetically and actually describes a blend of cetyl and stearyl alcohols. These fatty alcohols are quite different in their properties and should not be confused with primary alcohol (ethanol also known as ethyl alcohol).

What does it do?

Cetearyl alcohol serves as an emulsifier, helping keep the oil and water components in a product from separating (like salad dressing). It includes cetyl alcohol which is often used in skin care products to moisturize dry skin because of its hydrophilic properties, and stearyl alcohol which tends to be more gentle than cetyl alcohol, hence it often finds itself used in mild formulations and baby care products.

How is it made?

Our Stewardship Model guides us to select ingredients which have been processed in a manner that supports our philosophy of human and environmental health.

Cetearyl alcohol can be derived naturally from vegetable sources or made synthetically. Our vegetable derived cetearyl alcohol is a blend of cetyl and stearyl alcohols derived from palm, palm kernel, or coconut oil. The triglycerides in the oils are split into the components of glycerine and fatty acids.  The fatty acid portion is then recombined through hydrogenolysis to form the fatty alcohol and separated to include specific levels of both cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol into the final product.

What are the alternatives?

There are other emulsifiers on the market which would not meet the standards of our Stewardship Model.

Is this the right option for me?

The FDA recognizes fatty alcohols as permissible food additives.1

Tom’s of Maine recognizes that no two people are alike, and even with naturally derived ingredients, some individuals may develop an allergic reaction that is unique to them. As with any product, be sure to discontinue use if you experience discomfort or other indications that the product may not be appropriate for your individual body chemistry.

1 21 CFR 172.864