Cetyl Alcohol

What is it?

Cetyl alcohol is a white, waxy solid made from coconut and/or palm oil.

The ingredient name cetyl comes from the Latin for whale ‘cetus’ as cetyl alcohol was originally discovered by a French chemist in the early 1800s, when working with sperm whale oil. He noted a waxy residue of flakes after heating spermaceti combined with potash (or potassium hydroxide). Because whales are now endangered, cetyl alcohol is now made exclusively from vegetable oil. This fatty alcohol is quite different in its properties and should not be confused with the primary alcohol ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol).

What does it do?

This ingredient provides emulsification properties to the formula keeping the oil and water components from separating (like salad dressing). Since cetyl alcohol can attract and repel water, it's often used in skin care products to moisturize dry skin.

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.

As noted above, although cetyl alcohol was first isolated from sperm whale oil from which the ingredient gets its name, today it is made by heating coconut or palm oil in the presence of potash (or potassium hydroxide) to form cetyl alcohol.

Cetyl alcohol can also be synthetically made from petrochemicals.

What are the alternatives?

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

Is this the right option for me?

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