All You Need To Know About Cetearyl Alcohol For Skin

Written by Arshiya Syeda

Skin care product manufacturers often use short-chain alcohols such as propanol and ethanol to allow the other different ingredients to mix well. However, these may irritate skin and cause moisture loss by disturbing the skin’s protective barrier.

The safer alternative is cetearyl alcohol, the other type of alcohol used in skincare products. It is non-irritating and quite beneficial to dry skin. While ethanol or propanol can have a drying effect on skin, fatty alcohols like cetearyl acid keep the skin from drying and help retain moisture.

Here, we further explore cetearyl alcohol for skin, including its benefits, side effects, usage, and the top cetearyl alcohol-based products you can choose.

What Is Cetearyl Alcohol?

Cetearyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol used actively in skincare and other cosmetic formulations to improve the thickness, texture, and sensory feel of products. This ingredient also helps soften the skin (1).

It is also known as cetostearyl alcohol. It is basically a mixture of fatty alcohols, primarily cetyl and stearyl alcohols. While cetyl alcohol is derived from palm oil, stearyl alcohol is derived from stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid.

Cetearyl alcohol is a white, waxy solid, usually available in a flake form. It is easily soluble in alcohol but insoluble in water. It is a popular ingredient with multiple skin benefits. We have discussed the same below.

Benefits Of Cetearyl Alcohol For Skin

Cetearyl alcohol acts as a base for many skincare products. It also helps nourish your skin. Following are the other benefits of cetearyl alcohol.

1. Acts As An Emulsifier

An emulsifier is included in products containing water and oil components. Oil- and water-based ingredients do not stay mixed in a formulation for long. An emulsifier like cetearyl alcohol keeps these two types of ingredients dispersed and produces a stable emulsion (2).

It acts as an important binding agent for oil and water in skincare products.

How Does It Benefit Skin?

As an emulsifier, cetearyl alcohol prevents the separation of skincare products. Hence, these products do not separate when applied cosmetically too. This property boosts the product’s effectiveness.

2. Acts As An Emollient

Emollients are occlusive ingredients that form a protective layer on the skin and prevent water loss. Cetearyl alcohol is an emollient that improves the texture and spreadability of the product and offers the skin a protective barrier.

It also helps moisturize and soften the skin. It seals skin moisture.

How Does It Benefit Skin?

The emollient properties of cetearyl alcohol may help soften and smoothen the skin. However, more research is warranted in this regard.

3. Acts As A Product Thickener

Cetearyl alcohol also works as a viscosity-enhancing agent. It helps thicken various skin formulations and makes a product less runny, safe to use, and easier to spread.

How Does It Benefit Skin?

Cetearyl alcohol helps enhance the texture and feel of products, making them more effective on your skin.

Cetearyl alcohol is often confused with regular sensitizing alcohols used commonly in skin care products. However, they are quite different.

Cetearyl Alcohol Vs. Sensitizing Alcohols – The Difference?

Cetearyl alcohol is not the same as traditional alcohols known for drying, irritating, and sensitizing the skin. Alcohol, in general, refers to a chemical with an -OH group. It does not necessarily mean that alcohol is bad for your skin.

In cetearyl alcohol, this alcohol group is attached to a long chain of fats that help balance it out. Hence, it is less harsh on your skin and acts as an emollient.

Sensitizing alcohols don’t usually contain this long chain of fats to balance out the drying properties of alcohol. Hence, they tend to dry the skin out.

While cetearyl alcohol is safer than regular alcohols, it also may cause certain side effects. We have discussed the same below.

Side Effects Of Cetearyl Alcohol

Cetearyl alcohol is safe to use in cosmetic products and is generally considered a non-irritating ingredient. However, certain individuals had developed allergic contact dermatitis following the use of cetearyl alcohol (3). This ingredient is also known to cause allergies in those with leg ulcers (4).

But the incidences of these allergies are very rare, as cetearyl alcohol-based products, like shampoos, conditioners, cleansers, etc., get rinsed off easily. They do not come in contact with the skin for a prolonged period.

That said, if you have sensitive skin or are prone to skin allergies, it is recommended to exercise caution before using products containing cetearyl alcohol. You may do a patch test or even consult your doctor regarding the same.

Should cetearyl alcohol suit you, here’s how you can use it.

How To Use Cetearyl Alcohol In Skin Care

Since cetearyl alcohol is found in a variety of skincare products, including moisturizers and hair conditioners, there are no fixed guidelines for its use.

In general, incorporating it into your skincare routine is simple. Here is how you can do it:

  • Cleanse Your Face Thoroughly

Start by cleansing your face thoroughly with a natural cleanser that does not dry your skin out.

  • Use A Hydrating Toner

Follow with a hydrating toner that seals your skin moisture.

  • Apply A Good Brightening Serum

Follow with a good, brightening serum rich in vitamin C that restores your skin’s natural glow. Vitamin C also helps diminish fine lines and wrinkles.

  • Use A Moisturizer With Cetearyl Alcohol

Use a moisturizer with cetearyl alcohol. This deeply moisturizes and softens your skin. Ensure you follow with an eye cream with cetearyl alcohol to protect the delicate skin around your eyes.

  • Detox With A Good Face Mask

Apply a high-quality face mask once a week (such as a detoxifying charcoal mask)that not only draws out skin impurities but also nourishes your skin.

Additionally, remember to use these products as directed. Some cetearyl alcohol-based products need priming while others need to be shaken well before use. Read the instructions carefully.

While cetearyl alcohol is generally safe, it cannot be used by all. Keep reading to know more.

Who Should Not Use It?

Anyone with sensitive skin should avoid using cetearyl alcohol-based products, especially around the eyes, inside the mouth/nose, and on the vaginal area. Those allergic to cetyl or stearyl must also avoid products containing these ingredients.

Check the product label for directions. Certain products are not supposed to be applied to the face, recently shaved areas, and other areas with broken/cut/irritated/chapped/scraped skin.

If you develop irritation or swelling after using a cetearyl alcohol-based product, stop use and switch to another product. Seek immediate medical attention if your condition persists or worsens.


Cetearyl alcohol is a very common ingredient that softens your skin and thickens skin creams and lotions. It also helps stabilize oil-water mixes (emulsions). It naturally comes from vegetable oils, including palm, coconut, and soy oil. However, it can also be made in a lab for use in lotions, creams, and conditioners.

Cetearyl alcohol does not dry your skin. It is generally safe. But if you have sensitive skin, you may want to perform a patch test before using it. That said, it is a safer alternative to drying alcohols. You may go for products with cetearyl alcohol for a better experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Cetearyl alcohol vegan?

Typically, cetearyl alcohol is a vegan ingredient as it is most commonly derived from plant-based products. However, in some cases, it can also be derived from animal-based sources such as sperm whales.


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