Stearic Acid: What Is It And How It Benefits The Skin

Written by Ramona Sinha

Have you ever heard of stearic acid? No? If you check the ingredients list of all your skin care products, the chances are high that you will find this ingredient in at least half of them. From bath soaps to creams and lotions, stearic acid is present in almost all products. It works as an emulsifier, surfactant, and emollient and has several skin benefits. Keep scrolling to understand what it is and the role it plays in skin care.

What Is Stearic Acid?

Stearic acid is a saturated long-chain fatty acid. It is also known as octadecanoic acid and naturally occurs as a glycerol ester in plant and animal fats (1), (2).

Stearic acid exists in abundance in animal fat than in vegetable fat. Animal fat contains 30% stearic acid, while it is less than 5% in vegetable fats. However, the only exceptions are cocoa butter and shea butter. These two plant oils contain 28%-45% of stearic acid (2).

Both shea and cocoa butters have a positive impact on skin health (3), (4). Let us take a look at the positive effects of stearic acid on the skin.

What Are The Benefits Of Stearic Acid For The Skin?

Stearic acid is unlike other facial acids (the AHAs and BHA). It is mainly used in dermatological formulations, soaps, and lotions for the following reasons:

1. Improves Skin Smoothness

Stearic acid is an emollient and helps maintain and protect the skin’s natural barrier (5). Emollients keep the skin smooth by reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and maintaining moisture levels (6).

2. May Improve Skin Permeability

The role of emollients is not limited to skin smoothening. They offer therapeutic benefits by influencing skin physiology and pathology. Emollients impact the functions of the skin barrier and play an essential role in skin repair and permeability. They prepare your skin to absorb moisture and ingredients better (5). Stearic acid may also promote skin repair and improve skin texture.

3. May Relieve Skin Inflammation

Emollients can calm inflammatory skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and eczema. These conditions compromise the skin’s barrier and may cause redness, dryness, cracked skin, and itchiness. Shea butter is rich in stearic acid and is an effective monotherapy for mild to moderate atopic dermatitis and other inflammatory conditions. It repairs the skin barrier and calms inflammation (5).

4. May Cleanse The Skin

Stearic acid also works as a surfactant. It is commonly used in cleansers and soaps as it binds to oil, water, and dirt, making it easier to clean your skin. Moreover, this emollient does not strip the natural oils, thus providing gentle cleansing. If you have sensitive or compromised skin, you can use gentle cleansers with stearic acid.

Stearic acid is used in different ways in skincare products. Let’s take a look at them.

How Stearic Acid Is Used In Skin Care Formulations

Stearic acid can be animal or plant-derived. It is primarily used in cleansing and body lotions, soaps, creams, ointments, and body oils as a:

1. Thickener

Without stearic acid, the soap bars you use cannot hold their shape. It works as a thickener to harden the product so that it can hold shape. Other than soap bars, stearic acid is also used in oil pastels and candles.

2. Surfactant

Stearic acid is a surfactant, and without this ingredient, the soaps, face washes, and cleansing gels cannot remove dirt and grime from your skin. It emulsifies oil and fat to suspend the impurities and dirt. As a result, it is easier to remove dirt from the skin.

3. Emulsifier

The skin creams that you use are generally emulsions of oil and water. If you are wondering how oil and water mix – stearic acid is the answer. It is an emulsifier that prevents oil and water from splitting and increases the longevity of the product.

Stearic acid has a hydrophilic (water-loving) head and hydrophobic (oil-loving) tail. These two ends attract water and oil and keep them together.

If you are concerned about the adverse effects of stearic acid and wondering whether it is suitable for your skin or not, take a look at the next section.

Side Effects Of Stearic Acid

Stearic acid is considered safe and non-toxic for the skin (1). Moreover, the formulations use trace amounts of the ingredient, which is usually safe for the skin. However, any ingredient can trigger allergic reactions and cause redness, itching, and mild irritation.

To Sum Up

Stearic acid is a natural component that can keep your skin smooth, clean, and hydrated. You will find this ingredient in almost all skincare products, especially soaps, creams, lotions, and other skin formulations. If your skin is fine with it, you can use products with stearic acid without any worries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is stearic acid good for sensitive skin?

Yes, stearic acid is good for all skin types, including sensitive skin. However, do a patch test to avoid allergic reactions.


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