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Cetearyl Alcohol: Chemical Composition, Function, Safety, and Formulation for Skincare; Regulatory Considerations and Guidelines

Last updated: Aug 2023
In this article:

What is Cetearyl Alcohol and its Purpose in Skincare

Cetearyl Alcohol is a common ingredient in skincare products and is often found in moisturizers, lotions, creams, and other beauty products. It is a fatty alcohol that is derived from natural sources, such as coconut oil or palm oil. Despite its name, Cetearyl Alcohol is not an irritating or drying alcohol like ethanol or ethyl alcohol, but rather a conditioning and emulsifying agent.

Chemical Composition of Cetearyl Alcohol:

Cetearyl Alcohol is a blend of two primary alcohols: cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. Cetyl alcohol is derived from coconut oil, while stearyl alcohol is derived from vegetable oils. These alcohols are fatty solids at room temperature, but they melt into a liquid form when heated. This characteristic makes Cetearyl Alcohol easy to incorporate into skincare formulations.

Role of Cetearyl Alcohol in Skincare Formulations:

Cetearyl Alcohol plays multiple roles in skincare formulations. First and foremost, it acts as an emulsifier, which helps to bind oil and water-based ingredients together. This ensures that the product maintains its consistency and prevents separation. Additionally, Cetearyl Alcohol acts as a thickener, giving skincare products a luxurious and smooth texture. It also enhances the spreadability of products, allowing for even application on the skin.

Functions and Benefits of Cetearyl Alcohol in Skincare Products:

Cetearyl Alcohol offers several benefits for the skin. Due to its emollient properties, it helps to moisturize and condition the skin, leaving it soft, smooth, and hydrated. It forms a protective barrier on the skin's surface, preventing moisture loss and maintaining the skin's natural moisture balance. Moreover, Cetearyl Alcohol is non-comedogenic, meaning it does not clog the pores, making it suitable for all skin types.

Different Types and Grades of Cetearyl Alcohol:

Cetearyl Alcohol comes in various grades, depending on its purity and quality. The most common type is Cetearyl Alcohol NF, which stands for "National Formulary." This grade meets the standards set by the United States Pharmacopeia and is considered safe for use in skincare products. It is important to choose high-quality Cetearyl Alcohol to ensure the best results in skincare formulations.

Safety of Cetearyl Alcohol in Skincare:

Cetearyl Alcohol is generally considered safe for use in skincare products. It has been extensively tested and approved by regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cosmetic use. However, individuals with known sensitivities or allergies to Cetearyl Alcohol should avoid products containing this ingredient. As with any skincare ingredient, it is always advisable to perform a patch test before using a new product.

Potential Skin Reactions or Sensitivities to Cetearyl Alcohol:

While Cetearyl Alcohol is well-tolerated by most individuals, there is a small chance of skin reactions or sensitivities. Some people with extremely sensitive skin or conditions such as eczema may experience irritation when using products containing Cetearyl Alcohol. If any adverse reactions occur, it is best to discontinue use and consult a dermatologist.

Cetearyl Alcohol: Moisturizing and Emollient Properties

Cetearyl Alcohol is a commonly used ingredient in skincare products known for its emollient and moisturizing properties. In this guide, we will explore how Cetearyl Alcohol helps to moisturize and hydrate the skin, its emollient properties, effects on skin barrier function, suitability for different skin types, and how it compares to other emollient ingredients.

Moisturizing and Hydrating Effects

  • Acts as a humectant, attracting and retaining moisture
  • Prevents water loss, keeping the skin hydrated
  • Particularly beneficial for dry or dehydrated skin

Emollient Properties

  • Softens and smooths the skin
  • Forms a protective barrier, preventing moisture loss
  • Leaves a silky, non-greasy feel
  • Excellent choice for moisturizers, creams, and lotions

Effects on Skin Barrier Function

  • Improves skin barrier function
  • Strengthens the skin's natural barrier
  • Reduces penetration of irritants
  • Protects against environmental stressors
  • Beneficial for sensitive or compromised skin

Suitability for Different Skin Types

Cetearyl Alcohol is generally well-tolerated and suitable for most skin types:

  • Dry
  • Sensitive
  • Combination

Note that individuals with oily or acne-prone skin may find that products containing Cetearyl Alcohol could potentially contribute to clogged pores and breakouts. It is important to consider the overall formulation and other ingredients in a product to determine its suitability for your specific skin type.

Comparing Cetearyl Alcohol to Other Emollient Ingredients

Cetearyl Alcohol, a combination of cetyl and stearyl alcohols, offers not only moisturizing and emollient effects but also stability and texture to formulations. Other popular emollients, such as jojoba oil or shea butter, may offer similar benefits, but Cetearyl Alcohol is often preferred due to its lighter texture and better absorption.

In Conclusion

Cetearyl Alcohol is a versatile ingredient that offers moisturizing, hydrating, and emollient properties. It helps improve skin barrier function, making it suitable for various skin types. While it may not be the best option for oily or acne-prone skin, it is generally well-tolerated. Comparatively, Cetearyl Alcohol is a preferred choice due to its lighter texture and better absorption. Whether it's in creams, lotions, or moisturizers, products containing Cetearyl Alcohol can provide effective hydration and softness to the skin.

Stabilizing and Thickening Properties of Cetearyl Alcohol

Cetearyl Alcohol is a versatile ingredient widely used in skincare formulations for its stabilizing and thickening properties. In this guide, we will explore the different aspects of Cetearyl Alcohol and its functions in skincare products.

Cetearyl Alcohol as a Co-Emulsifier in Skincare Formulations

One of the primary roles of Cetearyl Alcohol is to act as a co-emulsifier in skincare formulations. Emulsions are mixtures of oil and water, and stability is crucial for their effectiveness. Cetearyl Alcohol helps to stabilize emulsions by forming a physical barrier between oil and water phases, preventing separation. It works synergistically with other emulsifiers, such as polysorbates or glyceryl stearate, to create stable and consistent formulations.

Thickening and Viscosity-Modifying Effects of Cetearyl Alcohol

Cetearyl Alcohol also has excellent thickening properties, making it an important ingredient in creams, lotions, and other opaque skincare products. It imparts a desirable texture and viscosity to formulations, enhancing their spreadability and application properties. Furthermore, this ingredient can adjust the viscosity of a product, allowing formulators to create products with varying consistencies, from light and fluid to rich and creamy.

Compatibility of Cetearyl Alcohol with Other Ingredients

Cetearyl Alcohol is compatible with a wide range of ingredients commonly used in skincare formulations. It works well with various emollients, humectants, oils, and active ingredients. However, it is recommended to test the compatibility of Cetearyl Alcohol with specific ingredients before formulating a product on a large scale. This can be achieved by conducting small-scale compatibility tests or consulting resources and databases that provide information on ingredient interactions.

Optimal Concentrations of Cetearyl Alcohol in Different Formulations

The optimal concentration of Cetearyl Alcohol in a formulation can vary depending on the desired performance and product type. Generally, concentrations ranging from 1-10% are commonly used. It is important to consider the overall formula and other ingredients to ensure compatibility and efficacy. Additionally, regulatory guidelines and restrictions may dictate the maximum allowable concentration of Cetearyl Alcohol in certain products, so it is essential to review the regulations specific to your target market.

Formulating with Cetearyl Alcohol

Cetearyl Alcohol is a versatile ingredient commonly used in various skincare products due to its multi-functional properties. It is a fatty alcohol that can act as an emollient, emulsifier, thickener, and stabilizer in formulations. In this guide, we will explore how to effectively incorporate Cetearyl Alcohol into skincare products, its compatibility with other formulation ingredients, choosing the right type and grade, as well as some tips and considerations for formulating with Cetearyl Alcohol.

Incorporating Cetearyl Alcohol into various skincare products

Cetearyl Alcohol can be easily incorporated into different skincare products such as creams, lotions, balms, and serums. It acts as an emollient, imparting a smooth and soft texture to the products. To incorporate it into a formulation, follow these steps:

  1. Melt the Cetearyl Alcohol with other oils or butters using a double boiler or microwave.
  2. Once melted, mix it with the aqueous phase of your formulation while stirring continuously.
  3. This will ensure proper dispersion of the Cetearyl Alcohol throughout the product.

Compatibility of Cetearyl Alcohol with other formulation ingredients

Cetearyl Alcohol is compatible with a wide range of cosmetic ingredients, including oils, waxes, butters, and other emulsifiers. However, it is important to check for compatibility with specific ingredients by conducting small-scale compatibility tests before formulating on a larger scale. This is especially important when working with acidic or alkaline ingredients, as they may affect the stability of Cetearyl Alcohol and the overall product formulation.

Choosing the right type and grade of Cetearyl Alcohol for specific products

Cetearyl Alcohol comes in various grades, with different carbon chain lengths. Consider the desired consistency and texture of your final product when choosing the appropriate grade of Cetearyl Alcohol. Additionally, opt for high-quality, pure Cetearyl Alcohol that is derived from sustainable and ethically sourced raw materials.

Tips and considerations for formulating with Cetearyl Alcohol

  • When formulating with Cetearyl Alcohol, consider the overall composition of the product. You may need to adjust the amount of Cetearyl Alcohol if you have a high percentage of oils or butters in your formulation.
  • Excessive heating or prolonged exposure to high temperatures can degrade Cetearyl Alcohol. It is best to heat it gently and avoid overheating during the melting process.
  • Cetearyl Alcohol can function as a co-emulsifier when combined with other emulsifiers such as cetyl alcohol or stearic acid. This can enhance the stability and texture of the final product.

Regulatory Considerations and Guidelines for Cetearyl Alcohol

Cetearyl Alcohol is a common ingredient in many cosmetic and personal care products due to its emollient, thickening, and stabilizing properties. However, as with any ingredient, it is important to understand and comply with the regulatory considerations and guidelines associated with its usage.

1. International regulations and restrictions on Cetearyl Alcohol:

  • Cetearyl Alcohol is generally recognized as safe for use in cosmetic and personal care products by regulatory agencies such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Commission (EC). However, it is essential to verify specific regulations for individual countries or regions.

2. Usage limits and restrictions in different countries:

  • Different countries may have specific usage limits and restrictions for Cetearyl Alcohol in cosmetic formulations. For example, in the European Union, Cetearyl Alcohol is permitted for use as a cosmetic ingredient up to a maximum concentration of 30%. It is crucial to review the regulations of each country where your product will be marketed to ensure compliance.

3. Safety data and toxicology studies on Cetearyl Alcohol:

  • Safety data and toxicology studies play a vital role in determining the safety of an ingredient. Cetearyl Alcohol has been extensively studied and is considered safe for use in cosmetic products when used within the recommended concentrations. It is essential to refer to the safety data available from reputable sources, such as the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) or the Cosmetics Europe database.

4. Compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP):

  • Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) ensure the quality, safety, and consistency of manufactured cosmetic products. When using Cetearyl Alcohol, it is crucial to follow GMP guidelines, which include properly sourcing the ingredient, maintaining appropriate manufacturing conditions, and implementing quality control measures.

5. Labeling requirements for products containing Cetearyl Alcohol:

  • Labeling requirements for cosmetic products vary across countries and regions. When Cetearyl Alcohol is included in a product formulation, it must be listed on the ingredient label in accordance with the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) guidelines. The INCI name for Cetearyl Alcohol is "Cetearyl Alcohol."
  • Additionally, it is important to include any necessary warnings or precautions on the product label, such as "For external use only" or "Keep out of reach of children." Adhering to labeling requirements ensures transparency and consumer safety.

In conclusion:

Understanding the regulatory considerations and guidelines for Cetearyl Alcohol is essential for manufacturers and formulators in the cosmetic and personal care industry. Familiarizing yourself with international regulations, complying with usage limits and restrictions, considering safety data, following GMP guidelines, and ensuring accurate labeling will help ensure the safe and compliant use of Cetearyl Alcohol in cosmetic and personal care products. Always consult with regulatory authorities or experts in the field to stay updated on any new regulations or changes in guidelines.


  1. Cetearyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol derived from a mixture of cetyl and stearyl alcohols, commonly used in skincare products as an emollient and stabilizing agent.

  2. Despite its name, cetearyl alcohol is not drying or irritating to the skin. In fact, it functions as a moisturizer by helping to trap and retain moisture in the skin.

  3. Cetearyl alcohol has a waxy texture that helps to improve the texture and consistency of skincare products, making them easier to spread and apply.

  4. It also acts as a viscosity-increasing agent, giving skincare products a thicker and more luxurious feel. This can enhance the overall sensory experience of using the product.

  5. Cetearyl alcohol is generally considered safe for use in skincare, even for those with sensitive or dry skin. It is non-comedogenic, meaning it does not clog pores or contribute to acne breakouts.

  6. As with any cosmetic ingredient, personal experiences and reactions may vary. If you have specific concerns or sensitivities, it is always advisable to consult with a dermatologist or healthcare professional before incorporating products containing cetearyl alcohol into your skincare routine.