Fatty Alcohols: Cetyl Alcohol & Cetearyl Alcohol

Want to make your emulsion thicker, more creamy and stable?  Just add 1-2% of either: 

cetyl alcohol (cetanol (1-hexadecanol C16));

stearyl alcohol (1-octadecanol C18); or

cetostearyl alcohol (blend of C16 and C18).

I’m a huge fan of these common higher alcohols.  I use them in many product types including emulsions, hair conditioners, anhydrous balms/sticks.  They are inexpensive, widely available, “natural” and provide emolliency, viscosity build and stability. 

Let’s dig a little deeper….

Cetyl alcohol melts at 49.3°C and stearyl alcohol at 58°C.  Many formulators like to use a combination of both.  Making the alkyl distribution wider, by mixing the different chain lengths (C16 and C18) results in a more robust formulation, ability to cope with a wider range of temperatures, improved stability and a better lamellar gel network. You can buy a combination of C18 and C16 in a pre-made blend called, cetostearyl alcohol (commonly known as cetearyl alcohol) in ratios of: 30:70, 70:30 or 50:50.  I like Croda’s Crodacol CS50 which is a 50:50 blend, has low odor and is purported to be less grainy than standard cetearyl alcohol blends.

Some notable differences:

Stearyl alcohol produces a whiter and more opaque product due to it’s longer carbon chain length.  Cetyl alcohol breaks more easily when applied so gives a quicker spread and can hold onto more water than stearyl alcohol as it is more hydrophilic. This results in a higher gel phase which means a higher viscosity.  However stearyl alcohol has a different crystalline structure and is less polar resulting in a a more stable viscosity, unlike cetyl alcohol whose viscosity can increase over time.

Do you use fatty alcohols in your formulas? What is your experience of them?

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