What Is Ceteareth-12?

Ceteareth-12 is a synthetic compound that functions as an emulsifier and wetting agent in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products.

The group of ceteareth ingredients are synthetic compounds that are synthesized through a process known as ethoxylation, a chemical reaction in which ethylene oxide is added to a substrate. In regards to the ceteareth ingredients, there are two substrates: cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol, which are both naturally derived from coconut oil. The number associated with the ceteareth- 12 indicates the average number of repeating ethylene oxide units in the molecule, in this case 12. There are a total of 32 different types of ceteareth ingredients.


the good:Ceteareth-12 helps to improve the texture, sensory feel and stability of a formulation.

the not so good:There are concerns about the presence of 1,4-dioxane in this ingredient. This concern is less relevant nowadays as the process of purifying ceteareth-20 is highly regulated.

Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients

Keep an eye on:Nothing to keep an eye on here.

What Does Ceteareth-12 Do?

In cosmetics and skincare products, ceteareth-12 functions as an emulsifier and wetting agent. It can be found in skincare products, hair conditioners, suntan and indoor tanning products, and hair dyes, colors, and tints.



As an emulsifier, ceteareth-12 consists of a water-loving hydrophilic head and an oil-loving hydrophobic tail. The hydrophilic head is directed to the water-based ingredient and thehydrophobic tail towards the oil-based ingredients.

This structure enables ceteareth-12 to reduce the surface tension of formulations by positioning itself at the oil/water or air/water interface, which has a stabilizing effect on the emulsion.

Emulsifiers like ceteareth-12 are used in formulations that contain both water and oil components. Mixing water and oil together can be difficult as these two ingredient types tend to seperate or split. To address this problem, an emulsifier like ceteareth-12 can be added to improve the consistency of a product, which enables an even distribution of skin care benefits to your skin. 


Wetting agent 

Ceteareth-12 also functions as a wetting agent. Wetting agents make products easier to spread and prevent the product from balling up or piling on the surface of skin. This makes wetting agents useful ingredients for creams and lotions.


The safety of ceteareth-12 and the other ceteareth ingredients has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel is a group responsible for evaluating the safety and efficacy of skincare and cosmetic ingredients. 

The Expert Panel has evaluated the scientific data and determined that ceteareth ingredients are safe for use. They also noted that the ceteareth ingredients should not be used on damaged skin. This conclusion was based on research that kidney damage resulted when polyethylene glycol (PEG) ingredients were applied to the damaged skin of burn patients. Since ceteareth ingredients are the polyethylene glycol ethers of cetearyl alcohol, the Expert Panel recommends avoiding use of ceteareth ingredients on damaged skin. Overall, the CIR Expert Panel concluded that the ceteareth ingredients were safe as used in cosmetics and personal care products.

Despite the approval by the CIR Expert Panel, ceteareth-20 is often called a ‘toxic’ ingredient that should be avoided. One reason ceteareth-20 has received a bad reputation is due to possible contamination with 1,4-dioxane. This is because the process of ethoxylation may lead to contamination with 1,4-dioxane, a potentially dangerous by-product. 1,4-dioxane is a known animal carcinogen that penetrates readily into the skin. According to the National Toxicology Program, ‘1,4-dioxane is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.’ It has also been linked with skin allergies. However, the potential presence of 1,4-dioxane can be controlled through purification steps to remove it before blending ceteareth-20 into cosmetic formulations.

Andersen, A, 1999. ‘Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Ceteareth-2, -3, -4, -5, -6, -7, -8, -9, -10, -11, -12, -13, -14, -15, -16, -17, -18,-20,-22,-23,-24,-25,-27, -28, -29, -30, -33, -34, -40, -50, -55, -60, -80, and -100’, International Journal of Toxicology.



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