Ethylhexyl palmitate is an ingredient that functions as an emollient, solvent, pigment wetting agent, and fragrance fixative in cosmetics and personal care products.
Ethylhexyl palmitate is an ester of 2-ethylhexyl alcohol and palmitic acid. 2-ethylhexyl alcohol can be found in natural plant fragrances and also synthetically produced. Palmitic acid is the most common saturated fatty acid found in animals, plants and microorganisms, and is a major component of palm oil. Ethylhexyl palmitate is a clear, colorless liquid at room temperature with a slightly fatty odor. It is insoluble in water, but miscible in oils.
In cosmetics and personal care products, ethylhexyl palmitate functions as an emollient, solvent, pigment wetting agent, and fragrance fixative .
As an emollient, ethylhexyl palmitate helps to keep the skin moist and supple by reducing water loss from the epidermis (the outer layer of skin). Emollients also act as lubricants by reducing friction when anything rubs against the skin. Ethylhexyl palmitate is considered to be a non-occlusive emollient, which means it does not form a film on the surface of skin. It is often used as an organic replacement to silicones in a cosmetic formulation because it provides a dry-slip, silky feel that is very similar to how a silicone would feel.
While all skin types can benefit from emollients like ethylhexyl palmitate, emollients are very beneficial for those who have dry, rough and/or flaky skin. Emollients can treat these symptoms, leaving the skin looking and feeling soft and smooth. In addition, emollients can benefit those that suffer from conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or other inflammatory skin condition.
Ethylhexyl palmitate functions as a solvent by helping other ingredients dissolve into a solution. Solvents can also increase the efficacy of active ingredients in a formulation by enhancing their absorption through the skin.
Another function of ethylhexyl palmitate in cosmetics is as a pigment wetting agent. Wetting agents are surface active materials that work by reducing the interfacial tension between two immiscible phases in a cosmetic formulation. Unlike larger surfactant molecules, wetting agents do not have the capacity to form stable micelle dispersions, such as emulsions or solubilizations. However, wetting agents are useful in decorative cosmetics because they can improve the pigment distribution in the formulation, as well as prevent the agglomeration of pigments. By producing homogeneous, stable pigment dispersion, wetting agents improve the abrasion or breaking resistance, the rheology, the sensory profile, the color, and the functionality of the final formulation.
Lastly, ethylhexyl palmitate functions as a fragrance fixative in cosmetics and personal care products. A fixative is used to equalize the vapor pressures, and thus the volatilities, of the raw materials in a perfume oil. Fragrance fixatives also increase the tenacity which is the lasting effect of a perfume or scent and its ability to linger on the skin.
The safety of ethylhexyl palmitate and other alkyl esters has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. Dermal acute and subchronic studies with these ingredients did not show evidence of toxicity. Eye irritation tests with ethylhexyl palmitate and other alkyl esters produced either very slight ocular irritation or none at all, with one of three products containing 40% to 50% ethylhexyl palmitate producing mild eye irritation. The CIR Expert Panel concluded that ethylhexyl palmitate and other alkyl esters were safe as cosmetic ingredients.
References: Medical News Today, “Emollients: How can we use them?”, 2017, Truth In Aging, “Ethylhexyl Palmitate”, IFSCC, “Wetting agents – Multitalented cosmetic ingredients”, 2015, Wikipedia, “Fixative (perfumery)”, Cosmetics Info, “Ethylhexyl Palmitate”.