The group of ceteth 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 ceteth ingredients, the substrate is cetyl alcohol, a fatty alcohol that is obtained from palm oil. The number associated with the ceteth indicates the average number of repeating ethylene oxide units in the molecule. There are a total of 16 different types of ceteth ingredients, which range from liquids to waxy solids.
In cosmetics and personal care products, the ceteth ingredients are used to help other ingredients dissolve in a solvent in which they would not normally dissolve. Ceteths also help to form emulsions by reducing the surface tension of the substances to be emulsified. Lastly, ceteths can function as surfactants by helping water to mix with oil and dirt so that they these impurities can be rinsed away.