Palmitic Acid – Is Palmitic Acid Bad for the Environment and Your Skin?



What is Palmitic Acid?

Palmitic acid is a fatty acid that is used in skincare and cosmetic formulations. Palmitic acid is mainly used to improve the texture of products and help trap moisture in the skin.

Palmitic acid, or hexadecanoic acid, is the most common saturated fatty acid found in animals, plants, and microorganisms. Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats and oils in the body. As the name implies, palmitic acid is a major component of palm oil. Palmitic acid can also be found in meats, cheeses, butter, and dairy products.

Palmitic acid is naturally found throughout the human body including in the skin. When our body has an excess of carbohydrates the carbohydrates are converted to palmitic acid and then stored as fat. 

One analysis found that palmitic acid makes up 21 to 30% of human adipose or fat tissue. Palmitic acid is also found in the stratum corneum of the skin. The stratum corneum is the uppermost layer of skin and is comprised of dead skin cells held together by the natural oils our skin produces. 

In addition to palmitic acid, the lipid barrier contains ceramides, cholesterol, and several other fatty acids. This layer of the skin or skin barrier helps to protect the skin from moisture loss and prevents bacteria and allergens from damaging the skin.

Palmitic Acid

the good: Helps to prevent moisture loss, protect the skin from bacteria and allergens, and improve the texture of products.

the not so good: Palmitic acid is derived from palm oil so always check that the product your using uses sustainably sourced palm oil.

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: Palmitic acid can also go by the name hexadecanoic acid.

What Are The Benefits of Palmitic Acid?

In cosmetics and skincare products, palmitic acid functions as an emollient, helping to protect the skin and a surfactant, emulsifier, and opacifying agent, helping to improve the texture of formulations. 



Palmitic acid functions as a surfactant. Surfactants help to mix two ingredients together, particularly oil-based and water-based ingredients. Surfactants work by lowering the surface tension between two substances.Surfactants also help to lift impurities and dirt away from the skin, allowing them to be washed away. This is possible because while one end of the surfactant molecule is attracted to water, the other end is attracted to oil. Due to these properties, palmitic acid can be found in many different cleansers and body washes. 



Another function of palmitic acid is as an emulsifier, which is necessary for products that contain both water and oil components. When water and oil are mixed together and vigorously shaken, a dispersion of oil droplets in water – and vice versa – is formed. When shaking stops, however, the two phases start to separate. An emulsifier like palmitic acid can be added to the formulation to help the ingredients remain mixed. This improves the texture of a product, which enables even delivery of the key skincare benefits.



As an opacifying agent, palmitic acid helps to reduce the clear or transparent appearance of products. Additionally, some opacifying agents are used in face makeup, such as foundation and concealer, for hiding blemishes.



Palmitic acid is often found in moisturizers due to its function as an emollient. Emollients help to soften and soothe the skin, while helping to trap moisture in the skin. Emollients form a protective film on the surface of skin. This film helps to prevent evaporation of the skin’s natural moisture and increases skin hydration by preventing water loss. This helps to maintain a healthy skin barrier and give your skin that dewy, hydrated look.

Palmitic acid benefits the skin by helping to restore the skin’s natural barrier function. Fatty acids, including palmitic acid, along with ceramides and cholesterol make up the skin’s lipid barrier. Without these essential lipids, the barrier is weakened. A weak or damaged barrier allows harmful things like allergens, bacteria, and irritants to pass through into the deeper layers of skin, which causes symptoms of dryness, itching, and irritation. Disruption of the skin’s barrier has been linked with conditions such as acne, eczema, sensitive skin, and even signs of aging. Skincare products that contain palmitic acid can help to prevent these problems.

Is Palmitic Acid Bad For The Environment?

As you probably already know, palm oil has a significant impact on the environment. Palm oilharvesting contributes to deforestation, threatening biodiversity and wildlife such as orangutans and perpetuates poverty in areas where locals have lost their land rights. Given that palmitic acid is derived from palm oil there is a potential that this ingredient is contributing to this impact. However, there are groups working with local communities to create sustainable harvesting practices. Make sure to check if your product’s source of palm oil is sustainably harvested. 

Is Palmitic Acid Safe?

The safety of palmitic acid has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, a group responsible for the safety evaluation of skincare and cosmetic ingredients. In their research, it was determined that formulations containing up to 13% were not considered to be irritating or sensitizing to the skin. Given that most formulations have less than 13% palmitic acid, it is considered to be a safe non-irritating ingredient. On the basis of available data from studies using animals and humans, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel concluded that palmitic acid was safe for use in cosmetic and skincare products.

Mieremet, A, Helder, R, Nadaban, A, Gooris, G, Boiten, W, El Ghalbzouri, A, & Bouwstra, J, 2019. ‘Contribution of Palmitic Acid to Epidermal Morphogenesis and Lipid Barrier Formation in Human Skin Equivalents’, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 20, is. 23. Lin, T, Zhong, L, & Santiago, J, 2017. ‘Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils’, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 19, is. 1. Moore, E, Wagner, C & Komarnytsky, S, 2020. ‘The Enigma of Bioactivity and Toxicity of Botanical Oils for Skin Care’, Frontiers Pharmacology. El Hamad, H & Castillo, R, 2016. ‘Cosmeceuticals: peptides, proteins and growth factors, Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, vol. 15, is. 4, pp. 514-519.



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