Three Reasons Why Stearyl Alcohol is in Your Skincare Products



What is Stearyl Alcohol?

Stearyl alcohol is a natural fatty alcohol that is used as an emollient, emulsifier, and thickener in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products. Stearyl alcohol also referred to as octadecyl alcohol or 1-octadecanol, is an organic compound that is classified as a fatty alcohol. Fatty alcohols are a hybrid between alcohols and fatty acids or oils. This makes them highly versatile skincare ingredients. 

Stearyl alcohol is derived from stearic acid, a natural saturated fatty acid, by the process of catalytic hydrogenation. Catalytic hydrogenation is a process of adding hydrogen atoms to a molecule using a metal as a catalyst. Stearyl alcohol takes the form of white granules or flakes, which are insoluble in water.

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Stearyl alcohol is most commonly used in beauty products such as moisturizers, ointments, shampoos, masks, exfoliators, some cosmetics, and hair conditioners.

Stearyl Alcohol

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

the not so good:Stearyl alcohol is often misunderstood because of its name. Stearyl alcohol is a non-drying ingredient. Due to its name, stearyl alcohol is often misunderstood to be harmful to the skin since it is an alcohol. It is true that some alcohols, like ethyl or rubbing alcohol, can be extremely drying to the skin. However, quite the opposite is true for stearyl alcohol, which is well known to effectively condition and soften the skin and hair.

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

Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients

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Keep an eye on:Also

Three Reasons Stearyl Alcohol is in Your Skincare products

Stearyl alcohol has many functions in cosmetics and skincare products, including use as an emollient, emulsifier, and thickener.

  1. TextureStearyl alcohol is mainly used to improve the texture of formulations, to make them more appealing to the senses. While this may not seem like an important element to a product, it is vital to ensure the product doesn’t separate or become clumpy so that the key ingredients can be distributed evenly to the skin. The main way the stearyl alcohol does this is through acting as a thickener. Thickeners and gelling agents are widely used throughout the cosmetic industry due to their ability to provide the products with the desired feel. Thickeners improve the consistency, viscosity, or adhesion to the skin. The term viscosity corresponds to the concept of “thickness”, for example, honey has a higher viscosity than water. Thus, stearyl alcohol can be used to thicken formulas, adding body and viscosity.
  2. EmulsifierAnother function of stearyl alcohol is as an emulsifier. An emulsifier is needed for products that contain both water and oil-based ingredients. 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 types of ingredients start to separate. To address this problem, an emulsifier like stearyl alcohol can be added. This helps the droplets remain dispersed and produces a stable smooth textured product.
  3. Skin barrier As an emollient, topically applied stearyl alcohol has the ability to soften and soothe the skin. The fatty acids that make up this ingredient create a barrier on the skin that effectively seals moisture in while keeping the air and other environmental elements out. Therefore, stearyl alcohol can be used in creams, lotions, and ointments that are designed to improve dry, flaky skin. Emollients help to maintain the skin’s natural barrier which is vital to the health of the skin. Disruption of the skin’s natural barrier has been linked to conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. The emollient properties of stearyl alcohol also help to smooth and detangle hair, which is why this ingredient is used in various hair care products.

Is It Safe?

The U.S Food and Drug Administration or FDA, a governing body responsible for regulating the safety of food, drugs and cosmetic ingredients, reviewed the safety of stearyl alcohol. The FDA approved its use in cosmetic and skincare formulations as well as its use as a food additive. 

The safety of stearyl alcohol has also been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel evaluates the safety of skincare and cosmetic ingredients. They evaluated the available scientific data on stearyl alcohol and concluded that this ingredient is non-sensitizing, non-toxic, and safe to use in cosmetic products. 

Stearyl alcohol is not suspected to have any significant detriments to the body. Ingredients are evaluated on their potential for carcinogenesis or cancer-causing ability, reproductive and developmental effects. Tests in humans of products containing stearyl alcohol demonstrated low potential for skin irritation or sensitization.

Elder, R, et al, 1985. ‘Final Reports on the Safety Assessment of Stearyl Alcohol, Oleyl Alcohol, Octyl Dodecanol; Butyl Stearate, Cetyl Stearate, Isobutyl Stearate, Isocetyl Stearate, Isopropyl Stearate, Myristyl Stearate, and Octyl Stearate’, Journal of



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