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What Is Cetyl Alcohol?

A cosmetic cream containing cetyl alcohol.
Shampoos and conditioners often use cetyl alcohol to help moisturize hair.
Cetyl alcohol is found in many hand and body lotions.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Revised By: Kristeen Moore
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 04 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Cetyl alcohol is a lubricant and thickening agent used in a variety of products. Also referred to as palmityl alcohol, it is a synthetic fatty substance made from oils that reduces the surface tension of a liquid. It is most commonly found in shampoos and conditioners, since it can make hair feel smooth and soft. It's also used to thicken lotions and other cosmetics, as well as for lubricating industrial machine parts, like bolts and fasteners.

Components

This substance contains 16 carbons, which makes it oilier than many other types of alcohols. This helps give products moisture, which is good when the goal is to make skin or hair feel soft and smooth, but it can also make hair or skin feel unclean and oily if overused. The composition of cetyl alcohol also make it an effective thickening agent. It has the ability to increase the viscosity of a substance, a process that is called emulsion, causing it to seem thicker and to hold together better. Emulsifiers can be used to increase the stability of a substance by keeping unmixable components in it dispersed evenly throughout, rather than separated like oil and water.

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Hair Care

Shampoos and conditioners often use cetyl alcohol to help moisturize hair. It protects hairs' cuticles and helps them lie flat to prevent dryness and frizz. While conditioners with fatty alcohols can be effective moisturizing agents, it is perhaps even more important for people to choose a shampoo containing them. Many shampoos strip the hair of moisture, and may become too dry if the moisture isn’t replenished after cleansing. At the same time, people with oily hair may not benefit from shampoos containing this substance as much, because their hair is already lying flat.

Lotion and Makeup

In cosmetics, cetyl alcohol is used as an emollient that softens skin when used in appropriate amounts. Moisturizers containing it are often used for normal skin types. They can maintain skin's moisture balance and don't create greasiness if used properly. Aside from moisturizers, cetyl alcohol is present in foundations, blushes, and other cosmetics. The thickening agents in it help prevent makeup from falling off the skin.

Industrial Uses

While cetyl alcohol is most commonly used in cosmetic products, it is also found in water-based lubricants for screws, nuts, bolts, and pins. It can be used to keep both threaded and non-threaded fastening devices moving properly as well, making them easier to use. This is particularly the case with tools that don’t fit together as they should. To get the best effects with a cetyl alcohol-based lubricant, instruments must be fully immersed in the liquid, and then removed and dried before use.

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Discuss this Article

LisaLou
Post 10

I don't pay that much attention to the labels on my beauty products. If they aren't too expensive and they smell good and work well I keep on using them. It does seem strange that the same ingredient used in cosmetics for smooth skin is the same thing that is used as a lubricant for bolts and screws.

When I attended a meeting put on by a nutrition company, they talked about how many skin care products on the market contained ingredients like cetyl alcohol that weren't good for you. I also know that what we put on our skin is important because our skin is our largest organ.

I think when it comes to using cetyl alcohol in skin care products and cosmetics, there is such a small amount used that it is not considered harmful for you. If someone want to use products that don't contain cetyl alcohol, there are companies that make alternative products you can use.

SarahSon
Post 9

I have used some natural lotion that didn't contain any cetyl alcohol and it didn't work nearly as well as my other lotion did. Cetyl alcohol really does help keep skin and hair soft and smooth. Once you get used to this it is hard to use something that doesn't work very well on dry skin. My skin is really dry so I like to use a product that I know is going to keep it soft.

andee
Post 8

@anon275097 -- It is interesting how people can have different results with the same product. I like to use a shampoo that has cetyl alcohol in it because I have found this is the best thing to control my dry, frizzy hair.

If I don't use a shampoo and conditioner that has this listed in the ingredients, my hair is really frizzy and out of control. There are probably other ingredients included that help keep my hair soft and smooth, but cetyl alcohol is at the top of the list.

sunshined
Post 7

@jsunny848 -- It is my understanding that anything that is applied to the skin can be absorbed into the bloodstream, so this would apply to cetyl alcohol as well. It is hard to find a beauty product that doesn't contain this somewhere in the list of ingredients. I have some friends who look for products that don't contain this ingredient, but I think they are hard to find.

anon275097
Post 6

It makes my hair feel extremely dry.

anon261887
Post 5

I've just been given this product: aloe propolis creme,

and it contains cetyl alcohol. Can you please tell me where cetyl alcohol comes from?

jsunny848
Post 4

When cetyl alcohol is used in some pain relieving creams, then can it be absorbed in the blood or not?

anon225436
Post 3

Is cetyl alcohol from coconut?

anon151151
Post 2

If you can read the post above, you know the answer to this question.

anon142005
Post 1

does cetyl alcohol kill germs like other types of alcohol?

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