Isopropyl palmitate is a man-made moisturizer and thickening agent that is commonly used in cosmetics like lotions and skin creams. Manufactures typically include it as an inexpensive way to improve the overall consistency and feel of a product. It can thicken more watery lotions and many people notice an almost instant improvement in their skin’s softness and elasticity when they use it. The compound is not without its critics, though. Along with fatty acids and helpful vitamins it also contains alcohol derivatives, which can actually dry the skin over time. It is manufactured primarily from palm oil, too, which environmentalists often claim is contributing to depletion of the world’s rainforests and tropical ecosystems.
Physical and Manufacturing Basics
One of the best ways to think about isopropyl palmitate is as a palm oil derivative. Palm oil, which comes from palm trees, is rich in a number of different fatty acids that can be helpful both as skin moisturizers and general emollients. In most cases, though, the resulting palmitate is not considered a “natural” product because of how much chemical processing and manipulation it goes through between leaving the tree and entering a consumer product.
Manufacturers typically blend palm oil with the synthetic alcohol isopropyl in order to get the right consistency. The finished palmitate carries the chemical formula CH3(CH2)14COOCH(CH3)2. It has a high level of viscosity, which means that it is very thick and resists being diluted.
The most common place to find this compound is in lotions and other skin-based cosmetics. It is easily spreadable and often acts as a thickening agent, and the fats derived from the palm oil help it absorb quickly and evenly into the skin. When initially applied, cosmetics containing isopropyl palmitate sit on the surface of the skin before soaking deep within it. This ingredient is classified as an emollient, a substance that corrects dryness and works as a softening agent.
People who use products containing isopropyl palmitate often notice an almost immediate change in their skin’s texture and overall consistency. They often find that the surface is softer and feels suppler even with just one or two uses. A lot of this depends on how much of the compound is used, though; some manufacturers add it more as a stabilizing and thickening agent than as a real means of improving the product’s performance.
Main Side Effects
The palmitate’s moisturizing agents work primarily on the skin’s surface, which means that their results aren’t usually permanent; people often have to continue using it regularly to keep seeing any benefits. Constant, extended exposure may have drawbacks of its own, though, including possibly drying the skin.
Due to the fact that this moisturizer contains alcohol, some users find that it causes moderate to severe skin irritation. It is also known to create acne flare-ups, and an increase of blackheads and whiteheads can also result if the palmitate compound clogs the pores of the person applying it. These skin flare-ups are also attributed to the high level of viscosity found in the compound.
In most cases, the palm oil needed in the manufacturing process is from naturally-growing palm trees in the world’s rain forests. Palm farms can sometimes source the oil, but there aren’t always enough farms to meet the demand, which means that some companies and groups turn to natural harvesting. This harvesting is said to be not only causing the rain forests to diminish, but may also be diminishing the food supply of orangutans. These animals most commonly feast on indigenous palms, and when harvesting machines enter their habitats many are displaced. For these and related reasons a number of environmental and rainforest-based advocacy groups oppose the manufacture and use of the compound.