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Cetyl Alcohol

* A fatty alcohol that's either produced from the end products of the petroleum industry, or derived from plants (palm oil-palmityl alcohol). It comes in the form of a white, waxy solid. It's no longer derived from sperm whale oil (where it was originally discovered) seeing how whales are now an endangered species.

Works as an emollient, emulsifier, thickener and carrying agent for other ingredients contained in a cosmetic solution. It keeps the oil and water parts of an emulsion from separating, and gives products good spreadability. As a thickening agent and surfactant, it helps alter the viscosity and increase the foaming capacity of non-aqueous (i.e. lotions) and aqueous solutions (i.e. shampoo). It is often misinterpreted as an "alcohol" related to ethyl or rubbing alcohol, both of which can be extremely drying to the skin. The truth, in fact, is quite the opposite, as cetyl alcohol is well known to effectively condition and soften the skin and hair. Because of its multi-functional capabilities, this ingredient is used in a wide range of personal care products such as moisturizer, face cream, shampoo/conditioner, anti-aging treatment, hair dye, sunscreen, cleanser and lipstick.

* A fatty alcohol that's either produced from the end products of the petroleum industry, or derived from plants (palm oil-palmityl alcohol). It comes in the form of a white, waxy solid. It's no longer derived from sperm whale oil (where it was originally discovered) seeing how whales are now an endangered species.

Functions of Cetyl Alcohol:

Works as an emollient, emulsifier, thickener and carrying agent for other ingredients contained in a cosmetic solution. It keeps the oil and water parts of an emulsion from separating, and gives products good spreadability. As a thickening agent and surfactant, it helps alter the viscosity and increase the foaming capacity of non-aqueous (i.e. lotions) and aqueous solutions (i.e. shampoo). It is often misinterpreted as an "alcohol" related to ethyl or rubbing alcohol, both of which can be extremely drying to the skin. The truth, in fact, is quite the opposite, as cetyl alcohol is well known to effectively condition and soften the skin and hair. Because of its multi-functional capabilities, this ingredient is used in a wide range of personal care products such as moisturizer, face cream, shampoo/conditioner, anti-aging treatment, hair dye, sunscreen, cleanser and lipstick.

Safety Measures/Side Effects of Cetyl Alcohol:

The FDA includes cetyl alcohol on its list of permitted food additives. The EU Cosmetics Directive allows it to be used in cosmetics as long as it's derived from plants. The CIR Expert Panel has assessed this ingredient as non-sensitizing, non-toxic and safe to use in cosmetic products.

Despite the fact that the CIR Expert Panel recognizes this ingredient as non-irritating, many dermatologists recommend that individuals with sensitive/irritated skin avoid it. Many medical experts believe that cetyl alcohol, and many other fatty alcohols, have the ability to altercate the lipid bilayer of the epidermis (protective barrier) and cause allergic dermal reactions in some (see article in 1999 issue of Contact Dermatitis). There are many studies supporting the potential irritation associated with this ingredient. See below for a selection. Considering this information, it's best that sensitive skin types perform a patch test with any product containing this ingredient, particularly anyone suffering from a skin condition such as Rosacea or Psoriasis.


1. Haan P, Meester HM, Bruynzeel DP: "Irritancy of alcohols", in Van der Valk P, Maibach HI (eds): The Irritant Contact Dermatitis Syndrome. New York, CRC Press, 1996, pp 65-70

2. Effendy I, Weltfriend S, Patil S, Maibach HI: Differential irritant skin responses to topical retinoic acid and sodium lauryl sulphate: alone and in crossover design. Br J Dermatol 1996;134:424-430

3. Zesch A: Skin irritation by topical drugs. Derm Beruf Umwelt 1983;31:74-78

4. Rietschel RL, Fowler JF: "Vehicles and preservatives including formaldehyde, cosmetics, and personal-care products", in Rietschel RL, Fowler JF (eds): Fishers Contact Dermatitis. edFourth. Baltimore, Williams & Wilkins, 1995, pp 257-329

5. Lazar AP, Lazar P: Dry skin, water, and lubrication. Dermatol Clin 1991;9:45-51

6. Tosti A, Guerra L, Morelli R, Bardazzi F: Prevalence and sources of sensitization to emulsifiers: a clinical study. Contact Dermatitis 1990;23:68-72

7. Griffiths WA, Wilkinson JD: "Topical Therapy", in Champion RH, Burton JL, et al. (eds): Textbook of Dermatology . edSixth. Malden, Blackwell Science, 1998, pp 3519-3563

8. Goossens A, Beck MH, Haneke E, McFadden JP, Nolting S, Durupt G, Ries G: Adverse cutaneous reactions to cosmetic allergens. Contact Dermatitis 1999;40:112-113

9. Hannuksela, M. "Frequent contact allergy to higher fatty alcohols". 1979. San Francisco, March 29-31. IV International Symposia on Contact Dermatitis. (GENERIC)

10. De Groot AC, Weyland JW, Nater JP: "Allergic contact dermatitis from topical drugs", in De Groot AC, Weyland JW, Nater JP (eds): Unwanted effects of cosmetics and drugs used in dermatology. edThird. New York, Elseveir Science, 1994, pp 55-135

11. De Groot AC, Weyland JW, Nater JP: "Allergic contact dermatitis from topical drugs", in De Groot AC, Weyland JW, Nater JP (eds): Unwanted Effects of Cosmetics and Drugs Used in Dermatology. edThird. London, Elsevier, 1994, pp 657-670

12. Keilig W: [Contact allergy to cetylstearylalcohol (Lanette O) as a therapeutic problem in stasis dermatitis and leg ulcer]. Derm Beruf Umwelt 1983;31:50-54

13. Gaul LE: "Dermatitis from cetyl and stearyl alcohols". Arch Derm 1969;99:593

14. Li M, Gow E: Benzyl alcohol allergy. Australas J Dermatol 1995;36:219-220

15. Tosti A, Vincenzi C, Guerra L, Andrisano E: Contact dermatitis from fatty alcohols. Contact Dermatitis 1996;35:287-289

16. Rademaker M, Wood B, Greig D: Contact dermatitis from cetostearyl alcohol. Australas J Dermatol 1997;38:220-221

17. Komamura H, Doi T, Inui S, Yoshikawa K: A case of contact dermatitis due to impurities of cetyl alcohol. Contact Dermatitis 1997;36:44-46

18. Higashiyama M, Yoshikawa K, Kozuka T, Sohma T, Tada M: "Contact dermatitis due to corticosteroid cream base-cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol". Skin Research 1989;31(suppl 7):126-131

19. Kato N, Numata T, Kanzaki T: "Contact dermatitis due to Japanese pharmacopeia cetyl alcohol". Skin Research 1987;29(suppl 3):258-262

20. Hausen BM, Kulenkamp D: [Contact allergy to fludroxycortid and cetyl alcohol]. Derm Beruf Umwelt 1985;33:27-28

21. Shoji A: Allergic reaction to benzyl alcohol in an antimycotic preparation. Contact Dermatitis 1983;9:510

Recommended Products with Cetyl Alcohol:

BRAD Biophotonic Ultra Elastin Lift ($210 in the shop), My Prime Multi-Purpose Mattifying Moisturizer ($68 in the shop), Kat Burki Hibiscus Antioxidant Face Mask ($78 in the shop), Sciote Micro Derm Crème ($60 in the shop), Sciote Advanced Retinol Crème ($64 in the shop), Osmotics Blue Copper 5 Prime ($135)

As much as possible, products in the Truth In Aging shop are chosen for their safety profile as well as effectiveness.

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