Why Is Cetyl Alcohol in Skin-Care Products? | Expert Tips


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Grab the closest skin-care product to you, and have a look at its ingredient checklist — likelihood is excessive cetyl alcohol makes an look on the high of the checklist, close to good ol’ water. Just glancing on the phrase alcohol would possibly make your pores and skin begin feeling parched and itchy after years of overdrying with alcohol-based astringents in the ‘90s. But concern not, cetyl alcohol is nothing of the kind. It would not even fall into the identical household because the alcohol you add to your margaritas or powers your hand sanitizer. In truth, the FDA permits magnificence manufacturers to label their merchandise “alcohol-free” even if it contains cetyl alcohol, says Ohio-based dermatologist Hope Mitchell.

We asked dermatologists to share why cetyl alcohol is an essential ingredient in moisturizers and lotions. 

What exactly is cetyl alcohol? 

Cetyl alcohol is a waxy-like solid added to lotions and creams to help stabilize and bind their ingredients together “to stop them from separating into an oil or liquid,” according to New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Marina Peredo. 

Another function of cetyl alcohol is extending a product’s shelf life, as well as amping up its viscosity to make it feel richer and more concentrated, cosmetic chemist Ginger King adds. 

How is it different from other alcohols? 

The alcohols typically used in skin care can be categorized into three different kinds: simple, fatty, and aromatic. Simple alcohols, such as isopropyl (aka rubbing alcohol), ethanol, or methanol, are what we’re used to irritating and drying out our complexions while having a strong, nasal hair-burning scent. They are typically added to skin-care products as a “degreasing agent used after cleaning the pores and skin and previous to making use of a chemical peel for finest absorption,” Mitchell says. 

Fatty alcohols, like cetyl alcohol, do just the opposite. (More on that soon.) Typically, they are derived from vegetable oils, particularly palm and coconut, King says. However, in the past, cetyl alcohol wasn’t vegan at all — it was extracted from sperm whale oil. 

How does cetyl alcohol benefit skin? 

Other than acting as an emulsifier or thickener in skin-care products, cetyl alcohol is also an occlusive agent, similar to petroleum. It’s “nice at defending the pores and skin barrier from drying out and stopping water loss,” explains Pittsburg-based board-certified dermatologist Lindsey Zubritsky.

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