Fatty Alcohols in Skin Care Products

What are fatty alcohols and why are they in alcohol-free skin care products?

Fatty alcohol in skin care products is used to make moisturizers and creams thicker and more luxurious so they coat your skin and make skin smoother.  But will they dry out your skin?

We can help you see if fatty alcohol is good or bad for your skin type.

Finding the best skin care products for your Baumann Skin Type is easy- just take the quiz.

We will give you specific recommendations about what skin care products are best for you. You can see if fatty alcohols make sense for your skin type.

fatty alcohols in skin care

Are Fatty Alcohols in Skin Care Products Bad for You?

Fatty alcohols are not bad for skin.  There is a lot of confusion about fatty alcohols vs alcohols in cosmeceuticals.

Fatty alcohols are not the same as simple alcohol. Fatty alcohols are also called long chain alcohols. They have an even number of carbon atoms and have one alcohol group (-OH) attached to the last carbon of the chain. This structure allows the fatty alcohol to trap water, smooth and hydrate skin.

What are Fatty Alcohols made from?

Fatty alcohols are made from fatty acids. These are usually sourced from plants but may be animal derived. Jojoba oil, beeswax, carnauba wax, candelilla wax have a large amount of fatty alcohols. The most commonly used oils to make fatty alcohols are: coconut, and palm oil. Corn, canola, rapeseed, and soybean oil can also be used. Lanolin alcohol is animal derived.

Are Fatty Alcohols Vegan, Clean and Organic?

There are vegan, clean, organic and natural forms of fatty alcohols. However, they are not all vegan and organic.

Some fatty alcohols are considered clean ingredients.  It depends upon what oils they are derived from.

What are fatty alcohols

Why are Fatty Alcohols in Skin Care products?

Fatty alcohols are added to skin care products as an emulsifier, surfactant, emollient, and thickener. They make cosmetic products feel smooth on the skin and gives them a nice cosmetically elegant feel when they are applied.

Fatty Alcohols are Emollients

Fatty alcohols, also known as long-chain alcohols, are emollients that provide a softening and smoothing effect on the skin. Their molecular structure allows them to penetrate the upper layers of the skin, filling in the spaces between skin cells, which results in a surface that is smoother to the touch. This smoothing action not only enhances the aesthetic feel of the skin but also helps to retain moisture, thus mitigating issues of skin dryness and facilitating a healthier, more hydrated appearance. 

Fatty Alcohols are Surfactants

Fatty alcohols act as surfactants in skincare products, which means they lower the surface tension between different substances. In simpler terms, imagine trying to mix oil and water — they naturally don't mix well. However, when a surfactant like a fatty alcohol is added, it decreases the tension between the oil and water, allowing them to blend more easily. This ability is crucial in the creation of skincare products which often contain both water-based and oil-based ingredients. The surfactant's role, therefore, ensures that the product maintains a consistent texture and delivers both types of ingredients effectively to your skin.

what is an emulsion stabilizer?

Fatty Alcohols are Emulsifiers

Fatty alcohols in skin care products are also used as emulsion stabilizers. An emulsion stabilizer is an ingredient that helps keep the blend of oil and water from separating over time. Without an emulsion stabilizer, the product would separate into its oil-based and water-based components, leading to a runny or uneven consistency. By using fatty alcohols as emulsion stabilizers, cosmetic chemists ensure that the product remains mixed, keeping its intended consistency and effectiveness. The incorporation of an emulsion stabilizer ultimately leads to a product with a more luxurious feel and a better performance on the skin, enriching the user's skincare experience.

Fatty Alcohols are Thickeners

Cosmetic chemists often utilize fatty alcohols as thickeners in their formulations. A thickener, as the term implies, is an ingredient added to a product to increase its viscosity or thickness, contributing to a more substantive and rich texture. 

Fatty alcohols are ideal thickeners due to their unique chemical structure. They possess a long, flexible hydrocarbon chain which allows them to intermingle and entangle with other ingredients in the formula, thereby increasing the overall viscosity.

When fatty alcohols are present in a formulation, they create a denser network within the mixture which effectively "thickens" the product and gives it a luxurious feel.

Although fatty alcohols are more commonly found in creams and lotions due to the higher demand for viscosity in these products, they can also be found in lighter skincare products like serums, albeit usually at lower concentrations. 

The thickening ability of fatty alcohols is versatile and allows formulators the flexibility to create products that span a wide range of consistencies, from lightweight serums to richer creams.

List of Fatty Alcohols in Skin Care Products

  • Behenyl alcohol – Plant based saturated fatty alcohol. Can be vegan. It is usually made from vegetable oils but can also be laboratory made. Rated 1 by EWG.
  • Cetearyl alcohol- A mixture of two fatty alcohols: cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. It can be vegan and come from lants like coconut oil or palm oil. However, there are laboratory made and animal derived versions too.
  • Cetyl alcohol- Comes from coconut oil and palm oil.
  • Cetyl Esters Wax- Made from coconut oil and palm oil
  • Decyl Alcohol- From vegetable oil
  • Hexyldecanol
  • Isostearyl alcohol
  • Lauryl alcohol- From vegetable oil
  • Myristy alcohol
  • Octyldodecanol-
  • Polyglyceryl- 3 Stearate
  • Stearoyl Lactylate-
  • Stearyl alcohol- Can be animal derived but is usually from vegetable oil

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Best References on Fatty Alcohols in Skin Care Products:

  1. Burnett, C. L., Bergfeld, W. F., Belsito, D. V., Klaassen, C. D., Marks, J. G., Shank, R. C., ... & Andersen, F. A. (2011). Final report on the safety assessment of Cocos nucifera (coconut) oil and related ingredients. International journal of toxicology, 30(3_suppl), 5S-16S.
  2. Fiume, M. M., Heldreth, B., Bergfeld, W. F., Belsito, D. V., Hill, R. A., Klaassen, C. D., ... & Andersen, F. A. (2013). Safety assessment of decyl glucoside and other alkyl glucosides as used in cosmetics. International Journal of Toxicology, 32(5_suppl), 22S-48S.

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