Cetyl Alcohol & Skin Care

Ralf Nau/Lifesize/Getty Images

Cetyl alcohol is used in almost every skin and hair care product, and even some hardware parts such as nuts and bolts. It’s a fatty alcohol used to help control the consistency of products. It’s derived from plants and animals and is a non-ionic surfactant.


Cetyl alcohol is used as a thickening agent and an emulsifier, according to the Cosmetics Info website. It’s primarily found in conditioners and lotions, but is also used in other products such as shampoos and cosmetics. It has properties that both attract and repel water, which is why it’s so widely used in skin and hair care products.


Since cetyl alcohol can attract and repel water, it’s often used in skin care products to moisturize dry, rough, scaly skin. Your skin becomes dry when water loss occurs; cetyl alcohol helps pull moisture back into your skin. Cetyl alcohol also helps protect your skin by shielding it from irritation, such as wetness. This is the very reason why diaper rash medications use cetyl alcohol in their formulations, according to the website Health Square.


Cetyl alcohol can also be referred to as cetearyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. Cetyl alcohol actually starts out as a solid, waxy substance, according to Cosmetics Info, derived from plants or animals. Cetyl alcohol has lubricating properties, it is sometimes used in building materials such as car parts. Since cetyl alcohol can attract and repel water, it helps keep formulas mixed together. Oil and liquid typically do not mix, but with the use of cetyl alcohol, it is possible.

Approved Uses

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved cetyl alcohol for use in hair and skin care products, as well as a food additive. When used in food, cetyl alcohol acts as a multipurpose food additive. When cetyl alcohol is added to skin and hair care products, it helps thicken creams and gels while it stabilizes foam products such as styling mousse.


If you suffer from dry skin or hair, look for products containing cetyl alcohol. With benefits of locking in moisture and protecting your skin and hair, you may benefit from certain lotions and creams. If you have a known allergy or an allergic reaction should occur, do not use products containing cetyl alcohol.