Thursday, July 9, 2009

Better crafting through chemistry: Cetyl alcohol

Cetyl alcohol! This short chain, saturated, fatty alcohol imparts an emollient feel to our lotions and creams and works with our cationic quaternary compounds to super-charge our conditioners.

Compare the cetyl alcohol molecule to the stearic acid molecule. It has 16 carbons (stearic has 18) and it has an OH (oxygen-hydrogen or hydroxy group) whereas stearic has a carboxyl group at the head (OOH). Cetyl alcohol is a short chain fatty alcohol; stearic acid is a long chain fatty acid. So what does this all mean to us?

Cetyl alcohol can be used like stearic acid to thicken our lotions for a creamier feel. You can use it up to 5% in lotions and creams, but I like to use it up to 3% because I don't want things too thick! You can use it as the emollient - oil or butter - in a lotion for "oil free" moisturizing.

Because it is saturated, it is considered resistant to rancidity, so the shelf life is considered to be very long. (A lot of manufacturers say it is resistant to rancidity forever - nothing lasts forever, but it is a very long time!) And it has a melting point of 49˚C. 

It is more emollient than stearic acid, and works in conjunction with a cationic quaternary compound like BTMS to increase the conditioning agent's substantivity (it clings more to your hair). Where stearic can feel waxy and draggy, cetyl feels glidier and greasier (in a good way).

Stearic acid and cetyl alcohol can be used interchangeably, for the most part. I liken a cream with cetyl alcohol to Cool Whip - it's glidier and silkier - whereas I think of a cream with stearic acid as whipped butter - still glidy, but definitely not silky and a lot heavier.

Join me tomorrow to compare and contrast (I always hated that phase in university!) cetyl alcohol and stearic acid.


Aesthete said...

Hi Susan, Have you by chance tried Behenyl Alcohol? I've been digging around to find out the difference in the feel btwn it and Cetyl. Do you think they're just two different ingredients that do the same thing? Thanks.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I haven't tried behenhyl alcohol, but it is very similar to cetyl alcohol in that it is a fatty acid and it will add thickening and emolliency to your product. It has a longer fatty acid chain, so it will likely feel more glidy than cetyl alcohol. I would like to try it - I just haven't had the chance yet!

Anonymous said...

Is Cetac and Cetyl alcohol the same thing? Thanks! :)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

No. Cetac is the shorthand for cetrimonium chloride, a cationic quaternary compound we use in our hair care products for detangling and softness, whereas cetyl alcohol is a non-ionic thickener and moisturizer that we can put into conditioners as well as lotions.

I try to avoid abbreviations on the blog, but sometimes one slips by me!

pearlyn said...

hi babe.

you mention to use 25% of total oils & butters. so lets say i have 12% of total oils & butters which is 3% of emulsifier, do i still add in 3% cetyl alcohol? will it make it thicker?

it's meant for leave in hair lotion.

also, i have both btms & btms-50. which one is more suitable for this leave in hair lotion?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I'm feeling really confused about this product you are trying to make. You are calling it a hair lotion that you want to leave in your hair, but it sounds more like a conditioner with oils and possibly silicones. I think what you are trying to create will be far too heavy and greasy for all but the most hardy hair types!

If you are using cetyl alcohol in a hair care product, use it 50% of your BTMS amount. If you're using 7% BTMS, then use 3.5% cetyl alcohol and so on. As I mentioned in a previous comment, BTMS does not have a usage rate like e-wax.

So if you want to use 7% BTMS in your product because that's the best conditioning level for your hair, then use 7%, even if you are using 12% oils. If you use 7% BTMS, then use 3.5% cetyl alcohol.

For 12% oils (this is your entire oil phase?) try using 4% BTMS and 2% cetyl alcohol to see if you like the conditioning level.

M said...

Hi Susan: how do I use cetyl alcohol in lotions and hair condiitoners i.e. how I dissolve it? should I little water?
I have it in powder/tiny granules.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi M. How to use it is in the instructions in the various recipes on this blog or on formulators' sites. For instance, in a conditioner, I'd put it in the heated oil phase with my BTMS. In a lotion, I'd put it in the heated oil phase with the oils and emulsifier. It isn't dissolved so much as melted down with the oil phase. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan, just wondering why you dissolve the cetyl alcohol in the oil since it is water soluble? Does it add something to your final product?

Thanks! :O)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi anonymous. Cetyl alcohol is oil soluble - it's a fatty alcohol - so we always add it to the oil phase of our creation. It adds some slip and glide to our products, acts as a moisturizer, behaves as a thickener, and increases the substantivity of our conditioning agents.

Anonymous said...

Oh, silly me! Where did I get that idea? Must admit I'm new at this but it makes sense now.. Thank you Susan!

Kari said...

HI! I recently bought your e-books from Lotion Crafter and had a question about adding Cetyl Alcohol to the conditioner when there isn't a lot of oil. Is it possible to use it when you have only a very small amount of oil? I've tried adding it, and it ends up gritty in the formula.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kari. I'm not sure why it would end up gritty because you can add quite a bit of cetyl alcohol to a conditioner without problem because the BTMS-25 or BTMS-50 acts as an emulsifier for any fatty ingredients - like cetyl alcohol - in the product. I'm not sure about the grittiness though!

Has anyone else had problems with grittiness and cetyl alcohol?

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan!
I have some ingredients around, and I want to make a leave in conditioner, with a lotion consistency. I was wondering if it is possible to do this using ONLY cetyl alcohol as the primary emulsifier? Would it even work, and would it have enough slip? I do have BTMS, but was just wanting to experiment without it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan

My supplier here offers the following cetyl alcohol:
- Mono cetly alcohol (lanet 16)
- Mono cetly alcohol (lanet 18)

What are the differences between them? and which one do I use in the formulas used in your books?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anonymous. Please sign off with your name in the future, or I will delete your message. I've asked readers to do this many times over the last few months. It keeps everyone accountable for what they write and we all play nicer.

I think I answered your question in this post on Friday.Short answer - cetyl alcohol isn't an emulsifier, so you can't use alone with water. It will float to the top and make an awful mess.

Hi Anonymous #2. Again, please use at least your first name on a post or I will have to delete future comments.

I don't understand the question. I haven't encountered this before. Please ask your supplier for more information and post it here so we can figure this out further!

rayne said...

Hi! is cetyl alcohol considered cationic?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Rayne. No. It's non-ionic.

Carrie said...

When we calculate the % for the emulsifier, does cetyl alcohol count in the oil part?

Shell D said...

Hi, I have a lotion/cream recipe and it calls for 1 ounce of stearic acid, can I use an equal amount of the cetyl alcohol to replace it? If so, does using the cetyl alcohol effect the amount of oils & butters in the recipe?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Carrie. Anything oil soluble counts as part of the oil phase. Cetyl alcohol is oil soluble, so yes, it counts as part of the oil phase.

Hi Shell. Yes, you can interchange them, but you will get a different consistency and skin feel.

How much are you making of this lotion that you are using 1 ounce or 30 grams of stearic acid? That's at least 1 kg or 2.2 pounds of lotion!!!

Anna said...

Hmm.. In the post about cetearyl alcohol you write that "it can be used in conjunction with a low HLB emulsifier to create an emulsification system". Does the same go for Cetyl alcohol as well?

I know you write that Cetyl alcohol offers co-emulsification but I´m not sure if that´s the same thing or not?

And thanks (again) for such a great blog! It´s a goldmine for beginners in skin-care products such as myself.

Victoria Stewart said...

Hi susan, I tried this recipe with cetyl alcohol and it turned out looking like chunky milky puke.... so I brought e-wax.
I summarized I'd confused an emulsifyer (ewax) with cetyl alcohol. from your post it looks like maybe it wasn't to blame? It was my first try... could you please help somehow? here's the recipe that I tried


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Victoria. I suggest speaking to the person who created this recipe for help. Unfortubately, it isn't written in percentages so I can't figure out if it is using enough emulsifier and such.

Ronni Neumann said...

Hi Susan,

I'm having a hard time figuring this out myself, and I was hoping you might know.

Is there much of a functional difference in use for cetyl alcohol versus cetearyl alcohol? Specifically, I want to make solid hair conditioning bars.

Thank you so much!

Nancy C said...

I want to use cetyl alcohol in my lotion bars vs beeswax or soywax. Would it be the same percentage as beeswax or soywax? I have checked files and searched and couldn't find an exchange of one for the other Love your blog.

Nancy C said...

I believe I found my answer to the substitute of cetyl alcohol for beeswax. I will use it at same amount as required for beeswax.

Cynthia Scott said...

Thank you for all the wonderful, very useful info!!!

You mentioned using htms and cetyl alcohol for conditioner and emulsifying wax and cetyl alcohol for lotion.

Is it ok to use htms instead of the emulsifying wax to make lotion? Or does that change it basically into conditioner. I'm failing to see much of a difference in the way of conditioner vs lotion.

I'd like to use
sea buckthorn oil
coconut oil
castor oil
olive oil
a teeny bit of vit e
cetyl alcohol - for oil phase
neroli floral water and a touch of glycerine - for the water phase
plus optiphen
and if it needs it a few drops of a bit of EO - but I think almost the whole water phase being replaced by the floral water will make it pretty stinky in a good way lol or do you think that's going overboard.

I'm shooting for relieving aging and very dry skin issues. Oh and is aloe vera juice something that will rapidly deteriorate? I know the floral water will not! But I read that aloe vera is very good for dry skin but then read elsewhere that shelf-life is a real issue - actually has to be refrigerated? That is not something I'm willing to give to someone else - can't count on them actually refrigerating it - ya know?! I've made lotion bars and conditioner successfully but a friend asked for a lotion and this is how I'm going about it unless you have a better idea!

Any advise?



(oh and I haven't yet gone into %s yet as I'm just now figuring ingredients first - but I'm thinking 20-25% for the oils - which makes for lots of floral water, but neroli is supposedly mild and subtle AND heavenly - we shall see!)

Cynthia Scott said...

Oh and avocado oil too


Cynthia Scott said...

Oh and one more thing....since this is for very dry skin, do you think a butter would be better than the coconut oil - like shea for instance? Or would all those very heavy oils be enough in terms of mmmm what would it be called? Not moisturizing - right? Water is the moisture - what do the oils do - keep the moisture in right? And glycerine is emollient. So what do you call the oils? I'm confused lol - (obviously not afraid to make a fool of myself to get some answers! lol)

Cynthia Scott said...

Oh ok I just read what you said about please including percentages
here we go
5% btms
4% castor
1% sea buckthorn
3% avocado
3% coconut or shea
5% cetyl alcohol
10% olive oil
67% floral water or floral and aloe mix
1% fragrance - maybe
1% optiphen

Is that all arse-backwards or is it ok?



Cynthia Scott said...

whoops forgot the glycerine and vit e
I just plan on adding 1 mg of vit e and calling it a day as far as that's concerned
As for the water phase I guess change that to
60% floral water or aloe/floral mix
7% glycerine

now I'm just guessing!!!


Cynthia Scott said...

I'm confused - I just read better feet and a few reminders and you said you don't wish to fix someone else's recipe? Should I have not written? I'm sorry. But you said to include % and process? - just measure by weight in grams - put each - oils in one and water in another in hot water double/boil situation - bring both to 170 f and hold 20 min then mix with a stick blender. Yes? That's my understanding as to process. Oh and then mix every 10 mins or so while it's cooling down. wait for room temp before putting in the optiphen and fragrance or at least down to 100 - don't know why you wouldn't just wait all the way though - as EOs evaporate under any amount of heat. So anyway add the optiphen and EO at room temp and mix again and bottle - everything sterile of course!! And keep covered with a paper towel while cooling. Is that acceptable? That's the plan. And if you don't wish to fix this recipe then that's ok. No prob. I think I misunderstood something - should have read further before writing. I'm sorry I took up so much space.

If I hear from you great but if you're too busy or not interested in my first attempt at lotion then I will not at all take it personally - I totally understand that bloggers - the popular ones - are totally inundated with mail!! (But you might get alot less after that blog lol - I'm sure you won't - I'm teasing. You seem real sweet - just a bit harried I think at that moment.) And I can understand why you're real popular - super-great info!!

Thanx for all you do


Cynthia Scott said...

Going to take up more space now - sorry!

ok just read a whole hell of alot more of your blog and it's become glaringly obvious that I NEED TO START OVER!!!! Nevermind - although I do have a somewhat complicated question though - it may have a very simple answer however - and that is - why are these oils I've listed in my recipe for dummies not good for facial moisturizers? Are they just plain too heavy? I'm especially interested in why olive oil is not a good facial moisturizer (and I do believe the sea buckthorn probably is but not the others)? I think I need to read for another several hours!!! Boy is this ever so very much more complicated than I had anticipated and now kinda wishing I hadn't promised a nice face moisturizer for dry, aging skin - hellooooo!!! Ok Yes I did warn her that it would be an experiment in that I am an absolute beginner - I have only made a hair conditioner and I love it but it was very simple (and not my recipe!) But OMG!!!!!! I don't think I can even afford to buy these ingredients!! (Moping :( )- But you know what? I WILL come up with a solution! And it will be good and she hopefully will like it - but I kinda doubt she'll want to switch to it permanently. Maybe when I get alot more info and experience under my belt. We'll see idk about all this now! Not sure if I'm excited or scared LOL but I like the challenge.

JUST LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!! Ok I'll leave you alone now. I'm not a stalker I promise!!


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Cynthia! Yes, you can use BTMS-50 as an emulsifier in a lotion. I've got dozens of recipes on the blog about using this emulsifier. If you were interested in a facial moisturizer, here's an example. As a rule, it's better to use larger amounts of one or two oils than a bit of one and a bit of another. To really get the goodness from them, I like to use at least 5%. Glycerin is a great choice for dry skin. (Have you looked at the section on dry skin in the skin chemistry section of the blog?) 7% is a bit high, though. It might be too sticky.

Why do you think you need to start again? It's a fine recipe that should work well.

Is this a facial moisturizer? If so, it might be a bit on the heavy side, but if that's the way you like it, then make it! You don't need a ton of expensive ingredients. Try olive oil for your face. You might like it, you might not. Make a small batch and see if it works for you! Try coconut oil if you like it. The only down side is that those oils might be a bit shiny on your skin.

I don't mind working on someone's personal recipe. It's when someone says "I got this recipe from Blog X and it sucks." They need to go back to Blog X and ask for help from the recipe writer, not from me. I'm asking people to do this so I can have more time to answer my messages and comments and help people work on their own recipes.

Cynthia Scott said...

Thank you so much for responding!! I appreciate it very much!!

I did in fact think that you need to buy a bunch of expensive ingredients and proceeded to spend $300 on stuff to make lotions and other stuff. Oh well. OUCH!! I guess I should have waited for your response!! But I read somewhere that it takes about a week to respond and I had promised this lotion within a few weeks and I had to get stuff delivered to me too. Plus get it in the mail to her!! I obviously set myself up for a job that comes close to exceeding what is even possible - but I shall valiantly go forth and give it a shot!!

Your information is extremely useful and helpful and I am just very, very glad you wrote me back!!

I actually went ahead and made the lotion I outlined above cuz I had those ingredients on hand and I could see no reason why it wouldn't work (logically). And in fact it turned out fabulous!! Really couldn't have turned out much better than I would have ever expected. I did the Shea instead of the coconut and I added Ylang Ylang and Lavender cuz I did not have the hydrosol (it's in the mail).

Actually my delivery should come today so I'm excited to start using all these very expensive, exotic ingredients!! Of course I've already set myself up with more problems and questions lol!! For instance, I do believe one of the extracts or proteins - I think extract - hard to remember - bought a bunch of stuff, is a powder and not liquid. I read that it goes into the cool down phase and that you add water to it. But are all of them soluble in water? And is there a certain temp that they need be added at. Like I added the EO and optiphen at room temp - could I also add the extract/protein at that point? Or should I do it warmer? And if so why? lol - Like you I wanna know the reason!! For instance you shouldn't add EOs when it is anything higher than room temp because ANY heat will degrade the EO! EOs actually sometimes have frighteningly low flashpoints!

I'm sure I will have alllll kinds of questions once I get started actually working with this stuff - I bet you just cannot wait lol jk!! I will try not to overdo it!! This is very exciting to me. I think it's fabulous you found your passion at such a young age! Some people never find theirs. Perhaps this will be mine too!

Thanks for all you do here!!


Cynthia Scott said...

I rec'd my shipment. It is the green tea extract that is dry and I found part of my answer. Dissolve in a bit of warm water before adding at cool down phase. That only leaves the matter of temp at which to add it at. I'm figuring that since it is dissolved and could probably just be consumed actually - not something I'm suggesting anyone do or that I would do as the compound was made specifically for cosmetics and as I have found out, you shouldn't even use oils like almond or coconut that are produced by a company like Brambleberry for consumption because the processes used in their production don't follow the same as for food grade oils - these are cosmetic grade. But my point is that since we're using a preservative and there is no need for a chemical reaction that I know of that temp should be low and even room temp would be fine. If I am wrong about this - please set me straight!!!



Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
As always, I appreciate this blog so much!
I know you say cetyl alcohol is lighter and greasier in a good way than stearic acid. Would you say there is a difference in the absorption of cetyl alcohol or stearic acid? I'd like to make a lotion that feels smooth and absorbs well, and isn't so greasy it prevents you from using your hands after!

On that note, would a btms or e-wax absorb better?

Thank you so much!

Gianter said...

Thanks for all information you provided in your blog.

But I have a question... Can I prepare a translucent solution using cetyl alcohol. I mean I want dissolve very alcohol in water and the result is clear solution. The HLB of cetyl alcohol is 15, when I use tween 20 or 80 as emulsifier it gives a white solution, but I need it to be clear as customer likes clear product.

Scientifically, I think we need a microemulsion not macroemulsion... How can I achieve this.

Jay P said...

Hi Susan.. thanks for this recipe. I can't wait to experiment with sucragel! One question: if I wanted to add some acidic ingredients how/when would you suggest I do that? Any idea how sucragel behaves in a cream with low pH (~4) ?

Pam said...

Hi Susan I made some lotion the other night. I have always used BTMS. But, this time I used lotion pro 165. Before, I left out the cetyl alcohol because the BTMS made my lotion really thick. So, when I made lotion with lotion pro, I left the cetyl alcohol out. My lotion is as thin as milk! Is it because I left out the CA? Here are my ingredients: 66% distilled water 2% sodium lactate 2% hydrolyzed oat protein 6% olive oil 4% rice bran oil 4% johoba oil 4% mango butter 2% IPM 4% lotion pro 165 1% vit. E 2% dimethicone 2% green tea extract 2% DLPanthenol 1% phenonip & 1% cranberry FO

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Pam. Yes, Lotionpro 165 lotions are much thinner than those with other emulsifiers. Check out the posts I've written on this emulsifier for more information. As well, green tea extract can have a redox reaction with lotions and make them thinner, but I think the thinning thing here is the emulsifier and lack of cetyl alcohol.

Dianne Bowler said...

Hi Susan

How can you thicken a moisturizer after it's made and cooled and appears too thin. Can you add more heated and dissolved Cetyl Stearyl Alcohol to the cooled mixture or is it a total loss?

Liz Tóth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz Tóth said...

Hi, Dianne... question I've asked a few times myself (with some far more colourful words!). Last weekend I made a batch of (watery) conditioner I absolutely refused to throw out - it had my brand-new silk peptide in it, for crying out loud!- I came up with a hack: after figuring out why it was too thin (not enough cetyl alcohol, I figured) I made up the same recipe (preservatives and all) but tweaked the recipe to be too thick this time (used "too much" BTMS and cetyl alcohol... this made it 'way too thick... just what we're aiming for in this case!) Then once it was sorta cool I mixed the 2 batches together didn't wait for it to get completely cool... just around 30°C - heated up the original batch a wee bit in a glass of warm water, to make it easier to mix but not enough to allow separation. Then mixed like crazy.

It's not ideal: still a bit thin, and I ended up with a lot more product than I originally intended, and it probably has more BTMS than it needs, and it still might separate, I don't know yet. But at least it doesn't run off my hand when I try to use it. I made sure it was preserved and emulsified properly, so "too much" just means I don't get to play around with it again for an extra couple of weeks.

Susan... I'd love to hear what you have to say about this one... is there a better idea for a really really bad pinch? I figured it was worth trying (to save that silk peptide!) and it seems to have worked on that batch, at least.

Thanks, and I hope that helps, Dianne... good luck with it if you decide to try this one!


Liz Tóth said...

Okay, follow-up on the last comment, where I had some conditioner that was too thin and so I mixed it with another batch that I made "too thick": it seemed to be working for a week or so, but then it started separating. I'm still using it (it's working okay in terms of comb-out and conditioning, and I REFUSE to waste all that silk keratin!) but I have to shake it up a bit before using it each day.

I'm starting to think the problem was too much cetrimonium chloride (3%), so the idea might have worked better if I'd left the cetac out of the second batch (I made it the same as the first batch, just increasing the BTMS and cetyl alcohol by about 1% each, to make it thicker; the difference came out of the water). I don't have my notes with me so I don't know all the other percentages, but it's my usual formula that's always worked fine; the only changes were the silk keratin and the increased cetac.

Anyway, just thought I'd follow up with the longer-term results in case anyone's thinking of trying this way of saving a batch of something!


Chad Nichols said...

Hi Susan!! I'm a huge fan of your blog. I've got a question for you if I may, I'm formulating a new Hair and Body wash but wondering if I can substitute out glycol stearate with cetyl alcohol and it remain fairly stable? I'm not so concerned about the pearlizing effect. Thanks

Here is the formula:

45% Goat's milk
30% Alpha Olefin
10% Coco Betaine
4% Polyglucose
4% Glycol stearate OR Cetyl alcohol
2% Glycerin
1% Witch Hazel
0.5% Panthenol
0.5% Guar hydroxypropyl trimonium chloride
1.5% Preservative
1% Fragrance
0.1% EDTA
citric acid

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Chad! Cetyl alcohol needs an emulsifier to mix into water, while glycol distearate does not. You would have to add an emulsifier to the product to get cetyl alcohol to mix well. As an aside, this much goat's milk is going to lead to contamination fairly quickly, even with a good preservative. Why are you using such a high amount? And what does goat's milk bring to a hair and body wash?

Chad Nichols said...

Thanks so much for responding Susan. :D

Goat's milk is an amazing for addressing skin irritations i.e eczema, psoriasis, dandruff etc. As you well know lactic acid has that light exfoliation...I know I could use other ingredients for the same effect but my customers tend to respond better to the milk. I'm using a dehydrated fully fatted goat milk powder at a dilution of 8 parts H2O to 1 part powder, but you are right I may need to half that to 16:1 or reduce to around 35%? I love the feel Ceytl gives and I've got Stearic, Ceteareth-20, BTMS-25, and emulsifying wax as possible emulsifiers...what you think? I need to read more about you emulsifiers.
You're awesome, thanks again.
Open August 1st

eternal footman said...

Hello Susan,
Your posts make me wish that I'd paid more attention in chemistry class; this is fascinating stuff.
My question: how does cetyl alcohol affect lipstick/lipbalm "feel" i.e. texture, moisture and/or taste?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Chad! It all depends upon the skin feel you're seeking. Stearic acid isn't an emulsifier, only when paired with triethanolamine in the right ratio. Cetereath-20 needs to be combined with a low HLB emulsifier to be an emulsifier. BTMS-25 isn't an effective emulsifier - BTMS-50 is superior in every way. E-wax is a good choice. I encourage you to read about other emulsifiers, like Polawax, Lotionpro 165, Montanov 68, and (coming soon) Simulgree 18-2. And make sure you have an amazing broad spectrum preservative used at max usage rate if you're using goat's milk!

Good luck with your company!

Hi Eternal Footman! It makes it feel glidier and slicker. I've not noticed a taste when I've used it.