Friday, July 10, 2009

Cetyl alcohol vs. stearic acid

I feel like the subtitle to this post should be "two go in, one comes out, it's a battle to the death!"

These two are always compared to each other because they serve the same function in lotion making - they offer co-emulsification, they increase viscosity, and they act as fatty ingredients to add to the emolliency of the lotions. But there are some differences and they're really all about the skin feel.

I think of cetyl alcohol when I want to create a thick glidy lotion, like a body butter or massage cream. I like cetyl alcohol in anything with a cationic quaternary compound. If I'm making a conditioner or using BTMS (or another conditioning emulsifier) as my primary emulsifier, then my first choice is always cetyl alcohol: It works in conjunction with the conditioning agent to impart even more conditioning!

I think of stearic acid when I want to create a thick, tenacious lotion, like a foot cream or hand lotion that will last through washing. I think it makes my thick lotions denser, creamier, and waxier. There is some drag in it, which can be a good thing when you're using a foot cream - somehow it makes it feel more intense.

Having said all of this, I think the only way to really know the difference between the two is to try them. Try this at home! Using the body butter recipe (original post, April 3) or the modified body butter recipe (original post, April 5), or your favourite lotion recipe make two batches with exactly the same ingredients, switching the cetyl alcohol and stearic acid. (Use the same fragrance as well because we want the only changes to be the cetyl and stearic.) Label your jars well so you know which is which! Ask your friends, family members, or random members of the public to try out the lotion and give their advice!


Anonymous said...

Thank you this helped me a lot!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, this helped me too :)

Christopher said...

I just made two small batches of hand lotion where I included cetyl alcohol in one and stearic acid in the other. I honestly didn't feel any difference between the two. As I was mixing both the batches it looked like the one with stearic acid was going to be the thickest, but to my surprise the batch with cetyl alcohol was the thickest. Both products have a silky touch to them and there's no drag as I was expecting with stearic acid.

Nessa said...

Perfect! Just what Ive been looking for! I think I am going to switch out stearic for Cetyl. Thanks Susan!!

P&C Fisher said...

Hi there, I am so glad I found this site. I love the amount of information you share with everyone.
Anyway, I just made a whipped soap recipe with stearic acid as a stabilizer/thickener and it whipped up amazingly and works fabulous, however, it seemed to leave a slight almost burning feeling on the skin and I was wondering if switching the stearic acid for cetyl alcohol would make it more mild and less burn-y...

I would appreciate any advice.
Thank you so much