Saturday, July 12, 2014

Weekend Wonderings: Substituting cetyl alcohol in a recipe

In this post, One ingredient, ten products: Incroquat BTMS-50 in a body butter, Art Creators asks: Can we substitute the use of cetyl alcohol with something else?

Yes. And let's take a few minutes to consider how I know this and what you could use instead.

When thinking of substituting an ingredient, ask yourself these questions...
Question 1: What does this ingredient bring to the mix?
Question 2: Is there something that could take ingredient x's place?
Question 3: Do I need to make any alterations if I take out that ingredient?

The ingredient in question is cetyl alcohol. What does it bring to this product? Cetyl alcohol is a thickener and emollient. It will make the lotion feel thicker, glidier, and slicker, and it will act as a moisturizer. In most lotion recipes, the purpose of the cetyl alcohol is to create a thicker and slicker product than one without it. I've included it in this recipe because I want a body butter to feel thick and be glidy on my skin. As well, cetyl alcohol can serve as a stabilizer for the emulsifier.

Is there something else that could take cetyl alcohol's place in the lotion? If want a thickening agent, in general we can substitute cetyl alcohol with stearic acid or another fatty alcohol. If I use stearic acid, it's going to feel thicker and less glidy than a version with cetyl alcohol. If I use cetearyl alcohol, it'll feel slightly thicker and waxier. If I use behenyl alcohol, it'll feel thicker and powder-ier.

We could use a butter in its place, using more mango or shea butter. If we use more mango butter, it'll feel thicker and less greasy. If we use shea butter, it'll feel a bit thicker and greasier.

Do I need to make any alterations if I take out the cetyl alcohol completely? If I leave it out, the product won't be as thick or glidy feeling. Is that a big deal? That will depend on my personal preferences. If I like something to be thicker and more glidy, I'll miss that feeling in my product. If I've never made the product before, I probably won't notice it. Just remember that if we want our total for a recipe to be 100%, we need to compensate for any changes to the recipe. If we take 3% cetyl alcohol out of the recipe, I'll want to increase the water amount by 3% to keep that total the same.

Why the water amount? Because it's the easiest thing to modify. If we upped the oil by 3%, we'd have to increase the emulsifier by 0.75% (if we're using Polawax). If we upped the emulsifier by 3%, we'd have too much. If we increase the water by 3%, nothing changes much! 

Can I substitute cetyl alcohol with another ingredient? Definitely. Can I leave it out? Definitely. Remember this - when you take out or substitute an ingredient, you might find you have a different skin feel, viscosity, and texture of the product. That isn't a good or bad thing - it's just a thing.

This isn't to say that you can substitute or leave out cetyl alcohol every time. In conditioner recipes, cetyl alcohol is included because it works to boost the conditioning power of your cationic quaternary compound (the conditioning agent, like the behentrimonium methosulfate in Incroquat BTMS-50 or Rita BTMS-225), as well as thickening the product and increasing the emolliency. And that's kind of an awesome.

This is why we can't make a list of substitutions - as in, if you have this, you can always use this, except for oils - because things like cetyl alcohol have many different uses in different products. But in the case of lotions, you can almost always substitute cetyl alcohol with another fatty alcohol or stearic acid.

Related posts:
How do you know what to substitute?
Substitutions: Playing around with a recipe
Substituting one ingredient for another
Can we substitute one oil for another?
Substituting: Figuring out what's important in a conditioner. 
Substituting: Learning INCI names
Substituting: How to tweak that amazing sounding recipe!
Substitutions: Modifying a lotion with what you have (part one)
Substitutions: Modifying a lotion with what you have (part two)
Substitutions: What to do when you can't wait to create! 

Formulating on a budget: An introduction
Formulating on a budget: Buying ingredients
Formulating on a budget: A test recipe


ArtCreators said...

Your post is highly informative and explanatory. Thank you again

Leslie said...

I am happy! This doesn't really have anything to do with cetyl alcohol but more of a chit chat thing. I have been making shampoo using your recipe for Conditioning Shampoo for Dry Hair with SCI and Glycol Distearate for quite awhile now and really love it! I ran out and am leaving on vacation tomorrow. Found the time to make some more so now I have 1000g and am happy! Just thought I would share....

AlineH said...

Aloha Susan,
I found a lotion formula using Sodium Behenoyl Lactylate, Behenyl Alcohol and Stearic Acid (at 2% each) as an emulsifier and I am wondering if I could substitute the cetyl alcohol for the stearic acid? Sounds like yes but my head is spinning and I would love to get your input on this?
Thanks! Aline

Cookie Couture said...

Can the cetyl alcohol be replaced with xanthan gum?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Cookie Couture! As i say in the poat...

Question 1: What does this ingredient bring to the mix?
Question 2: Is there something that could take ingredient x's place?
Question 3: Do I need to make any alterations if I take out that ingredient?

Take a look at my posts on xanthan gum and see if it will do what you want!

econoLABS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vanessa said...

Will using cetearyl alcohol instead of cetyl, will it still give it the glide feeling but with a thicker waxier product? Or does it rid it of glodey feeling completely? I bought the wrong one by accident. So i have that and stearic acid to choose from. I just noticed as I have all my products on the table that it's a different alcohol. So I'm literally getting ready to make this but now I'm stumped. Help!? Oh yeah im making the conditioner bar.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Vanessa! It will give glide, but it is definitely waxier. You can use it anywhere you want to use cetyl alcohol. Make small batches just in case you don't like it!