Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cationic quaternary compounds: Cetrimonium chloride

If you've read any of the posts on this blog, you'll know I love this stuff in hair care products! It's a cationic quaternary compound, like BTMS and cetrimonium bromide, but it isn't a great one on its own. It has a chain of 16 carbons, which means it isn't as lubricating as BTMS or cetab, but it does have a unique ability to detangle, which means it reduces the combing forces and friction in your hair, which is a very very good thing.

Cetrimonium chloride is a mono-alkyl quat with 16 carbon atoms. Because it is a mono-alkyl quat, it is less conditioning than BTMS or cetab. (And remember, the longer the carbon chain, the better it adsorbs to your hair.) It is water soluble, meaning you can add it to surfactant mixes - you can't do that with BTMS or cetab. You'll note that the INCI for cetrimonium chloride is cetrimonium chloride. Unlike the other cationic quaternary compounds, it is a liquid and usually contains about 30% active ingredient. It is not coupled with a fatty alcohol or a humectant, so it's not an all in one kind of thing. You can add something like cetyl or cetearyl alcohol and a humectant like glycerin or propylene glycol to make it a more complete hair conditioner, but even with those additions, it's not going to be the all around conditioning agent we need like cetab or BTMS.

For those of you who like chemistry, it's the length and number of alkyl chains that determine water solubility with these compounds. Cetrimonium chloride is a mono-alkyl quat, meaning it has one chain that is 16 carbons long. This isn't considered very long, so it has great water solubility. You can make a product with just water, cetrimonium chloride, and preservative as a detangler, as you'll see below! 

Again, the cetrimoniums (cetrimonia?) are considered antiseptic, so it can be a good addition to a conditioner for someone with scalp issues.

I would never use cetrimonium chloride alone in a conditioner or leave in conditioner - unless you were someone with very fine hair that tangled a lot - because it simply doesn't offer the same conditioning levels as the BTMS or cetab. Yes, it has a long carbon chain, but it doesn't have the same fatty profile or fatty alcohols add to it, so it's really good as an adjunct to a fattier conditioner. The recommended use is 0.5% to 5%, but I like to use it at 2% in my liquid, solid, and leave in conditioners because that's enough to get the amazing detangling abilities. (Before using this product, I had to have help from my mom or Raymond to brush my hair! Now, a few sprays out of the shower and the brush just runs through my hair!)

OILY HAIR CONDITIONER WITH CETRIMONIUM CHLORIDE (copied from the post from March 11, 2009)
.5% preservative
2% cromoist
2% panthenol
2% cetac
2% cyclomethicone
2% dimethicone
2% cetyl alcohol
1% fragrance or essential oils -- oily hair blend - equal parts rosemary, clary sage, cedarwood, and lemon
water up to 100%

Weigh out the BTMS and cromoist into a container. Boil some distilled water, then add it to this container. Heat and hold in a double boiler for at least 20 minutes and ensure all the BTMS has melted well. When the mixture reaches 45C, add the panthenol, dimethicone, cyclomethicone, fragrance, and preservative. If you don't like silicones, then leave them out and add 4% more water.

Feel free to leave out the silicones if you don't like them. If you want to adapt this recipe for normal or dry hair, click on the link above.

LEAVE IN CONDITIONER WITH CETRIMONIUM CHLORIDE - please click to read the post on leave in conditioners.

5% cetrimonium chloride
2% hydrolyzed protein
2% panthenol
1% fragrance
0.5% to 1% preservative of choice (Tinosan is not an option as this is cationic)
water to 100%

Heat and hold the water, hydrolyzed protein, and cetrimonium chloride for 20 minutes, then remove from your double boiler. When the mixture has cooled to 45C, add the panthenol, fragrance, and preservative. Package in a spray bottle.

5% cetrimonium chloride
2.5% cetyl alcohol or cetearyl alcohol
3% glycerin, propylene glycol, or other humectant
3% cationic polymer, like honeyquat, polyquat 7, cationic guar, or Celquat H-100
2% hydrolyzed protein
2% panthenol
1% fragrance
0.5% to 1% preservative
water to 100%

Heat and hold the cetrimonium chloride, cetyl alcohol, humectant, cationic polymer, hydrolyzed protein, and water for 20 minutes. Remove from double boiler and let cool to 45C. Add the panthenol, fragrance, and preservative. Package.

This is going to be a very thin conditioner suitable only for people with really fine hair that tangles easily. (Although, the Celquat H-100 or cationic guar will thicken the mixture more than the honeyquat or polyquat 7.) It is a good one for children's hair because they don't need a ton of conditioning.
Join me tomorrow for Incroquat CR!

As a final note, cetrimonium chloride can be included in your heated water or heated oil phase. Either way it's good. (Click here for more information...) And it's a great remover of silicones! 


Mich said...

I think you must be psychic, Susan. I was literally planning on making a cetac spray-in detangler for my kids TODAY. Thanks for providing the formula!!!

I do have a question: I have seen that Liquid Germall Plus should NOT be used in products that are to be aerosolized.
Do you think that would include using it in ANY type of spray formula, or just something you're spritzing all over like a room spray? (I wonder if you're not supposed to breathe it in or what.)

In the meantime, I'll use Germaben II.

Thanks again for the extremely timely blog!

Mich said...

Okay, I also have an "on topic" question:

Can you use cetab and cetac together in a formulation? (I'm thinking the protein fixing powder of the cetab plus the detangling goodness of the cetac could be good!) If yes, any idea on proportions?


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Good point about the aerosols and Liquid Germall Plus! I put together a post on this topic this morning at Liquid Germall Plus in spray formulations. I hope this helps!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Try 5 to 7% cetab to 2% cetac and see how you like it. As mentioned previously, they may separate, but if you keep mixing them well until cooled, you'll probably get a good result!

Mich said...

Thanks for your answer. I will have to try it!

(You do realize that this could lead to the Personal Formulator having a record-breaking sales this quarter!)

josee said...

Hi! Could you please tell me where i can buy cetac and cetab? I'm in Canada too.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Sorry, Josee. The only place I know for cetab or cetac is the Personal Formulator in the States. The good thing is their shipping rates are reasonable to Canada and we don't get dinged with huge minimum orders. I didn't even get charged at the border for what I ordered!

pearlyn said...

just to double confirm, cetac is meant to be put in heated Water phase right?


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I'd put it into the heated oil phase if you're using oils, with the BTMS if you aren't. It is a cationic quaternary compund, so keep it with the cationic quaternary compounds like BTMS or cetab.

pearlyn said...

my heated oils phase contains oils, butters, emulsifier & cetab so i'll put cetac in here as well.

if i'm NOT using oils & butter but just plain water & conditioning agent like btms, btms-50, cetab etc than i put cetac in here?

sorry for the lengthy question. just want to be clear.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

As I said before, I'd put it into the heated oil phase if you're using oils, with the BTMS if you aren't. It is a cationic quaternary compund, so keep it with the cationic quaternary compounds like BTMS or cetab.

Here is a PDF on how to make conditioners you can download (click here for download). I think this might help with your formulating of this product. (Or check out this post, which is part of the PDF.)

Anonymous said...

If I do use BTMS at 7% can I still use up to 5% of the Centrimonium chloride? Or is 5% only when you use it INSTEAD of the BTMS?

Thanks! :)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

If you are using 7% BTMS, 5% cetrimonium chloride is probably overkill. If you have tangly hair, then 2% is enough. If you have super tangly hair, then maybe 3%, but 2% is still probably enough. (I have super tangly hair and 2% is more than enough for me!)

The reason for not going up to higher levels of cetrimonium chloride is because it can make your conditioner separate, which isn't fun. So waste products and your time when 2% seems to be adequate for every hair type!

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

I've seen Centrimonium Chloride listed as an ingredient in some shampoos. Do you think it's a waste to have it in shampoo?? Would the surfactants hinder it from doing what it does? Sorry if it's a silly question.

Thanks again for a wonderful blog, I look forward to reading it daily.

Anonymous said...

I have a commercial conditioner I use and I was wondering, since it's not very detangling, could I add a little of this in the mix and use it like that? Or perhaps make a spray bottle with a couple of squirts of the condtioner and 2% of the cetac and the rest water?

Or do you have to heat the cetac before it works?

BTW, your blog is the best!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Aesthete! If you're using a conditioner after shampooing, I wouldn't bother. The surfactants shouldn't bother the cetac, but I think it would mess with the viscosity of your shampoo and could make it really thin.

Hi Anonymous. I'm always apprehensive about adding things to a finished product as the preservative levels might not be high enough to adequately preserve the addition. But, considering you would use cetac at 2%, I think you could do this. You will see a huge difference in the viscosity of the conditioner - it should thin it out quite a lot.

As for making it into a leave in in a spray bottle - don't. You'll be adding water and the preservative will most certainly not be adequate for up to 90% water!

You don't need to heat cetac for it to work; we heat it so it will reach a good temperature for emulsifying and incorporating into our product. I have accidentally added cetac while cold and it didn't incorporate as well as it would have had I heated it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
I was wondering if I can substitute cetac with Herbarie's GuarSilk( INCI Name: Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride)?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi anonymous. Yes you can, but you won't get the same detangling effects from cationic guar as you do with cetrimonium chloride. You can add cationic guar to a conditioner to increase the conditioning effects the way you would with a cationic polymer, but there are huge differences between the guar and cetac!

Anonymous said...

Hello what is a good preservative to put in shampoo and conditioner body butters etc... thanks

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi anonymous. You can read about preservatives in this post, and see what works best for your products. I use liquid Germall Plus or Germaben II for products containing water, and Phenonip for anhydrous products that might come into contact with water.

Tola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tola said...

You can also get Cetrimonium Chloride in the UK from

Bajan Lily said...

Sarah - thanks ever so much for your resourceful blog. It has been a godsend - no longer are these strange chemicals I wouldn't poke with a stick: you've made the science make sense!

Thanks to the last poster who let me know where I can get this stuff in the UK. Now I can try out one of the conditioning recipes! Thanks

Judy said...

Hi Susan, I just found centrimonium chloride at the Conservatorie. The company is based in California. Here is the link:

Lisa said...

Hi Susan

New Directions in Australia has cetrimonium chloride.They're pretty good with most personal formulator ingredients,& Aussie Soaps or Escentials fill in most of the blanks but I still can't find plain glyceryl stearate or hydrovance anywhere closer than an ocean away.The search continues!


Tara said...

I just made a leave in product with cetac. I have to say, it left my hair feeling pretty grimy, not at all like a leave-in with BTMS feels. Maybe I should try the minimum amount. It sure feels good in a rinse off product though.

Raji said...

You can also purchase cetrimonium chloride from

Nedeia said...

Of a simple nature sells one with INCI: Cetyl Trimethyl Ammonium Chloride

Now, the 2 are different. Would they behave the same or similar?

When I bought it, it didn't cross my mind to look at the INCI :-))). Now I did, and I wonder if it has the same benefits as Cetrimonium Chloride...

Nedeia said...

OK, strike my last comment. I just found out on an obscure web site that the 2 are synonyms. :-) Question answered :)

seventh77 said...

I'm having the worst time formulating with cetrimonium chloride. The first time I used it, I included it in the oil phase (just BTMS-50 and cetac). I've never had any issues melting BTMS-50 in a double boiler, but when I added the cetac, it turned into a lumpy gel and refused to liquify. I tried putting it in the microwave for 8 seconds, but all that did was make the gel mixture expand like a frothy bubble, so I quickly put an end to that.

So I decided to have the water phase, the oil phase, and then add the cetac once my two phases had been combined, but before anything had much time to cool down. I didn't heat the cetac. When I added the cetac to the still-hot mixture, I had all these clear soft floaties, which I'm assuming were clumps of cetac (unless it made the BTMS-50 confused). I had those same clumps when I added the BTMS-50/cetac oil phase to the water phase during my first go around.

Also, my cetac has the soapiest texture ever. Is that normal? Even mixing gently with a spoon causes it to get all bubbly. In the container by itself, if I agitate it a bit, it gets quite bubbly. Because of this, I can't mix any water-consistency product I make because the entire thing will turn into foam, and the bubbles never go away. So emulsifying anything with cetac is almost impossible for me.

What am I doing wrong?

Monica said...

For the Canadians: Saffire Blue,in Ontario and carries cetrimonium chloride and BTMS-50. No cetab or cetac tho.

I made an experimental batch of conditioner last night with 5% cetrimonium chloride, 5% E-Wax NF, 4% Glycerine and 1% Germall Plus (topped to 100% with distilled H2O. It feels great on my hair, which is long, straight and fine. Similar thickness as most commercial conditioners I've used. I'll keep an eye on how the emulsification holds up.

Thank you Susan for such an awesome blog! Been making CP and lotions for a few years. Now I have lots more options :-D

Dev said...

Hi Susan,

I'm having the same issues with CETAC as Seventh77. Is this a problem you've ever addressed on your blog?


Dev said...

Also you can purchase Cetrimonium Chloride at

It's listed as a surfactant.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Dev. Yes, cetrimonium chloride is a surfactant by definition. I'm afraid I have no idea why this is happening as it's never happened to me. This is all very strange, and I wonder if what you have is cetrimonium chloride?

Renee said...

Okay, I've been looking for help and need something to substitute this as well as BTMS. I'm HIGHLY allergic to sulfates and ammonia and need something to put in conditioner. I usually use a wax such as candelilla with sunflower lecithin and guar or xantham gum in place of E-Wax. Need a cationic item to put in it. Help please!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Renee. I'm not going to make suggestions if you are that allergic as I would hate to cause you discomfort. You'll have to do some research on the cationic ingredients you might be able to use by checking out the posts on the right hand side of the blog.

As an aside, waxes, gums, and e-wax are not conditioning. Only positively charged ingredients are conditioning.

Nicholls said...

Hi Susan,

In The Netherlands we can´t buy Cetrimonium Chloride, onlu in the UK. But there is a store here that mailed me that they sell Hairguar INCI: Hydroxypropyl Guar, Hydrxypropyldrimonium Chloride. She mailed me that it could be used instead of Cetrimonium Chloride to make a leave in conditioner. What are your thoughts about this?

Love your blog!
Tania Nicholls.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tania! (Great last name!) Check out this post for more information on cationic guar gum.

Nicholls said...

Thanks Susan,

I did not know that it is also called GuarSilk, knowing that I see that you already had answered the question a long time ago:
Anonymous said...
Hi Susan,
I was wondering if I can substitute cetac with Herbarie's GuarSilk( INCI Name: Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride)?
August 12, 2010 at 2:50 PM

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...
Hi anonymous. Yes you can, but you won't get the same detangling effects from cationic guar as you do with cetrimonium chloride. You can add cationic guar to a conditioner to increase the conditioning effects the way you would with a cationic polymer, but there are huge differences between the guar and cetac!
August 13, 2010 at 6:42 AM

So it wont be a good substitute for Cetrimonium Chloride in a leave in conditioner and it also gives a build up on hair.
Thank you for responding Susan, now I know what NOT to do :)

Tania Nicholls

Anonymous said...

I was wondering, Would this formula work as a detangler?

Water 54%
Germaben II 1%
Cetac 5%
Cyclomethicone 20%
Chamomile hydrosol 20%

And am I correct in the fact that none of these need to be heated to be added together?

Thank you for your help, Kangel

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kangel. I'm sorry, but this recipe isn't going to work. What is emulsifying all that cyclomethicone? If you leave out the cyclomethicone, you have a nice light detangler there. I would heat it slightly as we want some emulsification with the cetrimonium chloride. And use distilled water if you aren't heating it much!

Anonymous said...

Oh wonderful! Thank you for your help! :) -Kangel

Anonymous said...

Would it help if I heated the distilled water and then add the Cetac to that? If so, what temperature would I want to heat the distilled water to?

Thanks again for all your help! :)

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say: I LOVE Cetrimonium Chloride. I add it at between 2-4% to my hair products. I use it conditioner, and even shampoo. Which I think is worth it. My hair tangles verrry easily, so having an amazing dwrangler like Cetac in my shampoo helps to start getting rid of knots. But where I think it really shines(no pun intended) is in a leave in conditioning spray. My formula looks something like this:

4% Cetac
2% Honeyquat (or Polyquat 7)
2% protein
2% another protein
3% propylene glycol
1% fragrance
0.5-1% preservative
85% water
0.5% PEG-8 Dimethicone(optional)

Actually, all the ingredients in this are optional except the Cetac, water and(of course) preservative. It's the Cetac that works the magic. I think most people would probably find this a bit too concentrated(and would be better off with only 2% Cetac), but I love it. It works wonders at detangling my waist length hair. Plus it gives my hair a beautiful healthy luster and soft feel. I am very liberal when applying it, but it doesn't weigh my hair down. My boyfriend also swears by this concoction; he reminds me to make more when we run low. Now this is coming from a man who, before I met him, never used conditioner(or any other hair product but shampoo) at all. In fact, he used to refer to conditioner as "cream rinse" as it was called in the 60s.

Anyway, just wanted to share my experience with this ingredient. I'm not a shill for whatever company makes it ;)

Sassy said...

Hi Susan. Your blog is AMAZING! Thank you for the considerable time and effort you put into it. I just wanted to add something for US residents. I live in L.A. Lotioncrafter carries Cetac at a much better price than Personal Formulator ($6-8oz vs. $15-4 oz). They don't have Cetab though. I order most things [emulsifiers, esters, carrier oils, butters etc...] from them unless they don't carry what I need. Use INCI names for quick results. IDK what their shipping rates are to Canada, but they are decent for western U.S. and come very quickly. Unfortunately, their surfactant selection is weak. I get those, soy protein, surfactant blends and other goodies from Ingredients to Die For. I like the Herbarie (Plantapon, Ultramaize), PF, and Making Cosmetics, although they are pricey. Also, I get floral waters [orange blossom, rose, peppermint] at my local Persian market ( $4-10 oz). They are used a lot in desserts. I'm putting together an order from Voyageur for ingredients that aren't available here. They apparently will charge in U.S dollars and provide shipping quotes ahead of time. Yeah! Thanks again!!

Wendy said...

hey susan,

what if i do not have a cationic polymer? can i omit or is it a must in this recipe?

please let me know,


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Wendy! I'm excited that you have many questions svoit making conditioners. Have you checked out the posts on making conditioners in the newbie section of the blog or the hair care section. I think most of the questions you are posing are answered in said posts. Or check out the post on cationic polymers! If you learn what each ingredient brings to the product, you can decide to use it or leave it out.

Anonymous said...

I also experienced the clumping issues reported by seventh77 and Dev in my first batch. I had put the Cetac in the water phase along with aloe vera. In my second batch I removed the aloe entirely from the recipe and added the Cetac in the oil phase instead - and no clumping! Not sure which of these two changes made the difference for me but I wanted to report my results in case anyone else comes across this post with the same issue.

And of course: Thank you to Susan for all that you've done with this blog! It's such a tremendous resource.


alia said...

in your post about fine hair
you said that fine haired people should stay away fron cationic polymers
then why have you included it in the above conditioner for fine limp hair???

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

HI Alia. Did I say that? Can you point me to the place so I can correct that because it's not true. In fact, cationic polymers are great for people with fine hair as they can't handle the more waxy conditioning agents.

alia said...

am sorry i dont mean to be rude
i just want to do the right thing for my hair
this is the link ti you post about fine hair
at the end of the post is where you have said that cationic polymers are not good for fine hair

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Alia! You're not being rude by asking questions and asking for clarification. Heck, pointing out where I have contradicted myself only means I have a chance to correct the mistake! Thanks for letting me know!

I need to re-write that because cationic polymers are good for fine hair in a conditioner, but not in shampoos. I've fixed that now!

Here are a few conditioners I suggest for fine hair...
Special considerations for fine hair
Cream rinses
Detanglers and light conditioners

Thank you for pointing out my mistake so kindly. I'm always happy for the opportunity to provide accurate information!

Jaslyn Begni said...

If Cetac removes silicones, why do we use cetac and silicones in the same hair conditioner formulation?

Another question: Why are Cationic Polymers good in conditioner for fine hair, but not in shampoo? Is it because they would prevent the goodies in the conditioner from penetrating and/or being adsorbed to the hair?

Thanks Jazz

Corinne said...

Hi Susan!
I'm attempting to recreate the exfoliating peel spray from Juice Beauty ( It is a facial product and is packed with botanical extracts and looks really yummy. However, it lists cetrimonium chloride as the third ingredient, just after aloe and glycerin. I haven't been able to figure out what benefits cetac has for skin other than mild cleansing, which doesn't feel like what this product is for and doesn't explain why it's so high on the ingredients list. I guess it could still be like 2% if all of ththe botanicals are less.
The reviews of the product claim that almost immediately after you spray it, you can visibly see the little bits of dead skin being rubbed off and I know there are products that fake this using silicone and other such ingredients. Is that maybe what it's doing there? I'm just confused and wondering if I need to include it in my recipe or not.


Mirvat said...

I have just read that cetrimonium chloride is safe at 0.25 in leave on product and up to 2% in rinse off.
This is the link . I see that in your recepies you use more than that.

Do you have other researches that oppose this research?

Molley said...

What about using Cetrimonium chloride" in skin care?

Sylett Strickland said...

I just found an almost full bottle of Cetrimonium Chloride in a box I had in storage for the past 3-4 years. I was so excited. then I opened it. it was solid. I wept.