The (Not So) Scary Truth About Cetearyl Alcohol

If you have ever taken a closer look at the ingredient list of any shampoo, conditioner, lotion, or hair mask, you probably noticed cetearyl alcohol there. Should you be concerned? In this article, we’re discovering the truth behind this ingredient. 

stock image of alcohol cocktails to compare with Cetearyl alcohol

Not exactly the same type of alcohol we're talking about here :)

What does cetearyl alcohol do in my hair products?

Cetearyl alcohol is a chemical produced by mixing two fatty alcohols: cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. Both components occur naturally in animals or plants (we derive ours from coconuts, by the way).

Cetearyl alcohol is one of the most important ingredients in cosmetics. It is an emulsifier, which means it prevents your product from separating into oils and liquids. In addition to that, cetearyl alcohol is great to make the texture of the product thicker, smoother, and nicer to touch. 

Is cetearyl alcohol the same as cetyl alcohol?

Cetearyl alcohol, as we described before, consists of two different fatty alcohols. The names sound similar — cetearyl and cetyl — but this is where similarities end. Addressing the most popular question we get: no, you can’t use cetyl alcohol instead of cetearyl alcohol. The former needs an additional ingredient to activate. 

Is cetearyl alcohol bad for hair?

You definitely heard at least one that you should avoid skin and hair products containing alcohol. That’s right, you should. Lots of different alcohols, like ethanol, are drying for your skin and hair. Cetearyl alcohol is a different story. 

Cetearyl alcohol, being a fatty alcohol, has a completely different chemical structure and doesn’t “behave” like regular alcohol. It doesn’t dry and tighten the skin, doesn’t damage your hair, and is not likely to cause irritation. According to the FDA, even products labeled as “Alcohol-free” are allowed to include cetearyl alcohol. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel has also deemed this ingredient safe to use.

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