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Cetyl Alcohol

Veterinarian Reviewed on June 20, 2012 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Uncategorized

Cetyl Alcohol


Cetyl alcohol may also be called 1-hexadecanol or palmityl alcohol. This is a fatty alcohol which appears as white wax flakes at room temperature. Cetyl alcohol was initially from whale oil but now it is obtained from the end-product of petroleum. It may also be derived from palm oil or coconut oil.

Cetyl alcohol is widely used in the cosmetic industry; it is found in many soaps and shampoos. It is a lubricant in many industries; screws, nuts and bolts are submerged into a cetyl alcohol bath before they are fastened together.

History and Origin

Cetyl alcohol was discovered by Michel Chevreul, a French chemist in 1817. He heated a waxy substance obtained from sperm whale oil along with potassium hydroxide and the end product had flakes of cetyl alcohol after cooling. Thus the process of getting cetyl alcohol from sperm whale oil started. Commercial whaling was however banned all over the world and thus cetyl alcohol was extracted from other oils. It was then extracted from petroleum and later it was obtained from palm and coconut oil.

Ancient Uses

During ancient times, cetyl alcohol was basically unheard of. Soaps and cosmetics were made from combining animal or plant oils with perfumes and other natural ingredients to make it clean better and smell more fragrant as well. Soap making dates back to the time of the Babylonians and the ancient Egyptians.

Modern Uses

The use of cetyl alcohol in many industries today is basically because of its propensity to make a person’s skin and hair feel and look smoother if used in adequate amounts. In personal skin care products, it may be listed as palmityl alcohol. It can be found in moisturizers, lotions, creams and other skin care regiment. Its emollient properties make skin well nourished.

In hair care, it is a part of many shampoos and conditioning agents. It has the ability to make hair smoother and straighter. However, if it is found in large amounts, it can make hair look oily and unclean. It is also vital in making lotions and creams thicker and more stable; this makes lotions more able to hold other ingredients.

Cetyl alcohol is also used in industrial applications; it is used to lubricate screws, nuts and bolts before they are fastened.

Side Effects

There are no noted side effects in the use of cetyl alcohol. Products that have cetyl alcohol or palmityl alcohol as main ingredients may be used even by people who have sensitive skin.
It is important to note though that skin care and hair care products with cetyl alcohol must not be used on skin with cuts, breaks and irritation. Babies and people with extra sensitive skin must consult a dermatologist for the ideal skin care product to use that may not cause irritation on sensitive skin. If you use makeup, remove it as soon as you can to prevent damage on delicate skin on face. Any irritation experienced from products that contain cetyl alcohol as a main ingredient must be consulted immediately to a dermatologist.

Read also: MSM

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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