Cetearyl alcohol is composed of cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. All of them are fatty alcohols (and therefore oil soluble). They are a great addition to conditioners and leave-in conditioners/ moisturizers.
The composition of cetearyl alcohol varies from supplier to supplier. It contains 30% or 50% or 70% cetyl alcohol and the rest is stearyl alcohol.
Emulsifying & Thickening
Cetyl alcohol is a thickening agent and emulsifier derived from vegetable oils, e.g. palm oil or coconut oil. Cetearyl alcohol emulsifies better than of cetyl alcohol.
Keep in min the fact that, on their own, cetearyl alcohol and a cetyl alcohol do not actually bind oils to water, however, once this combination has been made they prevent the fused molecules from separating.
Moisture & Conditioning
Cetyl alcohol is oilier than most other alcohols giving it a moisturizing quality; this is why it is also used in conditioners. It can make hair feel thicker and softer. This moisturizing quality especially makes it useful in moisturizing shampoos.
In conditioners, cetyl alcohol helps in producing a creamy texture that makes the conditioner easy to spread throughout hair.
Both cetyl alcohol and ceteryl alcohol are also used in making lotions because they help to moisturize skin without creating a greasy film. In a conditioner, the scalp gets this benefit.
Cetyl alcohol is also used as an opacifier in shampoos, i.e. to make them opaque and as a foam boosting and foam stabilising agent.
Detangling and slip
Importantly for those of us with mega tangling issues cetyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol help to reduce tangles by apparently 50% (source: SwiftCraftMonkey). They also make a conditioner more slippery. This is a very important quality for those with kinky-curly hair. I can never have too much slip.
Finally, note that if you are using either BTMS-25 or BTMS-50 one of cetyl alchol or cetearyl alcohol is already in there but you can add some more.
- BTMS-25 is behentrimonium methosulfate (and) cetearyl alcohol.
- BTMS-50 is behentrimonium methosulfate (and) cetyl alcohol (and) butylene glycol.
I normally use BTMS-50 and have found that it plays much better with cetearyl alcohol than with cetyl alcohol. I get fewer separation when I cetearyl alcohol. As an additional advantage cetearyl alcohol is meant to be more emollient (i.e. softening) than cetyl alcohol.
Usage rate: 3-5%; the more you use, the thicker your formulation. Add either cetyl alcohol or cetearyl alcohol at half the amount of the cationic compound, i.e. if you’re using 8% BTMS, add 4% of one of these fatty alcohols to get the benefits.
Add it to the heated oil phase of a conditioner.
Other Fatty Alcohols
Other (less common) fatty alcohols you may want to look into include:
- Behenyl alcohol
- Myristyl alcohol
- Stearyl alcohol
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