Cetearyl Alcohol

We all know what fat is.  And we all know what alcohol is.  But how about a fatty alcohol?

Chemically speaking there isn’t much difference between a fat and an oil.   The definition is basically that if it is solid it is a fat, if it is liquid it is an oil.  But they are all triglycerides, made up of long fatty or oily chains three of which are linked to a glycerin.  If you break down a fat you get glycerin and fatty acids.  It is easy to separate these because glycerin is soluble in water so you just wash it out.  You are then left with the fatty acids.  There are a lot of different kinds of fatty acid but they all share the same basic structure of having a long fat chain with a reactive acid group at the end.  Stearic acid is a typical example.

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  • Jagrnut

    Just curious, I’ve always heard that ‘alcohol’ is drying, so if cetyl alcohol & cetearyl alcohol are in shampoos & conditioners, doesn’t it dry out your hair?

    • Rich Summers

      “alcohol” when mentioned like that means Ethanol. Which is short chain and a very good solvent ( and nice with Ice and lemon in ).The solvent properties of ethanol mean that it can strip the oil from the surface of the skin drying it out. The longer the chain the the solvency power of the alcohol and therefore the less drying the alcohol is, and I use the term alcohol there in its chemical sense, ie. it has an “OH” group on the end. Cetearyl alcohol is actually the most commonly used base for conditioners as it is very stable, compatible with the other conditioning additives and also does have some affinity to the hair actually doing the opposite of drying it out.