Fatty Acids, Alcohols, and Esters

Fatty Acids are the latest beauty buzz word in skincare ingredients and for good reason, they help to maintain the protective barrier function of the skin.

They include ingredients such as Glycerides, Sterols, and Phospholipids, used in cosmetics as emollients – thickening and cleansing agents.

Fatty acids found in skincare

Stearic acid: This ingredient is used as an emollient and thickener in skin creams as it helps to keep other ingredients stable.

Caprylic acid: Derived from Coconut Oil, it is considered to be a great thickening agent.

Oleic acid: Derived from vegetable and animal fats, it works as a mild surfactant.

Myristic acid: Derived from Coconut oil, vegetable sources, and animal fat. This is a detergent cleansing agent that creates foam in a product; the downside with this ingredient is that it can be quite drying.

Palmitic acid: This is another ingredient that is used as a detergent cleansing agent – it too can also be quite drying on the skin.

Lauric acid: This fatty acid comes from Laurel and Coconut Oil.

It should be noted that a number of saturated Fatty Acids could be comedogenic on the skin, meaning they can block pores and cause blackheads.

Fatty alcohols

These are not ‘alcohols’ in the true sense of the word.

What is actually meant by this term is that the fatty acids have been exposed to hydrogen. This process creates a slightly waxy texture.

In formulae, Fatty Alcohols are used as emollients and thickeners as they help to improve the viscosity (thickness) of creams and lotions.

The following Fatty Alcohols are commonly found in skincare products:

Cetyl Alcohol: Used as an emollient, emulsifier, thickener, and a carrying agent for other ingredients. As an emulsifier, it helps to turn a product opaque – protecting it from light exposure and creating a spreading agent.

It is not a known irritant and is not related to cosmetic ingredients such as Ethyl Alcohol.

Lauryl Alcohol: Derived from Coconut and Palm Seed Oil, it is used as an emollient, spreading agent, and surfactant.

Stearyl Alcohol: Derived from Stearic Acid, it is used as an emollient to help keep other ingredients stable within a formulation.

Cetearyl Alcohol: A Fatty Alcohol used as an emollient, emulsifier, thickener, and a carrying agent for other ingredients.

It can be derived naturally as Coconut Fatty Alcohol, or synthetically. Cetearyl Alcohol is a mixture of Cetyl and Stearyl Alcohols.

Oleyl alcohol: This comes from Oleic Acid and is fattier and greasier than other alcohols.

This ingredient is often used for dry skin emulsions, or for super fatted soaps.


Esters replace natural fatty esters within our skin; helping smooth the skin’s texture and acting as protection, they are modified fatty substances that are often used as emollients and conditioning agents.

An ester is formed when an organic acid combines with an Alcohol. The great thing about Esters is that they don’t feel as oily on the skin as other types of Emollients and Fatty ingredients.

A tip to spot fatty esters in your skincare products: see if they have the suffix ‘ate’ at the end of it.

Isopropyl Myristate: A synthetic oil, used in skincare as an emollient and thickener. It is unique in the fact that it helps to reduce the greasy skin feel caused by a high oil content in your formulae.

Isopropyl palmitate: Used in cosmetics both as a thickening agent and emollient.

Glyceryl stearate: These fall under the family of Glycerol Esters. They are a vast group of ingredients that are a mixture of fatty acids such as Glycerides, mixed together with other non-volatile alcohols.

As you know, we are all about “what goes on, goes in” here at The Naked Chemist, so follow the link to find out about healthy edible oils.


9 thoughts on “Fatty Acids, Alcohols, and Esters

  1. Pingback: IIIC a.s. 2018-19 – Biologia e Cosmetologia

  2. szilvia juhos says:

    Hello, this is a great article, i’m so happy that I found šŸ™‚
    I’m an Esthetics Teacher and i’m preparing an ingredient class so it’s really helpful, great and simple explanation, that’s what I needed.

  3. Delaine says:

    is It ok to use cetyl alcohol and cetyl ester in a lotion recipe? I made one with it and love it. Someone said, you donā€™t use both in a lotion.

  4. Alisha says:

    Hi I’m trying to bind together oil with aloe gel but it seems to separate after mixing it up what can I use that’s natural to bind these ingredients without losing the silky soft feeling of the serum?

  5. Bernard says:

    Hi TNC.
    I need to cut cost in preparing Pine Gel,which is the combination of Sulphonic acid; Ammonia and Pine oil. How do I thicken the neutralised sulphonic without Pine oil.

    • Jumbuin Ruth Maya says:

      This write up have been of great help to me, for the formulation of body cream.
      I wish to know which of the fatty acid/alcohol and ester base combinations will be good in the formulation hair relaxer cream?

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