Fatty Acids, Alcohols and Esters

Fatty Acids, fatty alcohols and esters, they are key players in the make-up of your skin.

You shouldn’t be scared of them, because they’re actually pretty favourable.

This is due to some of the industry’s biggest brands, drawing attention to their skin-strengthening and protective, barrier function abilities.

Why are these ingredients good for your skin?

Some are already present in your skin and play a major role in supporting and boosting your barrier function.

What exactly does a stronger barrier mean? Ultimately, a more resilient first line of defence against environmental aggressors and an increased ability to retain moisture.

An impaired barrier function, means a tendency towards dry, prematurely aged skin and therefore more wrinkles, a lack of skin tone and sagging.

Who are these ingredients good for?

Due to their skin-strengthening and restructuring properties, they are great for dry, sensitive skin types.

The levels of natural fatty acids in your skin start to decrease dramatically from the age of forty plus, so it’s an essential ingredient to incorporate into your skincare routine.

You could even start in your thirties; which will help prepare and strengthen your barrier before the levels start decreasing.

What should you look for on your labels?

These ingredients come in several guises, so be sure to watch out for the following listed on your inci list.

Fatty acids

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

Caprylic acid: Sourced 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: This comes 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. You won’t find this in our formulas.

Palmitic acid: This is another ingredient used as a detergent cleansing agent – it too can also be quite drying on the skin. Another ingredient you won’t find in our formulas.

Lauric acid: This fatty acid comes from laurel and coconut oil.

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; a process that creates a slightly waxy texture.

In formulas, fatty alcohols are used as emollients and thickeners to improve your creams and lotions’ thickness.

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.

Lauryl Alcohol: Derived from coconut and palm 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, it is a mixture of cetyl and stearyl alcohols. It is used as an emollient, emulsifier, thickener, and carrying agent for other ingredients; it is derived naturally or synthetically.

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 super fatted soaps.


Esters replace natural fatty esters within your skin; helping to smooth the texture and acting as a protecting agent. They are modified fatty substances often used as emollients and conditioning agents.

An ester is formed when an organic acid combines with alcohol. The great thing about esters is that they don’t feel as oily on the skin as other 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 because it reduces the greasy skin feel caused by a high oil content in your formulas. This is a known comedogenic, and you won’t find it in our products.

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 with a mixture of fatty acids such as glycerides, mixed with other non-volatile alcohols.

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 🙂
    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 don’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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