Cetyl alcohol is a lubricant and thickening agent used in a variety of products. Also referred to as palmityl alcohol, it is a synthetic fatty substance made from oils that reduces the surface tension of a liquid. It is most commonly found in shampoos and conditioners, since it can make hair feel smooth and soft. It's also used to thicken lotions and other cosmetics, as well as for lubricating industrial machine parts, like bolts and fasteners.
This substance contains 16 carbons, which makes it oilier than many other types of alcohols. This helps give products moisture, which is good when the goal is to make skin or hair feel soft and smooth, but it can also make hair or skin feel unclean and oily if overused. The composition of cetyl alcohol also make it an effective thickening agent. It has the ability to increase the viscosity of a substance, a process that is called emulsion, causing it to seem thicker and to hold together better. Emulsifiers can be used to increase the stability of a substance by keeping unmixable components in it dispersed evenly throughout, rather than separated like oil and water.
Shampoos and conditioners often use cetyl alcohol to help moisturize hair. It protects hairs' cuticles and helps them lie flat to prevent dryness and frizz. While conditioners with fatty alcohols can be effective moisturizing agents, it is perhaps even more important for people to choose a shampoo containing them. Many shampoos strip the hair of moisture, and may become too dry if the moisture isn’t replenished after cleansing. At the same time, people with oily hair may not benefit from shampoos containing this substance as much, because their hair is already lying flat.
Lotion and Makeup
In cosmetics, cetyl alcohol is used as an emollient that softens skin when used in appropriate amounts. Moisturizers containing it are often used for normal skin types. They can maintain skin's moisture balance and don't create greasiness if used properly. Aside from moisturizers, cetyl alcohol is present in foundations, blushes, and other cosmetics. The thickening agents in it help prevent makeup from falling off the skin.
While cetyl alcohol is most commonly used in cosmetic products, it is also found in water-based lubricants for screws, nuts, bolts, and pins. It can be used to keep both threaded and non-threaded fastening devices moving properly as well, making them easier to use. This is particularly the case with tools that don’t fit together as they should. To get the best effects with a cetyl alcohol-based lubricant, instruments must be fully immersed in the liquid, and then removed and dried before use.