Before we try to understand the use of certain alcohol in our cosmetic products, we must first define what fatty alcohols are. Natural fatty alcohols are also known long-chain alcohols. I am not a chemist, I barely passed chemistry in high school, so I will not throw out a bunch of terms, I have no idea how to further explain. Instead, after several website searches for a simple definition, I came across the Naked Chemist who breaks down several of the alcohols, the meaning and what they are used for.
According to the Naked Chemist, fatty alcohols are not really alcohols. The ingredients found in most of our cosmetic products are actually fatty acids that are exposed to hydrogen, creating a process. This particular “alcohol” unlike ethyl (rubbing alcohol), is used most commonly to condition and soften your skin and hair. You may ask, how can an alcohol be a moisturizer? It’s not. The fat properties in which the “alcohol” came from allows the substance to be used as a thickener, or a carrying agent to be mixed with other ingredients to keep the oil (fatty acid) and water parts from separating in your lotion, cream, shampoo, conditioner etc…This particular alcohol, when added to a “natural” hair product acts as a softening agent, providing slip and management of tangles of our curls.
Common alcohols that may be found in our hair and skin products are, Cetyl, Stearyl, Cetearyl, Lauryl, and Oleyl. You’ll want to avoid these alcohols: Alcohol Denat, Ethanol, SD Alcohol 40, Propanol, Isopropyl and Propyl. These alcohols in comparison to the fatty acid alcohols are not from a plant but are methyl chemicals with additives that are toxic to the human body. Most common term for most of these chemical properties is rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol, can be used for so many do it yourself projects, ingesting these alcohols either by mouth, skin or hair can become a health issue.
Here are a few Alcohol Free or Fatty Alcohol Hair Products that I have used or currently use for my hair:
Cantu Shea Butter Leave-in Conditioning Repair Cream There have been recent speculation about this product line. Since the day I went natural, I’ve used this and the curling cream off and on during my journey. Some tightly curled, 4c naturals do not care for the line, but I love it – especially during the cold months.
Here are a few alcohol free or fatty alcohol based beauty products that I have used or are currently using in my daily routine:
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer
Neutrogena Oil-Free Cleansing Wipes
As with hair shampoos, conditioners, and styling products, face cleansers, toners and other beauty products may also have fatty acids as a main ingredient in the formula. If you use one of the off the shelves, high priced, beautifully marketed products to clean your pores, and see that there are alcohols such as isopropyl or ethanol, you’re doing more damage to your skin than good. After a face wash, your skin should not be dry and tight feeling which may happen when the alcohols in the products do not have any fatty acid properties. Like with your hair, you want to remove excess oil without stripping the natural oils from your scalp, hair and epidermis.
What everyday products do you use that you notice have fatty alcohols listed in the ingredients?