Fatty Acids, Alcohols, and Esters - can they be natural?

 

Getting confused when reading cosmetic labels of natural and organic skincare? Spotting strange and synthetic-like ingredient names like Cetyl Alcohol or Isopropyl palmitate that don’t sound right?

Many naturally-derived emollients are in reality plant oils that go through a reaction (between an organic acid and an alcohol or hydrogen or glycerin). Yes, some emollients are synthetic but there are plenty of 100% natural and sustainable natural alternatives that natural formulators love to use.

 

 

PLANT OILS

Sweet Almond oil, Argan oil, Rosehip oil … They are all cold-pressed extracts from the seeds or kernels of a plant. Among their main constituents are FATTY ACIDS.

 

FATTY ACIDS

They are typically found in animal and plant fats. They can be isolated as compounds. They are used in their isolated form in cosmetics as emollients, thickening, and surfactant (aka detergents) agents.

Here some examples:

Caprylic acid: from Coconut oil

Myristic acid: from Coconut oil

Lauric acid: from Laurel and Coconut oil

Oleic acid: from Olive oil (and other plants)

Palmitic acid: from Palm oil (and other plants).

 

OUR VERDICT

Some (saturated) fatty acids can be comedogenic on the skin, meaning they can clog the pores. Plus, some may be quite drying. We suggest to use as little as possible in their isolated form; it is best to use wholesome oils, which contain a balanced ratio of naturally occurring fatty acids. 

 

FATTY ALCOHOLS

These are not ‘alcohols’ like ethyl alcohol but the result of combining fatty acids with hydrogen, creating a slightly waxy texture.  Fatty acids are used as emulsifiers (they bind water with lipids), thickeners and emollients.

Here some examples:

Cetyl Alcohol: from Coconut oil

Cetearyl Alcohol: from Coconut oil

Lauryl Alcohol: from Coconut and Palm oil

 

OUR VERDICT 

Natural fatty alcohols are a very good vegan alternative to beeswax and great emulsifiers for water + oil formulations (creams, moisturizers, lotions).

 

ESTERS

Esters are fatty acids formed when an organic acid combines with alcohol or glycerin; they are natural and come with a whole host of benefits. They can enhance the feel and performance of other ingredients helping smooth the skin’s texture and acting as protection. They can also be great surfactants.

Here some examples:

Isoamyl laurate: from Coconut oil 

Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride: from Coconut oil

Isopropyl palmitatefrom Palm oil

Glyceryl stearate: from Palm oil

Sodium Coco-Sulfate: from Palm oil

 

OUR VERDICT

We love using plant-derived esters as they don’t feel as oily on the skin like other types of emollients and fatty ingredients + they absorb wonderfully.

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