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Article: Ceteareth 20

Ceteareth 20

In this article, we’re going to break down everything there is to know about ceteareth 20. This synthetic compound functions as both an emollient and an emulsifier, which essentially means it is able to thicken personal care products and help the different ingredients stay together. Keep reading to discover the benefits and safety concerns associated with ceteareth 20.


Ceteareth 20 really isn’t that complicated to understand once you know what it’s made up of. The fatty alcohol is derived from cetearyl alcohol, which is actually just a blend of cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and ethylene oxide. Cetyl and stearyl alcohol both come from the natural fatty acids found in coconut oil. Ceteareth 20 is created synthetically through a process known as ethoxylation, whereby ethylene oxide is added to a substrate. Lastly, for those wondering what the ‘20’ in ceteareth 20 stands for, it is a reference to the approximate number of repeating ethylene oxide units in the molecule. As the main function of all ceteareths is to thicken and stabilize products, they are most often used in personal care products, including hair dye, facial moisturizer, hair conditioner, sunscreen, acne treatments, exfoliants, cleansers, and anti-aging treatments. 


What we love most about ceteareth 20 is its functionality as both a surfactant and an emulsifier. The fatty alcohol compound is able to decrease the surface tension between two substances (such as a liquid and a solid). It is able to do this because one end of a ceteareth 20 molecule is attracted to water, while the other end is attracted to oil, dirt, or other impurities. Thus, the presence of ceteareth 20 in a skincare product such as facial cleanser or body wash makes it so that the product attracts the dirt on your skin and can then easily wash it away. Secondly, ceteareth 20 is an extremely powerful emulsifier. An ingredient with emulsifying properties, such as ceteareth 20, is a must in any product that contains both oil and water. That is because without an emulsifier, the two, even if shaken and mixed together well, would eventually separate. Ceteareth 20 helps keep the ingredients mixed together well which improves the feel of the product and increases its shelf life. 


According to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel, ceteareth 20 is safe to use for cosmetic purposes. However, dermatologists warn those with damaged, irritated, or extremely sensitive skin not to use products that contain the ingredient as it can make skin irritation even worse. Although designated safe by the CIR, there have been some concerns within the cosmetics industry about the presence of ethylene oxide in the compound. The reason for this concern is that the ethoxylation process, which is necessary in the formation of ceteareth 20, can lead to the contamination of 1,-4 dioxane, which has been linked to cancer as well as skin allergies. If you’re unsure whether a product that contains ceteareth 20 is safe to use, consider asking your dermatologist.  

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