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Image: @ohleighann


Cetyl alcohol is one of those ingredients that, like coconut oil and glycerin, can either do wonders for your hair, or make it look and feel dry, frizzy, and unmanageable. Curlies have a love or hate relationship with it, but for those of us with high-porosity hair, it can often work wonders. I use the word “often” here because everyone’s curls are different, and they are ever-changing due to the weather, hair care, and styling practices, and scalp issues. 

It is classified as a fatty alcohol. Fatty alcohols contain greater than 12 carbons per molecule and are vegetable-derived from sources such as coconut. 

You will find cetyl alcohol in many hair care products because it has film-forming properties to coat the hair and provide slip. It helps to provide maximum hydration to thirsty strands and prevent dryness. This alcohol has emulsifying and thickening properties and a creamy texture, so it is often used in many different types of shampoos and conditioners. It makes them opaque, and it also helps to stabilize foam which results in a more luxurious feel to products.

Using products that list this ingredient among their top five can help many high-porosity curlies have shinier, softer hair that is easier to detangle and less prone to breakage. High porosity hair:

  • Is often dry. The dryness can occur naturally or as a result of heat or chemical damage.

Cetyl alcohol is oilier than most other alcohols and is, therefore, more moisturizing. You only need a little bit in one product to provide your hair the moisture it needs. You do not need to layer products with cetyl alcohol in them.

  • Loses moisture easily.

Cetyl alcohol helps to seal the hair shaft so that the moisture stays where it belongs. This will keep your curls hydrated longer.

  • It has a rough cuticle structure that causes the hair to appear frizzy and dry because the light is unable to reflect off of it.

Cetyl alcohol smooths the cuticle which helps to improve hair’s sheen.

  • Tends to stick to itself which makes detangling difficult. If you have this porosity type, it is likely that you need to flip your head over when you detangle because the layers in the back of your head are difficult to get through. You may also find that it is difficult to keep your hair detangled.

Cetyl alcohol provides great slip so you can detangle with less breakage.

  • It is prone to frizz and flyaways.

Cetyl alcohol will coat the hair shaft and make hair softer and more manageable. 

  • Easily loses curl definition.

Cetyl alcohol helps your curls to retain moisture which keeps them from falling flat. 

When using products with a high percentage of cetyl alcohol be aware that this ingredient, because it is very moisturizing, can be heavy and weigh down fine hair. It can also build up on the hair, so it is important to clarify regularly. 

Have you tried products with cetyl alcohol in them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.