glycol stearate in skincare

What the heck is Glycol Stearate? When I first got serious about skincare and started taking a much closer look at what I put on my face, I saw this chemical is pop up all over the place – even in natural products. What is it doing there? Is it really natural, despite the non-so-natural-sounding name? Is it safe? So many questions! Luckily, I’ve got answers. Here’s all you need to know about Glycol Stearate for skin:

What Is Glycol Stearate?

Glycol Stearate is the ester of Ethylene Glycol and Stearic Acid, a common fatty acids. Fatty acids are the building blocks of skin cells. They strengthen the skin’s protective barrier and deeply moisturise skin. Glycol Stearate looks like a cream-coloured wax solid at room temperature. It can be derived from plants or made synthetically in a lab.

Related: How To Strengthen Your Skin’s Protective Barrier (And Why It Matters)

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How Does Glycol Stearate Benefit Skin?

Truth be told, Glycol Stearate is in your skincare products more to improve the formula than to benefit your skin. But it does a bit of that too. Here’s what Glycol Stearate is really doing in your skincare products:

  • Emollient: It makes skin softer and smoother, like a baby’s.
  • Emulsion stabilizer: If you’ve ever tried to wash a greasy pan with water alone, you know that water and oily don’t mix. This is a problem in skincare. A lot of ingredients are water-based while many others are oil-based. Add them together in the same formula and they just don’t mix. Enter Glycol Stearate. It emulsifies the formula, a fancy way of saying it helps water and oil blend, so the product doesn’t separate into its oil and liquid parts.
  • Opacifying agent: It reduces the transparent look of skincare and makeup products. This trick is particularly useful in makeup products that need to hide blemishes and imperfections. It also makes formulas thicker and creamier.
  • Surfactants: A fancy name for ingredients that help water mix with oil and dirt, so they can be rinsed away. Another word for it is cleansing agent. Much simpler, isn’t it?

Glycol Stearate is one of those ingredients that don’t sound impressive on paper, but if it weren’t in your lotions and potions, you’d miss it. I mean, do you really want to use a cream that separates into an oily layer or a concealer that doesn’t cover pimples?!

Glycol Stearate Side Effects

Glycol Stearate is considered safe in small concentrations. Scientists tested products with 2-5% Glycol Stearate (the amount used in skincare and personal care products) and found it does NOT irritate skin. Phew! It doesn’t harm you in any other way, either. People are scared of it because it has a chemical name, but this is a safe chemical. Yes, those exist.

Related: If You Can’t Pronounce It, Should You Put It On Your Skin?

Is Glycol Stearate Comedogenic?

Glycol Stearate is mildly comedogenic. Mildly is the key word here. If you’ve got super oily skin, it may be enough to give you a breakout. But, for the vast majority of people, Glycol Stearate won’t cause any problems.

Plus, remember: it’s the dose that makes the poison. Even coconut oil (one of the most comedogenic ingredients ever) won’t give you pimples if you use only a drop of it. The lower Glycol Stearate is on the ingredient list, the less you have to worry about.

Related: Can You Trust Comedogenicity Ratings?

How To Use It

It really depends on the product it is in. If it’s in a cleanser, use it as the first step of your skincare routine. If it’s in a serum, use it between cleanser and moisturiser. If in a moisturiser, it goes before sunscreen in the morning and it’s the last step of your skincare routine at night. You get the gist. Just follow the instructions of the product you’re using.

Who Should Use It?

Anyone can use it, unless you’re one of those rare souls who has developed an allergy to it.

What Are The Best Skincare Products With Glycol Stearate?

  • Banila Co Clean It Zero Foam Cleanser ($14.00): The cream-to-foam version of the famous balm cleanser. It removes every trace of dirt and grime without drying out skin. Available at Soko Glam, Stylevana, Ulta, and Yes Style.
  • Bioderma Sensibio AR Cream ($24.90): A rich, gentle moisturiser loaded with soothing ingredients that sensitive skin will love. Available at Adore Beauty and Boots.
  • Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00): A micro encapsulated 1.5% retinol serum in an oily, moisturising base to fight wrinkles and fade away dark spots. Available at Beauty BayCult Beauty, and Peter Thomas Roth.

The Bottom Line

Glycol Stearate doesn’t do much for skin, but it does make your skincare products more pleasant to use. In a nutshell, it makes skin softer and helps create elegant formulations. It’s totally safe, too.