What is Ethylhexyl?
A lot of cosmetic ingredients begin with the word “ethylhexyl”. Examples include:
- Ethylhexyl palmitate
- Ethylhexyl methyoxycinnamate
- Ethylhexyl hydroxystearate
Each of these ingredients begin with the same thing, but it doesn’t mean they have the same functionality.
As you’ve learned in general or organic chemistry, ethyl and hexyl are alkyl groups. The IUPAC notation would tell you the location of the ethyl on the hexyl group.
Just as an example, here is 2-ethylhexyl:
Ingredients lists and INCI nomenclature does not need to notate the location of the carbon. Therefore, you will see ingredients with Ethylhexyl _______.
Ethylhexylglycerin is a colorless liquid that is multifunctional in the sense that it has moisturizing effects as well as bacteriostasis effects. It can be used synergistically with traditional preservatives to boost preservatives and reduce the amount needed. One of my favorite preservative combinations is ethylhexylglycerin with phenoxyethanol and a chelating agent.
Ethylhexyl palmitate is an ester of 2-Ethylhexanol and Palmitic Acid. It is a medium spreading, non-occlusive emollient that will give a rich but non-oily skin feel. It gives a smooth after-feel with a dry application.
- Non-occlusive emollient: moisturizer that does not minimize TEWL, but smooths the skin by filling in lines and crevices while softening it
Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate is a well known chemical sunscreen filter that is oil soluble. It is widely used in topical products to absorb, reflect or scatter UV rays — specifically, UVB rays! It is suitable for water-resistant sunscreen products.
Make sure that if you see Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (or any other UVB filter) in a sunscreen product that there is a UVA filtering ingredient as well, or else it won’t be a broad spectrum sunscreen.
Ethylhexyl hydroxystearate is a rich emollient ester that has great moisturization, skin absorption, and a non-greasy and non-tacky texture. The non-tacky texture makes it great for adding gloss to lip and hair care products without the tacky or heavy feel.
Now if you’re thinking, oh! Ethylhexyl ____ are chemicals, and they’re bad for me! So I shouldn’t use products containing ingredients that begin with such.
No. That is not the point of this post. First off, everything is a chemical. Everything has a chemical structure. If you think about it, even WATER has a chemical structure (H2O). Just let that sink, buddy.
The point is, the INCI can sometimes hint at the actual chemical structure of the ingredient. Many ingredients have similar names, but it doesn’t mean they have the same functionality, as you can see from the above examples.