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Cetyl alcohol is a non-prescription substance commonly included in skin care products and shampoos. It softens and moisturizes skin, reduces itching and flaking, and provides relief for dry, rough and scaly skin.


Originally obtained from whale blubber, cetyl alcohol now is derived from palm, coconut or vegetable oil, or petroleum. Anyone allergic to these substances may need to avoid cetyl alcohol products.


Cetyl alcohol is not an ethyl or rubbing alcohol, so it does not have the side effect of drying skin. It is an emollient made by combining fatty alcohols.

Uncommon Effects

Side effects associated with cetyl alcohol are uncommon. Some individuals experience minor irritation or redness.

Contact Dermatitis

Some people may have an allergic reaction, called contact dermatitis, to cetyl alcohol. Symptoms include a rash or hives, stinging or burning.


Anyone with sensitive skin, allergies, or a skin condition such as eczema, should test the cetyl alcohol product on a small area first to make sure no reactions occur.

About the Author

Shelley Moore

Shelley Moore is a journalist and award-winning short-story writer. She specializes in writing about personal development, health, careers and personal finance. Moore has been published in "Family Circle" magazine and the "Milwaukee Sentinel" newspaper, along with numerous other national and regional magazines, daily and weekly newspapers and corporate publications. She has a Bachelor of Science in psychology.