Ingredient Watch List: Glycol Distearate, the Fake Pearlescent Thickener

Body Wash 3

If you read through the ingredient list on your shampoo, you're likely to find “glycol distearate.” This chemical compound is used as an emollient in cosmetic products, and is a combination of ethylene glycol (colorless chemical) and stearic acid (a common fatty acid). It also has a high foaming capacity, so you may find it in your liquid soap or hand sanitizer, as well as in bubble baths and body washes.

Though generally considered safe, this ingredient comes up short when compared to natural alternatives.

It may seem luxurious, but is it really nourishing your skin?

What is Glycol Distearate?

A close relative to glycol stearate and glycol stearate SE, glycol distearate is a white to cream-colored waxy solid used to condition skin, to increase the thickness of certain cosmetic products (like creams and lotions), and to reduce the clear or transparent appearance of cosmetics, such as in make-up concealers. Glycol distearate in particular is often used as a “pearlizing” agent in body washes, to give the formula that pearlescent look that seems so inviting.

The chemical may be derived either from animal sources (cow- or hog-derived) or vegetable sources, such as soybean oil and canola oil. It can also be produced synthetically through processing stearic acid.

What are the Concerns?

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel reported no human skin irritation or sensitization from glycol distearate. The concerns with this ingredient are probably mostly focused on allergies, in that if you're allergic, it's best to stay away.

What most people don't like about this ingredient is that it's made from ethylene glycol, which is used to make antifreeze, de-icing solutions for cars and planes, hydraulic brake fluids, lacquers, resins, wood stains, synthetic waxes, and the like. Though small amounts aren't likely to harm your health, it's still doesn't seem like putting a chemical like this (mixed with animal or vegetable fat) will benefit your skin, does it?

I say why not use true, nourishing choices like aloe, shea butter, jojoba oil, and other wonderful ingredients to condition skin? Why not use rosemary oil, like I do in my Rosemary Peppermint Body Wash, to provide gentle cleansing, while adding in olive oil for moisturizing and essential fatty acids?

And who needs the cream to be especially thick or pearlescent, anyway? A lot of what we pay for in standard personal care products are formulas made to have us think that they're healthy and lovely and rich and luxurious for our skin, when actually, we're applying a smooth, pearlescent chemical concoction that has few, if any, true benefits to the health of the skin.

Using natural ingredients gives us not only skin conditioning and cleansing benefits, but the added protection of antioxidants and essential fatty acids to help our skin truly thrive.

Glycol distearate? Your skin deserves better.

Do you avoid glycol distearate? Please share your thoughts.

* * *

Photo courtesy Kwai7a .. »MiSs_7aRaKaaT« ;)! via

comments (4 and counting)


Reader Interactions


  1. fred burmeister says

    You are so off base on Glycol Distearate. As a cosmetic chemist for nearly 50,,,yes 50 years, I believe I have a real and different perspective on your “facts.”
    * To begin with, CIR is a panel of experts and scientists with significant experience in this wonderful industry that uses scientific principles to evaluate the ingredients going into cosmetics. You should consider this depth of knowledge before going off on your “feelings” about something “chemical.”
    * Sensitization testing is performed to elicit allergic responses, but I guess you didn’t know that based on your CIR commentary.
    * Glycol Distearate is an ester produced from the REACTION of Stearic Acid and Ethylene Glycol, not a simple mixture of the two. You’re betraying your lack of knowledge in making this statement.
    * Your comparison of Glycol Distearate to anti-freeze and citing its “industrial” usage is telling a half-truth, which in fact is similar to not telling the truth at all…just your statement that Glycol Distearate is similar to Ethylene Glycol. Get the point?
    * Hogs and Cows have not been sources for Glycol Stearate for years as economics have shifted sourcing to vegetal sources. Hogs and Cows are now routinely eaten. I wonder if your clients eat them or wear their skins? Do they know that JELLO is nothing more than rendered Cow bones?
    * Finally, the cosmetic industry is and always be the ultimate self-regulating industry in this country because of consumer response which is a strong and growing force that is reflected in companies such as yours that are looking for a different approach to skin care and to cosmetics in general. As part of your competition we are not perfect but are responding to the wants and needs of the natural/organic customer, not “bad,” just different.

    In the interest of fairness, I hope you post this response,
    Fred Burmeister

  2. Ozbloke32 says

    I’m so sick of seeing this stuff in things I buy or would like to buy, there is MUCH better alternatives like you said, it’s just companies want MAX profits as little spending money as possible regardless of how bad it is for us. If it can increase their bottom line they will use it, they don’t care about us at all.

    • admin says

      We dream of a world where companies care about the people they are serving and the planet we live on. Yes profit is a driving force for most but look out, little companies like ours are lighting up the way to a new day :). And we do care about you :). Make it a wonder-filled day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *