Behenyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol also known as docosanol. Behenyl alcohol has applications not only in the cosmetic industry but in the medical field as well. It is approved by the FDA as a topical anti-viral treatment for the herpes simplex virus, a virus that causes cold sores in the mouth and genital herpes.
Docosanol is also an ingredient added to some cosmetic products as a thickener and emulsifier. Most cosmetic products contain both oil and water-soluble ingredients, and oil and water don’t mix. Instead they form separate layers. Adding an emulsifier to a cosmetic product allows water-soluble and oil-based cosmetic ingredients to merge and stay together in solution without separating from each other. This is important for the functionality of the product and for its appearance.
Most people think of alcohol as being harsh to the skin, but some fatty alcohols like behenyl alcohol are also emollients. Emollients form a layer over the surface of skin or hair and protect it from moisture loss and drying. Behenyl alcohol is not usually irritating to the skin. Instead, it makes skin feel softer and smoother to the touch. That’s why it’s an ingredient in some cosmetics and personal care products like face and body moisturizers, anti-aging products, hair conditioners lipstick and sunscreens.
Behenyl alcohol also has another function as a cosmetic ingredient. It helps to thicken products and improve their texture. Thickeners give products a more substantial feel and can boost the performance of products by helping it stay on the skin. Some thickeners, like behenyl alcohol, also have emollient and moisturizing properties. Most thickeners don’t impact the other ingredients in the product or affect their performance.
Unlike some alcohols, behenyl alcohol is usually non-irritating to the skin, and it appears to be safe from a health and environmental perspective.