Cetearyl alcohol is an emulsifier. In creams and lotions, it supports the main emulsion system and gives texture to the product. In conditioners, it creates a thickening effect. About 1% is used in the formula of Lush products.
An alcohol in this sense is not a fermented mixture; it is a chemical compound of a certain molecular structure based on carbon and oxygen.
Cetearyl alcohol is a white, waxy, solid material in the form of flakes. It is oil soluble, but it is not water-soluble. It is a mixture of fatty alcohols. Cetearyl alcohol in combination with other ingredients in the formula (such as triethanolamine and stearic acid) forms an emulsion. This stops the oil and water from separating.
The emulsion system is very important. If emulsified incorrectly, a cream will sit on the surface of the skin and will not be effective.
When deciding how to balance a formula, the naturally occurring levels of materials such as fatty acids is considered. The optimum level of cetearyl alcohol is then decided. Lush have used this emulsion system in creams and lotions for thirty years. They break down easily when applied to the skin, allowing the fresh ingredients to be of utmost benefit.