What is stearic acid? Benefits, Side Effects and Usage

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Stearic acid is a long chain fatty acid. It is common in a variety of natural sources, including shea butter and coconut oil.

Several studies have shown that products containing stearic acid can benefit a person’s skin. Some natural sources containing stearic acid, such as coconut oil and shea butter, have moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties.

However, people should avoid using stearic acid alone. It can irritate a person’s skin and cause other health problems. Additionally, people should be aware of their allergies and sensitivities to different skincare ingredients. Products containing stearic acid may not be right for everyone as part of their skin care routine.

This article discusses stearic acid in more detail, including its benefits and any side effects it may cause. It also explains how a person can safely use products containing stearic acid.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) defines stearic acid as a long-chain saturated fatty acid. The long chain is like a tail made up of 18 carbon atoms. Fatty acids make up fats.

Stearic acid is present in a variety of animal and vegetable fats. For example, stearic acid is an important component of shea butter. It’s been around 2% of coconut oil and is present in safflower seed oil.

Shea butter and coconut oil are popular components in skin care products such as creams and moisturizers. Some people prefer to use pure shea butter or coconut oil in their skin care routines.

There is evidence to suggest that using certain products containing stearic acid may help:

A person should consider speaking with a doctor or dermatologist before using products containing stearic acid to treat a particular skin condition.

Cream containing stearic acid

Some research has shown that creams containing docosanol and stearic acid can help treat skin lesions in mice. Docosanol is a topical treatment for recurrent episodes of cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus. The researchers created the skin lesions by applying an irritating substance to the abdomen of the mice.

When the researchers treated the lesions with the creams, there was a significant reduction in the progression and severity of the lesions. The creams made the skin less red and less ulcerated.

However, it is important to note that animal studies have limitations and their results may not apply to humans.

Shea Butter

Another example is shea butter, which contains stearic acid. Cosmetics manufacturers often use shea butter in their skincare products because it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. There are proof suggest that creams containing shea butter can reduce eczema symptoms.

coconut oil

Coconut oil is another natural substance containing stearic acid that could benefit a person’s skin.

A study 2018 found that virgin coconut oil has an anti-inflammatory effect in vitro.

Another study 2018 suggested that coconut oil may have several skincare benefits:

  • as a moisturizer, coconut oil is just as effective as mineral oil in treating mild to moderate dry skin
  • virgin coconut oil decreases the severity of mild to moderate eczema
  • it has healing properties
  • it can reduce markers of inflammation after sun exposure

A study 2021 studied virgin coconut oil and its ability to counteract the negative effects of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, as frequent use of these sanitizers can lead to skin damage. The study found that applying virgin coconut oil to the hands overnight can help retain moisture before using the sanitizer the next day.

Effects on sensitive skin

A study 2018 studied how using a moisturizer containing shea butter and coconut oil affected the skin of 35 women. The people in this group were between the ages of 18 and 60 and all had sensitive skin.

For 21 days, the participants applied the moisturizer twice a day to their face and body. None of them reported long-term side effects. However, one person felt mild tingling and itching for a few moments.

It is important to note that this study has several limitations. First, its sample size was very small. Moreover, the moisturizer contained other components besides shea butter and coconut oil. This means that more conclusive research may be needed to ensure shea butter and coconut oil are safe for sensitive skin.

Learn more about choosing moisturizers for sensitive skin here.

While using stearic acid in the form of coconut oil or shea butter may be safe, the same is not true for pure stearic acid. According to the NLM, the pure form of this chemical can cause:

  • skin irritation
  • severe eye irritation
  • serious eye damage
  • respiratory irritation

Also, natural substances containing stearic acid may not be suitable for everyone.

For example, a study 2021 states that coconut is the most common food allergen in commercial skin care products. Some people may have an allergic reaction to coconut through skin contact. People with coconut allergies should therefore consider avoiding skin care products containing coconut oil products.

People may consider seeing a doctor or dermatologist if they are concerned about allergies.

A person should follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using a product that contains stearic acid.

People should also consider performing a patch test before using products containing stearic acid for the first time. A patch test should help indicate if a person is allergic or sensitive to the product.

A person may also consider talking to a doctor or dermatologist for further advice.

Stearic acid is a common component of skin care products. For many people, using products containing stearic acid is a safe and effective way to treat various skin issues.

However, using pure stearic acid may have undesirable effects. Also, products containing stearic acid may not be suitable for people with certain allergies.

A person should consider consulting a doctor or dermatologist for more information.


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