Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Personal Care Products: Why Choose Oleochemicals for Cosmetics and Personal Care Product Manufacturing?


The market for naturally derived cosmetic products has increased steadily, with the greatest growth seen in the past decade or so. Much of this has to do with rising interest in sustainable chemicals in cosmetic products, a demand seen both from customers and manufacturers. On the client side, natural cosmetics are healthier for skin and tend to contain fewer carcinogens than traditional petrochemicals. On the manufacturer side, however, there are even more reasons to pursue natural cosmetic ingredients.

Oleochemicals and other natural cosmetic products tend to be more desirable than petrochemicals for manufacturers. A primary reason for this is the inexpensive cost of oleochemicals due to the abundance of source materials and cheap cost in countries in Southeast Asia. This combines with the fact that oleochemicals are ecologically friendly, which reduces the manufacturer’s waste disposal costs.

These factors and more are expected to drive the oleochemicals market in future years, boosting the market value from its current $18.6 billion value to a $26.8 billion value in 2022. Most of this growth is expected to come from the personal care and cosmetic oleochemicals sectors.

For cosmetics manufacturers considering oleochemicals as a potential resource, understanding the benefits of oleochemicals over traditional petrochemicals is essential.

What Are Oleochemicals?

Oleochemicals are chemical substances derived from natural sources, like plant and animal fat. Palm oil, coconut oil, soy and sunflower seeds are a few examples of source products commonly seen throughout the oleochemical industry today.

These oleochemicals are produced by splitting the natural oils or fats using chemical processes such as:

  • Water-based hydrolysis
  • Alcohol-based alcoholysis
  • Hydrogenation
  • Distillation
  • Fractionation

Each process uses slightly different methods to make different fatty chemicals. For example, hydrolysis is used to produce fatty acids and glycerin products, while alcoholysis is used to produce fatty acid esters and glycerine. Distillation, on the other hand, is a purification method.

These production methods form many basic oleochemical substances, such as fatty acids, glycerol, fatty acid methyl esters, fatty alcohols and fatty amines. Intermediates can then be formed from these substances, such as alcohol ethoxylates and sulfates, MAGs, DAGs and TAGs, sugar esters and many other oleochemical products. These substances can then be used to produce sustainable cosmetic emulsifiers.

Because they are made from natural products, oleochemicals are deemed to be “natural” chemicals. These tend to be safer for human use, as they contain few if any carcinogens. Unnatural chemicals, on the other hand, can rarely make that claim.

Examples of Unnatural Chemicals

Unnatural chemicals are much different from natural chemicals, both in their physical properties and their origins. The unnatural chemicals, also known as synthetic chemicals, are often derived from crude oil and other harmful products and have been used in manufacturing cosmetics products for years. However, synthetic chemicals can pose several health risks, acting as skin irritants, carcinogens and endocrine disrupters.


Examples of harmful chemicals in cosmetics permeate the industry, but some of the most common of these chemicals are listed and described in more detail.

1. Skin and Respiratory Irritants in Fragrances

Fragrance is a generalized term used by companies to protect their proprietary formulas. However, studies about the content of these “fragrances” have found allergens, skin irritants and respiratory irritants contained in the mix. Some examples include hydroxyisohexyl-3-cyclohexene, carboxaldehyde and isoeugenol. These concoctions can cause serious health problems if the user is exposed to them long enough, and they are commonly found in perfumes, colognes and hair and skin care products.

2. Synthetic Colors: Carcinogenic, Some Researchers Say

Synthetic colors are often represented on labels as D&C or FD&C, followed by number and color. This abbreviation stands for drug and cosmetics or food, drug and cosmetics. Synthetic colors come from petrochemicals — chemicals distilled from petroleum — and sources of coal tar. Both are skin irritants that some research suggests may be carcinogenic in nature.

3. Phthalates: A Possible Carcinogen

The primary types of phthalates commonly found in personal care products and cosmetics include diethyl phthalate in skin care products and perfumes, dimethyl phthalate in hair care products and dibutyl phthalate in nail polish. These chemicals may negatively affect human reproduction and are potentially carcinogenic.

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Phthalates are well-known endocrine disruptors linked to a rising breast cancer risk, birth defects and younger reproductive development in girls. Further studies into the negative effects of phthalates are ongoing. Unfortunately, phthalates are often not listed on product ingredient lists, since they tend to fall under the “fragrances” umbrella.

4. Triclosan: May Cause Thyroid Problems

Triclosan is a common antimicrobial chemical found in toothpaste, antibacterial soap and deodorants. However, this chemical is yet another known endocrine disruptor. Triclosan has been linked to skin conditions and hormone issues related to reproductive and thyroid systems. Additionally, some studies have suggested triclosan is a contributing factor to antibiotic resistance in common bacteria.


5. Toluene: May Hurt Fetuses

Toluene is a petrochemical and is often listed on labels as toluol, phenylmethane or benzene. It’s commonly used as a paint thinner but is also found in nail treatments, nail polish and hair coloring products. The big issue with toluene is its ability to irritate the respiratory system, harm the immune system, irritate the skin and cause nausea. It can also cause damage to fetuses if breathed in by pregnant women.

6. Lanolin: Dangerous When Swallowed

This chemical is derived from sheep’s wool, and though that may seem harmless, this chemical is far from innocent. Lanolin is poisonous if swallowed and can cause skin rashes, redness, nausea and vomiting. It’s also very common, found in personal care products such as eye care, makeup and skin care products.


7. Mineral Oil: May Contribute to Arthritis

Minerals are often hyped up in products, as the word “mineral” is often associated with a nutritional benefit. However, mineral oil in cosmetics means something entirely different. Mineral oils are petrochemicals that can cause allergies and skin irritation, and even restrict the movement of nutrients to and from your skin cells by blocking pores. Some studies even suggest that mineral oils contribute to arthritis and arthritic symptoms.

8. Coal Tar: Possibly Tied to Cancer

Coal tar is a common ingredient in many makeup products and hair dyes, and is derived from polycyclic hydrocarbons found in petroleum. The problem is coal-tar based products are linked to several skin conditions, including dermatitis and even folliculitis. Phototoxicity is another potential side effect of long-term use, and exposure to polycyclic hydrocarbons is associated with several varieties of cancer.

Examples of Popular Oleochemicals

Natural oleochemicals serve as many purposes as unnatural chemicals, but they do so without the health risks. Natural compounds, for instance, tend to be allergen-free and rarely contain carcinogens. Just a few examples of common oleochemicals are listed below.

  1. Glycerine

Glycerine is often referred to as Glycol or Glycerol and is derived from vegetable fats. Palm-based glycerine is one of the most common examples of this. This product is a thick, gelatin-like substance with no odor that dissolves completely in water and is produced using hydrolysis. Glycerine is most commonly found in skin and hair care products and is lauded for its incredible moisturizing and conditioning properties.

  1. 2-Ethyl Hexyl Stearate

Also known as octyl stearate, this natural chemical is a palm derivative, one that offers several benefits to both the quality of cosmetics and the cosmetic manufacturing process. Octyl stearates are useful thickening agents and can also be used as a dispersant, skin conditioning agent or emollient for makeup products like lipstick and eyeshadow.

  1. Alcohol 1618 or Cetyl Stearyl

Cetyl stearyl is a combination of 16 cetyl alcohol and 18 stearyl alcohol. This product is derived from both natural and synthetic sources but is primarily vegetable-based, hypoallergenic and safe for use on the skin. Cetyl Stearyl is often used in personal care product manufacturing as an emollient and thickening agent for skin and hair care products.

  1. Isopropyl Palmitate (IPP)

IPP is derived from a palmitic acid and isopropyl alcohol, both of which are vegetable-derived products. It appears as a colorless, odorless liquid and is commonly used as a cosmetic emollient, thickening agent and moisturizer for use in skin and hair care products.

  1. Polyhexanide (PHMB)
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PHMB is a preservative and antibacterial chemical that is water-based. Many cosmetic and personal care product manufacturers use it as a component of many skin care and makeup products.

Benefits of Oleochemicals

Oleochemicals have gained popularity among both manufacturers and customers for a host of reasons. For manufacturers, using oleochemicals in place of unnatural chemicals can bring about numerous benefits.

Improved Quality

Though using natural ingredients does not guarantee quality, improving the ingredients can improve the quality of the product. Cosmetics using natural ingredients tend to be less harmful to their users and elicit better results than cosmetics using petrochemicals.


Enhanced Brand Reputation

By using natural ingredients instead of petrochemicals, manufacturers of natural cosmetics announce to the world they are making a commitment to quality and sustainability, both for their sake and the sake of their customers. This can substantially improve the company’s reputation, which can, in turn, improve customer loyalty.

Green Production Methods

Placing value on environmentally sustainable methods can be a major draw for new customers and a potentially important factor for improving customer loyalty. More consumers are knowledgeable about the environmental impact of industry, and a significant portion of the population is concerned with environmental sustainability and tends to look favorably on sustainable and natural products.

Green production methods can also be good for business, as they tend to be less expensive for manufacturers in the long-term.

For consumers, natural products possess a particular draw as well. Though some of this reflects the increased awareness of environmental issues and sustainability, it also has to do with the health benefits associated with using natural cosmetics. For example, glycerin, a common natural oleochemical, possesses the following properties:

  • Anti-Aging: Glycerin possesses many anti-aging properties, helping smooth the skin by drawing moisture to it and keeping it there. By improving moisture retention, glycerin also enhances the elasticity of the skin, reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
  • Skin Health: Glycerin promotes the regeneration of skin cells, especially around thin areas like around the eyes.
  • Facial Cleansing and Toning: Because of glycerin’s viscosity, it helps cleanse the skin of microbes, dust and dirt. Not only does this help get rid of acne, but it also evens the tone of skin.

Start Using Oleochemicals in Manufacturing

The market for naturally derived cosmetic products is already at an all-time high and continues to grow. With the oleochemical industry alone expected to increase by nearly $10 billion within the decade, as mentioned above, there’s no better time to get involved with oleochemicals. This is particularly the case for personal care and cosmetic product manufacturers, who stand to benefit immensely by switching to oleochemicals.

Oleochemicals present immense benefits over traditional synthetic chemicals and petrochemicals, being cheaper to produce, source and even ship. The fact that they’re natural compounds reduces the associated waste disposal costs. Manufacturers also benefit from the fact that natural chemicals are more popular than ever before and switching to them improves their relationships with customers and can help increase customer loyalty within the cosmetics and personal care market.

If you’re considering using oleochemicals, it’s important to partner with a chemical production company that uses ethical and sustainable sourcing methods. That’s where Acme-Hardesty makes a difference.

Talk to Acme-Hardesty About Your Oleochemical Needs

Acme-Hardesty is one of North America’s biggest palm and castor oil suppliers, providing bulk cosmetic glycerin, palm kernel fatty acids and many other products. As a leading oleochemical supplier, we pride ourselves providing sustainable resources to manufacturers across the world. We’ve been working with sustainable products for over seven decades and supply more than 20 products certified by BioPreferred® and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

If your company is interested in using oleochemicals, Acme-Hardesty has the right oleochemical for you. Whether you’re looking for crude glycerine suppliers with emulsifiers, thickening agents or emollients, we carry high-quality oleochemicals and natural products that will suit your needs perfectly. Take a few minutes today to explore our current inventory of oleochemicals for cosmetic and personal care products to find natural solutions for your products.