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Stearic acid 101: The quiet game-changer in oleochemicals

Posted: May 20, 2024 5 minute read GAR

Stearic acid might not be a household name, but chances are you’ve encountered it countless times throughout your day. This ubiquitous fatty acid hides beneath the surface of many everyday products, playing a key role in their function and form.

Best known to give your favourite soap its luxurious lather and your skincare products their smooth, hydrating qualities, stearic acid’s influence extends far beyond the realm of bathroom essentials. Read on to unveil more about stearic acid.

Table of contents

What is stearic acid?

Stearic acid is a long-chain saturated fatty acid, widely found in natural sources.

It is one of many different long-chain fatty acids – others include palmitic acid and oleic acid.

Stearic Acid

18-carbon chain saturated fat

No double bonds

Melting point: about 69.3°C

A major component in:

Animal fat (beef tallow, lard, butterfat)

Palm Oil

Cocoa Butter

Shea Butter

Did You Know?

Question:
Can you guess what the root word of “stearic” is?
Answer :

The term “stearic” comes from the Greek word “stear”, which means tallow. It was mainly used as a valuable resource in the candle-making industry before the advent of electricity.

Today, stearic acids have many alternative names you may have spotted on a product label. Some of them include octadecanoic acid and cetylacetic acid.

 

What is stearic acid used for?

Though most famous for its part in soap making, stearic acid isn’t just a soap opera star; it plays many other roles in our daily lives. Here are some of the common uses of stearic acid:

Soap and detergents
Stearic acid is a key ingredient in soap and detergents, helping to create lather and the cleansing properties.
Food
Stearic acid is found naturally in many foods, such as meat, dairy products, and cocoa butter. It is also used as a food additive to improve texture and stability.
Cosmetics
Stearic acid is used in a variety of cosmetic products, such as lotions, creams, and lipsticks, to thicken and stabilise the product.
Candles
Stearic acid is used in candles to tweak their burning properties. It raises the melting point, leading to slower burning, reduced dripping, and cleaner flames. This results in a more enjoyable experience with longer burn times, less mess, and potentially fewer harmful emissions.
Plastics
Stearic acid is used as a lubricant and release agent in the production of plastics.
Pharmaceuticals
Stearic acid is used in some pharmaceutical products, such as suppositories and tablets, to bind ingredients together.
Rubber
Stearic acid is used to speed up the formation of a network of bonds within rubber, making it stronger and more elastic. This improves the overall performance of the rubber, and makes it more suitable for use in industries such as automotive, construction, and manufacturing.

 

Demystifying the structure and properties of stearic acid

Stearic acid explained: structure meets function

Transforming industries: Palm-derived stearic acid’s role in both sustainability and innovation

When responsibly sourced, palm-derived stearic acid can be a solution for those seeking to expand their natural portfolio.

Here’s how it plays a part in both sustainable practices and creative uses in various industries.

Springboard for Innovation

Stearic acid is far from being a mere filler. Its unique traits inspire experimentation with textures, functionality, and even delivery systems. This paves the way for the birth of new cleansing and skincare solutions.

Biodegradable Ingredient

Stearic acid is biodegradable, meaning it breaks down naturally in the environment thanks to microbial action.
This trait makes it an integral part of eco-friendly products, especially when made from sustainably-grown palm oil.

The Upcycling Player

Stearic acid plays a role in the creation of bio-based plastics from vegetable oils or agricultural residue.
It can improve the moldability of the plastic during manufacturing, as well as strengthen the plastic’s structure. This upcycling approach lowers reliance on virgin resources and can be a greener option to traditional plastics.

Community Ally

Sustainable practices don’t stop at the environment; they include social responsibility too. Grown responsibly, palm oil and its by-product stearic acid help lift local economies and bolster community growth.

In addition to its numerous roles, palm-derived stearic acid offers significant advantages over other vegetable oils and even its petrochemical equivalents that are used to create stearic acid. Jaap Raijmans, GAR’s Product Line Manager for Oleochemicals, stated, “Palm-derived stearic acid offers safe, traceable, and sustainable formulations for many applications, while also reducing carbon emissions compared to petrochemicals.”

Furthermore, there is good potential for growth in the use of palm-derived stearic acid across various industries. As the focus on sustainability and innovation intensifies, Marcus Hattar, our US Commercial Manager for Oleochemicals, remarked, “We can expect to witness further development and innovative applications of palm oil-derived stearic acid as demand for sustainably produced palm oil continues to increase among customers and consumers.” This positions palm-derived oleochemicals at the forefront of sustainability and innovation.

GAR’s stearic acid products: A comparative view

GAR offers a wide range of stearic acid solutions. Here is a quick comparison of our three lines:

Line Stearic Acids 65%+ Stearic Acids 40%-65% Rubber Grade Stearic Acid (RGSA)
Appearance Waxy, white crystalline solid in beads/flakes, with a slight blank/tallow-like odour
Ideal Applications Well suited for applications where a higher concentration of stearic acid is crucial, such as cosmetics and food-grade products Used in applications that require a high level of heat stability Used in rubber manufacturing production and other industrial applications
Example of Uses Lotions and creams, lipsticks and balms, makeup powders, confectioneries, beverages Rubber compounding, tire manufacturing, candle wax additives, plastics

Key Differences and Selection Guide

The key distinction in our stearic acid lines is their concentration, influencing their ideal applications. Higher concentrations (above 65 percent) suit purity-critical uses, while lower concentrations excel in heat-stable conditions. RGSA is specifically designed for rubber manufacturing and other industrial applications, improving the viscoelasticity of rubber, candle wax, and plastics.

 

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Discover the ideal palm-derived oleochemical fatty acids for your industrial requirements. Click here to explore more and make an informed choice.

Browse our extensive portfolio of palm-derived fatty acids, fatty alcohols, glycerines, and soap noodles designed to meet each customer’s needs here.

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