It seems like every day we hear about a new skin care ingredient that just he’s got to be added to our routine. From the hyaluronic acid craze a few years back to the classic vitamin C, each active substance plays its role and purpose in maintaining skin health. While it’s certainly not necessary to stack your routine with everything TikTok tells you you need, there is one busy ingredient that really does deserves a spot in your winter skin care lineup: Stearic Acid.
Known for its unparalleled ability to hydrate skin and even stabilize formulas, there are loads things you need to know about this multitasking item.
What is stearic acid?
“Stearic acid is a saturated fatty acid widely found in nature and in many animal and vegetable fats.” Ron Robinsoncosmetic chemist and founder of BeautyStat skincare, says Well + Good. “It’s found in foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy.”
Annie Bruno, a certified esthetician, continues by adding, “Stearic acid is a key ingredient in the formulation of many skin care products. It is known for its waxy nature and ability to emulsify and stabilize formulations. In skin care, stearic acid is often used as a thickening agent, contributing to the texture and consistency of creams, lotions, and other topical products.”
In addition to acting as a thickening agent, it’s also an emollient (AKA helps soften skin) and an emulsifier (AKA adds lather). “It’s usually added to skin care products to help clean and texture the skin,” she shares Dr. Adrienne O’Connell, DOaesthetic wellness expert and its founder Laguna Beach Aesthetics. “It helps build our skin’s protective barrier and protect against moisture.”
The benefits of stearic acid
1. Enhances moisture retention
There’s a good reason why stearic acid has become such a staple in moisturizing formulas.
“Stearic acid acts as an emollient, forming a protective barrier on the surface of the skin,” says Bruno. “This barrier reduces water loss, promoting enhanced moisture retention. This benefit is especially beneficial for people with dry or dehydrated skin as it helps relieve dryness and flaking.”
2. Strengthens the skin barrier
Stearic acid, in addition to providing the skin with the necessary hydration, also acts as a protector. “Stearic acid forms a moisture barrier that prevents our skin from losing moisture or hydration,” says Dr. O’Connell. “It works by protecting our skin’s barrier.” Robinson agrees, adding, “Since it’s a fat, it’s great for helping to repair the barrier.”
A strong barrier is important for retaining moisture and defending against external assaults (think: cold, dry air and pollution), so stearic acid can be an extra beneficial addition to your routine during the winter months.
3. Improves formula texture and stabilization
“As a thickening agent, stearic acid contributes to the luxurious texture of skin care products,” says Bruno. “This quality enhances the spreadability of creams and lotions, providing a smooth, velvety feel upon application. This benefit is aimed at those looking for a sensory and indulgent experience in their skin care routine.” If you like the feel of rich and thick creams, we highly recommend choosing products that feature this powerful ingredient.
Another important benefit of stearic acid is that it stabilizes formulas, which is vital to making sure your products don’t become raw, discolored and uneven in texture. “The emulsifying properties of stearic acid play a critical role in stabilizing formulations, ensuring that water- and oil-based ingredients stay well mixed,” says Bruno. “This stability contributes to the longevity and effectiveness of skin care products by preventing separation or changes in texture over time.”
Who should use stearic acid?
Regardless of your skin type or texture, stearic acid can work anyone— dry, oily, combination, and even sensitive skin types — but those with dry skin will find it delivers the most obvious results.
“Anyone can use stearic acid, but I recommend it for my patients with dry skin because it works as a great moisturizer,” says Dr. O’Connell. Bruno agrees and goes on to add, “Stearic acid is generally suitable for people with normal to dry skin types who are looking for products that offer enhanced hydration and a rich, comforting texture. It is particularly beneficial for those experiencing dryness, flaking or discomfort due to environmental factors or skin conditions.”
How to incorporate stearic acid into your routine
Stearic acid can easily be incorporated into any skin care routine and will work well with anything else you already use. It can be used day and night and continuous use will provide the best results.
“Stearic acid is commonly found in moisturizers and lotions,” says Bruno. “It should be incorporated into your daily skin care routine as part of your hydration and hydration step. After cleansing and applying any treatment serum, a product containing stearic acid can be applied to seal in moisture and provide a protective layer to the skin.”
One thing Bruno mentions is to always do a skin patch test, especially when trying formulas, products and ingredients that are new to your skin. “Before incorporating products containing stearic acid into your regular skin care routine, it is recommended that you consult a skin specialist or physician, especially if you have pre-existing skin conditions or concerns,” she says. “Also, perform a spot test on a small area of skin before applying any new product widely to ensure compatibility and minimize the risk of adverse reactions.”
Buy stearic acid for skin
RéVive, Renewal Moisturizer — $195.00
This cream is a favorite of Dr. O’Connell’s. “It combines glycolic acid with stearic acid, gently exfoliating while hydrating the skin,” she says. Intended to be applied at night, the thick formula containing stearic acid works overtime to provide your skin with deep hydration and improve texture.
Kiehl’s, Ultra Facial Cream with Squalane — $24.00
Kiehl’s is one of our go-to skin care brands, so it’s no surprise that they have many products enriched with stearic acid. In addition to this hero ingredient, Ultra Facial Cream also contains squalane, ceramides and glycoprotein, making skin look and feel healthier and more supple.
CeraVe, Hydrating Cleanser Bar — $6.00
If you’re in the market for a new cleanser, you can’t go wrong with this bar from CeraVe. Formulated with stearic acid, ceramides, hyaluronic acid and kaolin clay, it is an excellent choice for dry skin.
Neutrogena, Norwegian Formula® Hand Cream — $5.00
Hands are one of the first places on the body to show signs of aging, which is why it’s so vital to keep them constantly moisturized and hydrated. “Known for its effectiveness in combating dry, chapped hands, this product contains stearic acid for intensive hydration,” says Bruno. “It’s a good choice for those looking for relief from harsh environmental conditions.”
Paula’s Choice, Skin Revealing Body Lotion 10% AHA — $29.00
We all know (and love!) Paula’s Choice for its iconic Liquid Exfoliator, so the brand’s Exfoliating Body Lotion deserves to be on your radar. Made with stearic acid, shea butter, vitamin C and glycolic acid, it will not only shed layers of dead skin, but leave you feeling smoother and hydrated.
Melach 33 Nourishing Antioxidant Moisturizer — $57.00
Not only does the stearic acid in this moisturizer strengthen the skin’s barrier to defend against environmental aggressors, but the inclusion of antioxidant plant oils and green tea extract further enhance its protective properties. Hyaluronic acid, dead sea minerals and shea butter round out the ingredient list, offering a luxurious-feeling formula that will leave skin instantly plump and hydrated.
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