What is Isopropyl Palmitate?

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  • Originally Written By: Janis Adams
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 09 February 2020
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Isopropyl palmitate is a man-made moisturizer and thickening agent that is commonly used in cosmetics like lotions and skin creams. Manufactures typically include it as an inexpensive way to improve the overall consistency and feel of a product. It can thicken more watery lotions and many people notice an almost instant improvement in their skin’s softness and elasticity when they use it. The compound is not without its critics, though. Along with fatty acids and helpful vitamins it also contains alcohol derivatives, which can actually dry the skin over time. It is manufactured primarily from palm oil, too, which environmentalists often claim is contributing to depletion of the world’s rainforests and tropical ecosystems.

Physical and Manufacturing Basics

One of the best ways to think about isopropyl palmitate is as a palm oil derivative. Palm oil, which comes from palm trees, is rich in a number of different fatty acids that can be helpful both as skin moisturizers and general emollients. In most cases, though, the resulting palmitate is not considered a “natural” product because of how much chemical processing and manipulation it goes through between leaving the tree and entering a consumer product.

Manufacturers typically blend palm oil with the synthetic alcohol isopropyl in order to get the right consistency. The finished palmitate carries the chemical formula CH3(CH2)14COOCH(CH3)2. It has a high level of viscosity, which means that it is very thick and resists being diluted.


Primary Uses

The most common place to find this compound is in lotions and other skin-based cosmetics. It is easily spreadable and often acts as a thickening agent, and the fats derived from the palm oil help it absorb quickly and evenly into the skin. When initially applied, cosmetics containing isopropyl palmitate sit on the surface of the skin before soaking deep within it. This ingredient is classified as an emollient, a substance that corrects dryness and works as a softening agent.

Biggest Benefits

People who use products containing isopropyl palmitate often notice an almost immediate change in their skin’s texture and overall consistency. They often find that the surface is softer and feels suppler even with just one or two uses. A lot of this depends on how much of the compound is used, though; some manufacturers add it more as a stabilizing and thickening agent than as a real means of improving the product’s performance.

Main Side Effects

The palmitate’s moisturizing agents work primarily on the skin’s surface, which means that their results aren’t usually permanent; people often have to continue using it regularly to keep seeing any benefits. Constant, extended exposure may have drawbacks of its own, though, including possibly drying the skin.

Due to the fact that this moisturizer contains alcohol, some users find that it causes moderate to severe skin irritation. It is also known to create acne flare-ups, and an increase of blackheads and whiteheads can also result if the palmitate compound clogs the pores of the person applying it. These skin flare-ups are also attributed to the high level of viscosity found in the compound.

Manufacturing Controversy

In most cases, the palm oil needed in the manufacturing process is from naturally-growing palm trees in the world’s rain forests. Palm farms can sometimes source the oil, but there aren’t always enough farms to meet the demand, which means that some companies and groups turn to natural harvesting. This harvesting is said to be not only causing the rain forests to diminish, but may also be diminishing the food supply of orangutans. These animals most commonly feast on indigenous palms, and when harvesting machines enter their habitats many are displaced. For these and related reasons a number of environmental and rainforest-based advocacy groups oppose the manufacture and use of the compound.


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Post 4

The term "palm" in isopropyl palmitate does not refer to palm oil; it means it is made from palmitic acid, which is a fatty acid with a chain length of 16 carbons. It may be derived from any number of sources, although palm oil is one of the common ones. I did not review this article for other technical issues, but please refer to a chemist or cosmetic scientist for accurate information.

If you are concerned about the environmental sustainability of palm oil ask the manufacturer of products if they buy palm from sustainable sources; palm oil is non-GMO and harvesting provides important jobs in developing countries. Why make those poor people suffer?

Post 3

Yes, both isopropyl palmitate and cetyl palmitate has palm oil in it and both are used in cosmetics products. But I personally don't believe that we need to avoid these beauty products altogether because of palm oil.

I read somewhere that out of every ten products we have at the market, one of them has palm oil in it. It's in detergents, bread and our favorite chocolate. We consume much more of these goods than we do isopropyl palmitate in cosmetic products. It's really minimal when compared to all the foods that have palm oil in it.

I also think that rainforest protection and orangutan protection requires us to work on many different factors. Even shrimp production is endangering forests where orangutans live. So leaving all of this and pointing fingers at isoproply palmitate use doesn't make much sense in my opinion.

I think cosmetics with this ingredient is fine for use. Both physicially and consciously.

Post 2

I had no idea that by using moisturizers which have this we are actually responsible for the wiping out of rainforests and endangering the animals that live in it.

How come this knowledge is not more widely dispersed? We use these products everyday but have no idea the consequences it has for the environment.

I guess the only way to avoid this is to stop using products which have isopropyl palmitate. Otherwise, more and more rainforest will be cleared out for palm oil plantations. I'm sure we can replace palm oil with another moisturizing substance for use in skin products.

Post 1

I have one face cream which has this ingredient but I'm not using it right now because I think it irritates my skin. I'm not hundred percent certain whether it's this one ingredient or if another ingredient in the same product is causing irritation. But I have read elsewhere that isopropyl palmitate can irritate skin. It can even cause dermatitis, although that's a rare side effect.

I do like how soft it makes my skin and the softness seems to last longer than some of my other products which don't contain isopropyl palmitate. I might try another product which has this ingredient and see whether I am sensitive to that one as well. If I'm not, I'm going to opt for it because it's really good for my dry skin.

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