Stearic acid, also called sterin, is a saturated fatty acid used as a binding agent for products like lotions, soaps, deodorants and candles. It serves the same function in food products, such as butter flavouring, vanilla flavouring, chewing gum, fruit waxes and butter.
Where Does Stearic Acid Come From?
Stearic acid is vegetable-, animal- or synthetic-based. Vegetable-based stearic acid is produced by treating coconut or palm oil with water at high temperatures, creating the acid through the hydrogenation process. Animal-based stearic acid is usually taken from the stomachs of pigs or cows.
Is Stearic Acid Natural?
Stearic acid can be considered natural because some companies list it as a natural emollient in their organic products; these companies say they produce the sterin from coconut, palm or soybean oil. Producing sterin from animals involves treating animal fat with high temperatures of water through a process that results in the hydrolysis of triglycerides.The production of stearic acid is viewed by groups like PETA as grotesque. Euthanized dogs and cats or the remains of meat production are used in the treatment of sterin and the creation of cosmetic products.
Substituting Stearic Acid
Depending on the use, there are many alternatives to using stearic acid. If you are a candle or lotion maker,emulsifier wax or "e-wax" is the most common substitute. Unfortunately, e-wax is not a natural product, it is made of chemicals like cetearyl alcohol, polysorbate 60, PEG-150 stearate and steareth-20. Organic beeswax offers an all-natural substitute to stearic acid or e-wax as an emulsifier, although it is not as effective of an emulsifier, which may lead to a watery consistency in cosmetics and candles. Lecithin is another emulsifier that can be a substitute for stearic acid. Lecithin is a soybean product good at binding water; it is usually found in cosmetics like lotions and shampoos.
There are no significant health risks from consuming stearic acid, and sterin is predominantly used for cosmetics or candle making not for consumption.