Stearic acid is a long-chain fatty acid. It occurs in a variety of natural sources, including shea butter and coconut oil. Products containing stearic acid may be beneficial for the skin.

Multiple studies have shown that products containing stearic acid may benefit a person’s skin. Some natural sources that contain stearic acid, such as coconut oil and shea butter, have moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties.

However, people should avoid using stearic acid on its own. It may irritate a person’s skin and cause other health problems. Moreover, people should be aware of their allergies and sensitivities to different skin care ingredients. Products containing stearic acid may not be suitable for everyone to use as part of their skin care routine.

This article discusses stearic acid in more detail, including its benefits and the possible adverse effects it may cause. It also explains how a person can use products containing stearic acid safely.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The National Library of Medicine (NLM) defines stearic acid as a saturated long-chain fatty acid. The long chain is similar to a tail composed of 18 carbon atoms. Fatty acids make up fats.

Stearic acid occurs in a variety of animal and plant fats. For example, stearic acid is an important component in shea butter. It makes up around 2% of coconut oil and is present in safflower seed oil.

Shea butter and coconut oil are popular components in skin care products such as creams and moisturizers. Some people prefer to use pure shea butter or coconut oil in their skin care routines.

There is evidence to suggest that using certain products containing stearic acid may help to:

A person should consider speaking with a doctor or dermatologist before using products containing stearic acid to treat a particular skin condition.

Stearic acid-containing cream

Some research has shown that creams containing docosanol and stearic acid can help with skin lesions in mice. Docosanol is a topical treatment for recurrent episodes of cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus. Researchers created the skin lesions by applying an irritant substance to the mice’s abdomens.

When the researchers treated the lesions with the creams, there was a sizeable reduction in the lesions’ progression and severity. The creams made the skin appear less red and ulcerated.

However, it is important to note that animal studies have limitations, and their findings may not apply to humans.

Shea butter

A different example is shea butter, which contains stearic acid. Cosmetic manufacturers often use shea butter in their skin care products because it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. There is evidence to suggest that creams containing shea butter can reduce eczema symptoms.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is another natural, stearic acid-containing substance that could benefit a person’s skin.

A 2018 study found that virgin coconut oil has an anti-inflammatory effect in vitro.

Another 2018 study suggested that coconut oil could have several skin care benefits:

  • as a moisturizer, coconut oil is just as effective as mineral oil in treating mild to moderate dry skin
  • virgin coconut oil decreases the severity of mild to moderate eczema
  • it has wound-healing properties
  • it can reduce markers of inflammation after sun exposure

A 2021 study investigated virgin coconut oil and its ability to counteract the negative effects of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, as frequently using these sanitizers can lead to skin damage. The study found that applying virgin coconut oil to the hands overnight may help retain moisture before using sanitizer the next day.

Effects on sensitive skin

A 2018 study investigated how using a moisturizer containing shea butter and coconut oil affected the skin of 35 females. The individuals within this group were 18–60 years old, and they all had sensitive skin.

Over the course of 21 days, the participants applied the moisturizer twice daily to their faces and bodies. None of them reported any long-term adverse effects. However, one person did experience some mild prickling and itching for a few moments.

It is important to note that this study has several limitations. Firstly, its sample size was very small. Additionally, the moisturizer contained other components besides shea butter and coconut oil. This means more conclusive research may be needed to ensure that shea butter and coconut oil are safe for sensitive skin.

Learn more about choosing moisturizers for sensitive skin here.

Although using stearic acid in the form of coconut oil or shea butter may be safe, the same is not true of pure stearic acid. According to the NLM, the pure form of this chemical may cause:

  • skin irritation
  • serious eye irritation
  • serious eye damage
  • respiratory irritation

Furthermore, natural stearic acid-containing substances may not be suitable for everyone.

For example, a 2021 study states that coconut is the most common food allergen in commercial skin care products. Some people may have an allergic reaction to coconut through skin contact. So individuals with a coconut allergy should consider avoiding skin care products containing coconut oil products.

People may consider consulting a doctor or dermatologist if they are concerned about allergies.

Asthma and allergy resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for living with asthma and allergies, visit our dedicated hub.

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A person should follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using a product containing stearic acid.

People should also consider performing a patch test before using products containing stearic acid for the first time. A patch test should help to indicate if a person is allergic or sensitive to the product.

A person may also consider speaking with a doctor or dermatologist for further advice.

Stearic acid is a common component of skin care products. For many people, using products containing stearic acid is a safe and effective way of treating a variety of skin problems.

However, using pure stearic acid can have adverse effects. Additionally, stearic acid-containing products may be unsuitable for people with certain allergies.

A person should consider consulting a doctor or dermatologist for further information.