Octyldodecanol for Hair: Benefits and How to Use

Dropper on a blue background

 Anna Efetova / Getty Images

Octyldodecanol is the type of ingredient that you're likely to skim over when reading a product's label. With almost as many syllables as it has uses in formulations, octyldodecanol can be found in almost anything in a beauty aisle, including lipstick, foundation, perfume, and lotions. In the hair care section alone, octyldodecanol is commonly used as an emollient, emulsifier, texture enhancer, and anti-foaming agent.

What Is Octyldodecanol?

Octyldodecanol is a long-chain fatty alcohol often used in beauty formulations for its ability to prevent emulsions from separating into their components.

But can necessary ingredients like octyldodecanol have an effect on your hair and scalp? We turned to two hair experts, trichologist Gretchen Friese and board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, for clarity on the effects of octyldodecanol. Read on to demystify this ingredient.

Meet the Expert

  • Gretchen Friese is a BosleyMD-certified trichologist.
  • Marisa Garshick, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Cornell.

As with other little-talked-about ingredients (like ethylhexylglycerin and xanthan gum), octyldodecanol actually does a lot more for your favorite formulations than it gets credit for. While active ingredients give products their transformative powers, they would never make it to the shelves of stores without stabilizers like octyldodecanol.

Octyldodecanol for Hair

Type of ingredient: Moisturizer, emollient, and emulsifier.

Main benefits: Moisturizes scalp and hair, prevents transepidermal water loss, softens skin and hair, and stabilizes beauty formulations.

Who should use it: In general, anyone with medium-coarse or dry, damaged hair can benefit from octyldodecanol due to its moisturizing properties.

How often can you use it: Octyldodecanol is found in many products that are intended for daily use. As long as no irritation occurs, products containing octyldodecanol can be used as often as instructed by their label.

Works well with: Almost all ingredients. As an emulsifier and anti-foaming agent, octyldodecanol helps beauty products maintain their intended texture and remain shelf-stable.

Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that interact with octyldodecanol negatively.


Benefits of Octyldodecanol for Hair

Octyldodecanol is typically included on a product's ingredient list for its ability to support the entire formulation. Octyldodecanol works to form emulsions and to prevent an emulsion from separating into oil and water, says Garshick. "Overall it can help to improve the texture of a product's formulation, making it easy to apply. Additionally, it works as an anti-foaming agent, which reduces the tendency to foam when the product is shaken," Garshick explains. Friese adds that it is a clear colorless liquid, which makes it easy to add to a wide range of products like hair conditioners, foundations, eye makeup, skin moisturizers, and cleansers.

While its primary purpose is to support the other ingredients and the overall composition of the mixture, octyldodecanol does have some direct effects on the hair and scalp as well. Garshick explains that when added to products, it can help to soften and smooth the hair while also keeping formulations intact. Friese agrees and adds that due to its moisturizing properties, it may help prevent or remedy dry scalp and add moisture to dry hair.

  • Stabilizes hair products: Octyldodecanol is a stabilizer that helps to ensure beauty products do not spoil or separate between production and purchase by the consumer. Garshick adds that it is particularly helpful in products that contain both water and oil as it prevents them from separating. Additionally, it reduces the tendency to foam when a product is shaken.
  • Improves the texture of hair products: In addition to helping to maintain the intended texture of a product, octyldodecanol also improves the texture of products, which Friese says generally makes it easier to apply.
  • Conditions the hair and skin: Conditioner is used to make the hair look and feel smooth. Garshick says that octyldodecanol can soften and smooth the surface of the skin and hair. Due to its conditioning qualities, Friese shares it can add moisture to dry hair and scalps, while Garshick explains that because it has a higher molecular weight, it doesn’t easily penetrate the skin so it won’t be drying.
  • Prevents drying of the skin and hair: Octyldodecanol can not only provide moisture to the hair and scalp, but it can also help to prevent the loss of moisture or transepidermal water loss. Both experts say that octyldodecanol is an emollient. Emollients reduce water loss by covering the skin and hair with a protective film.
  • Improves overall scalp health: An imbalanced scalp can lead to a host of issues for the skin of the scalp as well as the hair. Moisturizers and emollients support the formation and preservation of a healthy skin barrier. Healthy hair starts at the scalp and promoting a healthy skin barrier may improve overall scalp health.

Hair Type Considerations

Our experts agree that octyldodecanol is safe for all hair types, including curly, dry, and color-treated hair. The conditioning factors of octyldodecanol would provide the most benefit to those with dry, damaged, or frizzy hair. Friese adds that because it can be used over a wide pH range, it may be beneficial to hair that has been chemically damaged. 

Friese cautions that octyldodecanol can cause skin irritation even in low doses, but it is very rare. If you have sensitive skin you may want to stay away from it. However, because it is found in so many of the products we already use, you may already be using it and therefore know that you don’t have a sensitivity.

How to Use Octyldodecanol for Hair

Despite all the work it does in product formulations and its added moisturizing benefits, octyldodecanol is not an ingredient that you would seek out on its own for your hair. Instead, you're likely to see it listed as an ingredient in many of the products you already use both in and out of the shower. As long as you're not experiencing any irritation from the products you regularly use, octyldodecanol can safely smooth your hair, scalp, and hair products themselves.

FAQ
  • What Is Octyldodecanol?

    Octyldodecanol is a fatty alcohol used in beauty products to stabilize formulations.

  • Is Octyldodecanol Safe for Curly Hair?

    Octyldodecanol is safe for all hair types and may provide added moisture to dry, coarse, curly, or color-treated hair.

  • Is Octyldodecanol Safe for Skin?

    While octyldodecanol does have the potential to irritate skin and eyes, it is regarded as non-hazardous.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Zuuren EJ, Fedorowicz Z, Christensen R, Lavrijsen AP, Arents BW. Emollients and moisturisers for eczemaCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;2017(2):CD012119.

  2. Samadi A, Nasrollahi SA, Rostami MN, Rezagholi Z, Abolghasemi F, Firooz A. Long‐term effects of two 24‐hour moisturizing products on skin barrier structure and function: A biometric and molecular study. Health Sci Rep. 2021;4(2):e308.

  3. PubChem. 2-Octyl-1-dodecanol.

Related Stories