What is Palmitic Acid?
Palmitic acid is one of several fatty acids used in skin care as an emollient or moisturiser. Fatty acids are oily molecules that combine with glycerol to make the many fats found in nature. Palmitic acid is most commonly produced from palm oil, although it is found in smaller amounts in other vegetable oils as well as dairy and meat. To produce pure palmitic acid, the oil is boiled to break the fatty acids off of the glycerol and then the different acids are separated out based on their boiling point.
In skin care products it is commonly used in the form of an alkali salt, where the fatty acid has been reacted with an alkali like sodium hydroxide to produce sodium palmitate.
What does it do?
As a fatty acid, palmitic acid can act as an emollient. When applied to the skin by lotions, creams or bath oils, emollients can soften the skin and help it retain moisture by forming an oily, water blocking layer that slows the loss of water through the skin. This can improve dry and flaky skin as well as conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
One of the main functions of palmitic acid alkali salts is that they acts as emulsifiers and surfactants, allowing oil based, hydrophobic molecules to interact with water where normally they would repel each other. This works by the fatty acid end of the salt interacting with the oil while the salt end interacts with the water creating an adapter between oil and water. In some products this increases the stability of the product as oil and water would naturally separate without it. In soaps and cleansing oils, the fatty end grabs oil and water-resistant make up on your skin while the salt end then lets water wash everything off.
Palmitic acid is also sometimes used in skin care products to make a clear product more opaque.
Topical palmitic acid is not known to cause side effects. A diet containing large amounts of palmitic acid can increase risk of heart disease but topical application doesn’t contribute to this.
Interactions with other medicines:
Topical palmitic acid is not known to interact with any medicines.
Other names it goes by
Acid Hexadecanoic, Acid Palmitic, Calcium Palmitate, Hexadecanoic Acid, Palmitate Calcium, Palmitate Sodium, Palmitic Acid, Sodium Palmitate