Derived from the benign fatty ingredient stearyl alcohol, this functions primarily as a surfactant but is also used to make products more stable, especially if they contain active ingredients in an emulsion.

References for this information:

International Journal of Pharmaceutics, October 2010, Volume 398, Issues 1-2, pages 107-113
Journal of Drug Delivery Science and Technology, August 2010, Volume 58
International Journal of Toxicology, April 1999, Volume 18, Issue 3, pages 41-49

See surfactant

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