Also known as:
hydrofol acid 1855
hydrofol acid 1655
Stearic acid is a long-chained fatty acid obtained by treating animal fats (especially beef tallow) with water at high temperature and pressure, or by the hydrogenation of vegetable oils (especially cocoa butter). In its pure form, it is a white or yellowish, hard, waxy powder or flakes. When melted, it becomes a clear liquid.
Stearic acid is used primarily as a thickener and emulsifier (a chemical that allows oil and water to mix) due to the creamy, pearly appearance and soft, soothing texture it gives to lotions. You probably have at least half a dozen items in your home that contain stearic acid. It's used in candles, soaps, cosmetics, moisturizers, creams, lotions, and other personal care products. It is usually found in concentrations of 2-10%. Although it is an acid, in low concentrations it is not an irritant.
Stearic acid helped make the transition from tallow to paraffin candles in the 19th Century. Paraffin is a better substance for a candle because it burns cleanly and has no unpleasant odor. However, paraffin has a lower melting point and candles made from pure paraffin burned faster than those made from tallow. Adding stearic acid to the paraffin solved this problem, and modern candles are generally made from a stearic acid and paraffin mix. Other substances that could have replaced tallow are generally too expensive or labor-intensive to make.
In most other applications, stearic acid is just a thickener, a hardener, an emulsifier, or a combination of the three.