Stearic Acid (Stearin)
Stearic Acid is a saturated long-chain fatty acid with an 18-carbon backbone. Stearic acid is found in various animal and plant fats, and is a major component of cocoa butter and shea butter.
In general, the applications of stearic acid exploit its bifunctional character, with a polar head group that can be attached to metal cations and a nonpolar chain that confers solubility in organic solvents. The combination leads to uses as a surfactant and softening agent. Stearic acid undergoes the typical reactions of saturated carboxylic acids, a notable one being reduction to stearyl alcohol, and esterification with a range of alcohols. This is used in a large range of manufactures, from simple to complex electronic devices.
As food additive
The fatty acids (E number E570) are absorbed in the regular diet the same as the free fatty acids. Low acute toxicity is shown. There was in 2017 no evidence at doses up to 10% in the diet for toxic effects.
Soaps, cosmetics, detergents
Stearic acid is mainly used in the production of detergents, soaps, and cosmetics such as shampoos and shaving cream products. Soaps are not made directly from stearic acid, but indirectly by saponification of triglycerides consisting of stearic acid esters. Esters of stearic acid with ethylene glycol, glycol stearate, and glycol distearate are used to produce a pearly effect in shampoos, soaps, and other cosmetic products. They are added to the product in molten form and allowed to crystallize under controlled conditions. Detergents are obtained from amides and quaternary alkylammonium derivatives of stearic acid.
Lubricants, softening and release agents
In view of the soft texture of the sodium salt, which is the main component of soap, other salts are also useful for their lubricating properties. Lithium stearate is an important component of grease. The stearate salts of zinc, calcium, cadmium, and lead are used to soften PVC. Stearic acid is used along with castor oil for preparing softeners in textile sizing. They are heated and mixed with caustic potash or caustic soda. Related salts are also commonly used as release agents, e.g. in the production of automobile tires.