October 5, 2022


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Glyceryl Stearate SE

4 min read

Glyceryl Stearate SE
INCI: Glyceryl Stearate

What: water-in-oil self-emulsifier (contains 3-6% potassium stearate)
pH range: 4.5 – 9
Charge: anionic (?? wait, what??)
Incompatibilities: cationics
Solubility: oil soluble, alcohol soluble (ingredientstodiefor.com)
Usage rate suggestions: 5 – 15%

Glyceryl Stearate SE (sometimes abbreviated below as GSSE), surprisingly to me, is a great water-in-oil emulsifier and stabilizer for oil-in-water emulsions. That is, if you don’t need to use it an cationic conditioner recipe. What?? More on that later.

What this emulsifier does is make the oil the continuous phase, which creates a water-in-oil emulsion. For simple emulsions, in my experimentation, you’ll almost feel the oils first which gives the emulsion a more substantial feeling on the hair and skin. It’s something you’ll have to feel to understand what I mean. Depending on the other ingredients in your formula, your hair will still feel “moisturized” hours later and sometimes into the next day or two.

There is regular glyceryl stearate and then there’s Glyceryl Stearate SE. Aside from being an emulsifier for water-in-oil emulsions, It can also be used to thicken (give body to) oil-in-water emulsions.(1)

If you wanted to make a body cream with a non-ionic emulsifier like Olivem 1000, but don’t want to load it up with cetyl alcohol (or another fatty alcohol), GSSE may be able to help. Plus it’ll have the added benefit of further keeping your cream emulsified over time.

Add GSSE to the oil phase and let it melt with your oils/other emulsifiers. Usage rate is 1-10%. Because this version is self-emulsifying, technically you can use it as the only emulsifier in a recipe.

Glyceryl stearate SE is what’s called a “glyceryl ester” made from a reaction between glycerin and stearic acid, and potassium stearate; all vegetable-derived. According to the type of GSSE sold at ingredientstodiefor.com (ITDF), its anionic by nature and has an HLB of 5.5.(4)

The only thing you need to pay attention to in the previous paragraph is the “anionic” part. Typically, anionic (negative charge) ingredients and cationic (positive charge) ingredients don’t mix. The reason you need to know the difference is because cationic ingredients are the things that condition our hair.

Cationic ingredients are what we love in leave-in creams, puddings and hair milks. They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • BTMS-25
  • BTMS-50
  • Behentrimonium Chloride
  • Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride
  • Cassia Hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride
  • Varisoft EQ 65 (Distearoylethyl Dimonium Chloride (and) Cetearyl Alcohol)
  • Centrimonium chloride


Thus, according to ITDF’s website, GSSE is not recommended in recipes that include cationic ingredients (IE conditioners). What?!

However, the supplier where I bought my GSSE from, makingcosmetics.com (MC), DOESN’T warn against using it with cationic ingredients.(3) Was that an oversight on their part? Or are there different grades of GSSE that perform differently?

I’m not sure if there are different grades of Glyceryl Stearate SE There are different grades of Glyceryl Sterate SE (2). One grade is made with potassium stearate. That’s the one I have. Another grade is made with PEG 100 stearate. Yet another grade is made with sodium lauryl sulfate. Maybe one of those other grades are ones that can’t be mixed with cationic ingredients?  Maybe none of them are supposed to be mixed with cationics?

With that being said, I’ve already used Glyceryl Stearate SE from MC in a recipe alongside Behentrimonium Chloride! I didn’t notice any adverse effects, weird feel, or separation. As a matter of fact, it was one of the best, most substantive leave-in creams I’ve made so far. To be fair, I also used a 2nd water-in-oil emulsifier in that recipe for added stability:

Recipe: Bamboo Nettle Rich Hydration

I didn’t notice any warnings at newdirectionsaromatics.com (NDA) about not using GSSE with cationic ingredients either (5). According to NDA, Glyceryl Stearate SE itself is used to help other ingredients in your formula continue to function as expected over time. It supposedly helps to increase shelf life (if formulated properly with a broad-spectrum preservative). It also helps keep the products you make with it from developing “crusts” on the surface and may help lessen the greasy feel of oils.

NDA also says it can also be added to formulas for face and body cleansers. Sounds interesting! I may try it.


1 incidecoder.com

2 knowledge.ulprospector.com

3 makingcosmetics.com

4 ingredientstodiefor.com

5 newdirectionsaromatics.com

2 thoughts on “Glyceryl Stearate SE

  1. Hi, brilliant info.
    I’m trying to ascertain whether my hair will react to Glyceryl stearate in a similar way as it reacts to glycerin.
    My hair reacts badly to glycerin. Regardless of the dewpoint, regardless of whether it’s a small amount, or in shampoo or products which are washed out. It ALWAYS gives me a distinctive ‘frizz halo’ that I don’t get if I avoid it.

    So do you think glyceryl stearate’s humectant properties mean that it’s liable to give me a similar reaction? Does it have humectant properties even?
    Thanks for any help !!

    1. Glyceryl Stearate SE is a self-emulsifying ingredient used to create water-in-oil emulsions. From my understanding, it shouldn’t have a similar affect as regular glycerin. Glycerin is a humectant and a solvent for some of the natural gums (like xanthan gum). Glyceryl Stearate SE is a whole emulsifier.

      If you want an alternative to glycerin, try Vegemoist (Beet Sugar EXTRACT). You can also check out Naturesilk (Propanediol 1,3). If you don’t care about using more synthetic humectants, you can give Butylene glycol a try (I haven’t used this).

      By the way, glycerin in a shampoo will mostly get washed down the drain. Many cosmetic chemists advise against using glycerin in shampoo because it negatively impacts the quality of the lather too. So when you see glycerin in the ingredients list on a shampoo — and it’s not in the top 3 — it may be being used as a solvent for a natural gum (like xanthan gum or hydroxyethyl cellulose or something) and is not used in a high enough percentage to affect the hair after rinse off.

      I do know that sometimes in people with high porosity hair (like me), if the pH of the shampoo it too high, I get negative side effects like ‘frizz’.

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