What Is It?

TEA-Stearate is the triethanolamine (TEA) salt of stearic acid. It is a cream-colored, wax-like solid. In cosmetics and personal care products, TEA-Stearate is used in a variety of baby, bath, eye makeup, fragrance, hair, makeup, nail, personal cleanliness, shaving, skin and suntan preparations.

Why Is It Used?

TEA-Stearate helps to form emulsions by reducing the surface tension of the substances to be emulsified. When used in the formulation of cleansing products, TEA-Stearate cleans skin and hair by helping water to mix with oil and dirt so that they can be rinsed away.

Scientific Facts

TEA-Stearate is the triethanolamine salt of Stearic Acid. Stearic acid is a fatty acid obtained from animal and vegetable fats and oils and is used primarily as a soap. Soaps are the salts of water-insoluble fatty acids with various bases. Soaps were the first surface-active agents prepared by man.

Safety Information

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the individual components of TEA-Stearate to be used in food. Triethanolamine is allowed to be used to wash or aid in the peeling of fruits and vegetables. Stearic acid is on FDA’s list of direct food substances affirmed as Generally Recogized As Safe (GRAS). The safety of TEA-Stearate has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The CIR Expert Panel evaluated the scientific data and concluded that TEA-Stearate was safe in cosmetic formulations. The CIR Expert Panel did not set any limits for the use of TEA-Stearate in products rinsed off shortly after application. Concentrations limits based on the amount of Triethanolamine in the product were set for products intended to be left on the skin.

CIR Review: The CIR Expert Panel, upon reviewing the data summarized in previous CIR reports on TEA and Stearic Acid, determined that the salt of TEA and Stearic Acid (TEA-Stearate) would be no more toxic, and may be less toxic, than its individual components. TEA-Stearate was determined to be safe for use in cosmetic formulations in accordance with the restrictions placed on the individual components of the ingredient. The CIR Expert Panel had previously concluded that TEA (approximate molecular weight of 149) was safe for use in cosmetic formulations designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by a thorough rinsing from the skin; should not exceed 5% in formulation for products intended for prolonged contact with the skin; and should not be used in products containing N-nitrosating agents. The CIR Expert Panel had also concluded previously that stearic acid (approximate molecular weight of 284) was safe as used in cosmetic formulations. Comparison of the molecular weights of the two component ingredients showed that TEA-Stearate consists of approximately one-third TEA and two-thirds stearic acid. Based on this information, it was determined that TEA-Stearate should not exceed 15% in the formulation of cosmetic products designed for prolonged contact with the skin so that the TEA concentration does not exceed 5% in formulation and that TEA-Stearate should not be used in products under conditions resulting in N-nitrosation reactions.

FDA: Link to Code of Federal Regulations for Stearic Acid and Triethanolamine

TEA-Stearate is not specifically regulated in the European Union. The level of Triethanolamine in cosmetic products marketed in the European Union is limited to 2.5% (See Annex III). Cosmetic and personal care products containing TEA-Stearate may be marketed in Europe as long as the restrictions for using triethanolamine are followed. If the Stearic Acid in TEA-Stearate is derived from animal sources, it must comply with European Union animal by-products regulations.

EU Cosmetic Regulation

More Scientific Information

TEA-Stearate is used as a surfactant – cleansing agent and a surfactant – emulsifying agent in cosmetic formulations. TEA-Stearate may be indicated in formulations by listing Stearic Acid and Triethanolamine separately. Both ingredients are added to the formulation, where they combine to form TEA-Stearate. Soaps are subdivided into water-soluble and water-insoluble types. The former are the salts of fatty acids with ammonia, low molecular weight amines , especially alkanolamines, and alkali metals, especially sodium and potassium. Water-insoluble fatty acid salts result from reaction with metallic cations, such as zinc and aluminum, alkaline earths such as calcium and magnesium, and long-chain fatty amines. The water-soluble salts of fatty acids, derived from alkaline hydrolysis (saponification) of plant or animal fats and oils, are used widely as skin cleansers (in bar form and the like) and in laundry and other cleaning applications. In cosmetics, such soaps are used as emulsifiers, in shaving products, and occasionally in shampoos. The water-insoluble soaps are used as binders and fillers in loose and compressed powders, as hydrophobic solids in skin applications and as lubricants in pharmaceutical tablet manufacture. Metallic soaps are commonly used as emulsion stabilizers in water/oil emulsions, and occasionally employed in drugs and cosmetics to thicken or gel hydrocarbons.


Find out more about the regulation of Food Additives by the Food and Drug Administration

Food Ingredients and Packaging

Food Contact Substances

Substances Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)

Search the Code of Federal Regulations

EU Cosmetics Inventory