The smaller molecules are used in cosmetics and food, and as industrial solvents. Some of the larger molecules are simply seen as biofuels, but little research had been done until 2006 regarding many of these, and they have been shown to be have anticancer, antiviral, antifungal, anti-HIV properties, for potential use in medicine and health supplements.
Due to their amphipathic nature, fatty alcohols behave as nonionic surfactants. They find use as emulsifiers, emollients to make skin smoother and prevent moisture loss and use as thickeners in cosmetics and food industry.
Fatty alcohols are a common component of waxes, mostly as esters with fatty acids but also as alcohols themselves.
Fatty alcohols are aliphatic alcohols derived from natural fats and oils, originating in plants, but also synthesized in animals and algae. Their significance in nutrition and health has historically been overlooked, and is only now being realized, as they are closely related to fatty acids, including the well-documented omega 3 fatty acids. The other counterparts are fatty aldehydes. Fatty alcohols usually have even number of carbon atoms. Production from fatty acids yields normal-chain alcohols—the alcohol group (-OH) attaches to the terminal carbon. Other processing can yield iso-alcohols—where the alcohol attaches to a carbon in the interior of the carbon chain.
Meanwhile fatty alcohols from renewable resources have become an important base stock for the production of cationic, anionic and non-ionic surfactants such as fatty-alcohol sulfates, ether sulfates, ethoxilates and alkyl polyglucosides.
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