"Cetyl" comes from the Latin word "cetus"--meaning "whale."
Cetyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol used as an emulsifier. Discovered by a French chemist in 1817 after heating spermaceti, or the waxy fat rendered from sperm whale oil--a primary source of light and heat from the 1700's through the early 1900's--what remained were flakes of cetyl alcohol. The product became very popular in all sorts of lotions and potions, including shampoo. Because of aggressive whale hunting for centuries, and the advent of new technologies in the early-mid twentieth cenrtury, more than two-million whales were "harvested" before 1950. Whales are now an endangered species. However, they are still being hunted. And sadly, even if you bought a product in America--where whale hunting is not condoned--if the product was made in China, Japan, or any other country that doesn't have the same laws about whale-hunting, you may be unwittingly supporting the senseless killing of an already endangered species.
Whales are mammals--like humans. And like humans, whales have four-chambered hearts, large complex brains, breathe air, birth live young who are fed from mammory glands, have a known system of communication--whales learn, teach, even grieve. Whales are also thought to have a lifespan anywhere from 77-130 years--a lot like human beings. Whales even have hair! In fact, whales are thought to have evolved from land-mammals who entered the water some 50 million years ago. Humans and whales have a lot more in common than you might think...except, of course, whales have slightly larger brains.
You can find information on the internet that states that cetyl alcohol is no longer "primarily" produced from whales and can be a byproduct of the petroleum industry or during production of certain vegetable-based oils, like palm oil. The thing is, "cetyl" is as "cetyl" does. A cetyl alcohol-like product made from vegetable oils is typically called palmityl oil. Palmitate, an ingredient in all kinds of processed products, is a derivitive. Anytime you see the word "cetyl" it pertains to whales or dolphins or anything from the Cetacea order of the Mammalia scientific class. And in case you were wondering what class humans are from, we're Mammalia, too.
Being aware of what's in the products you purchase has become part of the green-chic movement of the twenty-first century, so it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to look for "cetyl alcohol" in the ingredients of your cosmetics, shampoos, body care, and now, tissues. If you find cetyl alcohol (or anything with the cetyl prefix or suffix) in the ingredients of a favorite product you don't want to give up, contact the manufacturer about the ingredient. Ask. It never hurts.
And as far as tissues go, you may want to give those up anyway--you'll not only help save the whales--you'll help save the planet.