It is widely used as a release agent for the production of many kinds of objects: rubber, polyurethane, polyester processing system, powder metallurgy. These applications exploit its "non-stick" properties. In cosmetics, zinc stearate is a lubricant and thickening agent used to improve texture.
It is an "activator" for rubber vulcanization by sulfur and accelerators. As discovered in the early days of vulcanization, zinc has a beneficial effect on the reaction of the sulfur with the polyolefin. The stearate is a form of zinc that is highly soluble in the nonpolar medium of the polyolefins.
Being lipophilic, it functions as a phase transfer catalyst for the saponification of fats.
It is a component of some paints, imparting gloss. As a chief ingredient in "fanning powder", it is used by magicians performing card manipulation to decrease the friction between playing cards.