What’s Alcohol Doing in Your Skincare?

woman applying alcohol on cotton pad
What’s Alcohol Doing in Your Skincare?
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If you’ve ever taken a look at the ingredients label on the majority of skin care products out there, you are likely to have seen alcohol-based ingredients listed a couple of times. While you may not have paid much attention to this in the past, it is so important for you to understand exactly what these alcohols are doing to your skin, so that you can decide for yourself whether or not you want to continue using those products.

Different Types of Alcohol in Skin Care

Many believe that the alcohol found in skin care products is different to the regular alcohol that people drink, but this is not exactly true…

The only difference between the two is that the alcohol in your skin care products has been mixed with an additive, so that they smell and taste unpleasant.

Wondering why?

Simply to prevent people from drinking it!

The additives that are mixed with the alcohol tend to be made in a laboratory, and are usually derivatives of liquid petroleum. These are a few examples that you will find in skin care products:

    • Ethanol
    • Benzyl Alcohol
    • Methanol
    • Isopropyl Alcohol
    • SD Alcohol
    • Denatured Alcohol

These alcohols listed above are referred to as simple alcohols.

Benefits of Simple Alcohols

If you are someone that prefers your skin care products to be as natural and beneficial as possible, then you may have often wondered why alcohol is included in so many different formulas.

There are actually a number of reasons for this…

1. Simple Alcohols Can Kill Germs

To begin with, alcohol is often used for preservation reasons, as it is able to kill germs. This is why it is so commonly used in the medical world, when it comes to dealing with wounds and other similar injuries. Alcohol has been used for this purpose for centuries now, and its germ-killing abilities mean that products are able to enjoy a much longer shelf life.

2. Simple Alcohols Are Non-Greasy

Alcohol is also fast-drying, and, when added to rich and thick formulas, can make them feel almost weightless. This makes the products feel much more pleasant when applied to the skin, as they will not leave a greasy or sticky residue behind.

3. Simple Alcohols Are Great Emulsifiers

In many cases, certain ingredients in skin care products are not soluble in water, which is another reason why alcohol is added to them. The alcohol helps all of the ingredients to blend together well, resulting in the smooth end product that you will see. The alcohol also increases the rate at which ingredients are absorbed by the skin, making it far easier for them to penetrate into your skin’s layers and work their magic.

4. Simple Alcohols Are Astringents

Finally, alcohol can act as an astringent, meaning that it can reduce the size of pores and tighten the skin, which is why you will often find it in cleansers and toners.

Harms of Simple Alcohols

After reading through the reasons why alcohol is added to skin care products, you may now be wondering if alcohol is really that bad, especially since some of those reasons mentioned above are quite justifiable.

While there are many downsides to alcohol being used in skin care formulas, the benefits often outweigh these…

1. Simple Alcohols May Dry Out the Skin

As mentioned above, alcohol causes skin care products to quickly dry on the skin, but they also cause your actual skin to dry out too. Alcohol is severely dehydrating to skin cells, meaning that, when used in the long run, they can actually cause wrinkles and fine lines to look more pronounced.

However, this does depend on the amount of alcohol that has been used in a product. Many times, the alcohol concentration will be miniscule, and, when this is the case, you are unlikely to notice any detrimental effects on your skin.

When it comes to irritation, alcohol is known for doing this too. There are a couple of studies out there that link ethanol in particular with contact dermatitis and skin irritation, but there are also others that disprove this, meaning that more research into this is needed.

Keep in mind that the quality of the overall product makes a difference too. While low-quality, drugstore brands may contain alcohols that dry out your skin, higher end skin care products will be formulated in a way that enhances the benefits that alcohol can have.

2. Simple Alcohols May Damage Your Skin Barrier

The outer layer of your skin consists of a natural barrier that not only protects your skin from environmental damage, but also prevents moisture from evaporating. This barrier is so important when it comes to healthy skin, and everyone should be trying to strengthen their natural barrier as much as possible.

However, skin care products that contain too much alcohol can cause damage to this natural protective barrier. If your skin feels red or raw after using a certain product, then this could be because the ingredients are just too harsh for your skin type.

On the other hand, if you use the product in the way that it is meant to be used, meaning that you do not over-apply it, your skin’s barrier will end up benefitting from this, rather than being damaged.

3. Simple Alcohols May Cause Skin Cell Death

There are several studies out there that point to the way in which alcohol can actually cause the death of skin cells, but, on the other hand, there are also studies that counter this claim.

One study discovered that after using ethanol on the skin for just two days, this could lead to a 26% increase in the death of skin cells.

This means that the younger, newer skin cells end up rising to the surface. While you may think that this would give you a fresher, more youthful, appearance, these skin cells are not fully matured, meaning that they will not be able to provide the protection your skin needs, resulting in irritation and breakouts.

However, these studies have only really been carried out in labs, rather than on actual human skin. The way in which alcohol reacts to actual skin is quite different, which is why there are many studies out there that disprove the fact that alcohol causes skin cell death.

In fact, many of these studies claim that alcohol is able to support skin cells and help to strengthen them, prolonging their lives.

4. Frequent Use of Simple Alcohols Can Trigger Acne

Alcohol is often marketed as an ingredient that can really help with acne, and this is because of the way in which alcohol has the ability to destroy bacteria and germs. When acne-causing bacteria settles onto your skin, the alcohol in acne products is able to clear these away, preventing breakouts from occurring.

Alcohol is also good at removing oil and de-greasing the skin, which is why you will find so many anti-acne products out there that are formulated with different types of alcohol.

However, keep in mind that you do need to keep usage of these products to a minimum.

Why?

Well, while alcohol does do a great job of clearing away oil and bacteria from the surface of the skin, applying these products too often will end up stripping away all of your skin’s natural oils.

oily skin

This happens with just about any product that you use to cleanse your skin. Once your natural oils have been stripped away to such an extent, this then triggers your oil glands to go into overdrive, producing even more oil than it did before.

This results in skin that is even oilier, exacerbating the rate at which you experience breakouts.

What About “Good” Alcohols?

Contrary to popular opinion, there are alcohols that are different from the simple alcohols we’ve discussed here.

Fatty Alcohols

When it comes to alcohols, there’s one category of alcohols that are all-round beneficial to your skin.

These alcohols are referred to as fatty or wax alcohols, and work in a way that is completely different to the simple alcohols mentioned earlier.

Here are a few examples of fatty alcohols:

  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Stearyl Alcohol
  • Glycol
  • Cetearyl Alcohol

While these alcohols are often created in a laboratory, they can also be derived from natural sources, such as coconut oil, and work as a natural wax in nature.

What Do Fatty Alcohols Do?

A number of positive things:

  • These alcohols are naturally moisturizing, and are great for hydrating the skin
  • Fatty alcohols are effective at thickening skin care formulas, resulting in the perfect consistency
  • Fatty alcohols are also good emulsifiers, meaning that they can effectively mix together oils and water, resulting in a smooth, well-mixed end product

While this may all seem great, there are still studies out there that show that these fatty alcohols can still be damaging to those with sensitive skin, making it wise for those with this skin type to still steer clear of products that are highly concentrated with alcohol.

cetearyl alcohol

Cetearyl Alcohol

Fatty Alcohols Derived from Palm Oil

While fatty alcohols may be beneficial to the skin, a number of them are actually derived from palm oil.

If you are someone who is aware of environmental conservation, then you likely already know about the environmental destruction that palm oil harvesting can have. For this reason, try to stay away from alcohols that have been derived from palm oil, even though they may be natural.

What About Organic Alcohols?

Just like with just about every other ingredient out there, alcohol comes in an organic form too. This means that they have been grown and harvested in a way that makes use of a minimal amount of chemicals, and will not be derived from petroleum.

Here are a few examples of organic alcohols:

  • Milk Whey Alcohol
  • Organic Ethyl Alcohol, also known as Organic Ethanol
  • Organic Cane, Grape, Corn or Grain Alcohol

These alcohols will contain far fewer chemicals than their non-organic versions, making them a great option to opt for if you are trying to keep your skin care routine as organic as possible.

Keep in mind that since these alcohols are grown organically, the products that contain them may be more expensive than those that contain non-organic versions.

Understanding Ingredient Lists

Now that you know which alcohols to avoid, and which ones are beneficial, you need to ensure that you are always checking the ingredient lists of new skin care products before purchasing them.

Skin care products will usually contain a number of different ingredients, and, even though you may spot one of the damaging simple alcohols on the list, this does not necessarily mean that you need to completely avoid that product.

Why?

Well, it does also depend on exactly how much of that alcohol a product contains.

So, how do you go about determining this?

Ingredient lists are organized in a way that lists their most concentrated ingredients first, ending with ingredients that are only used in an extremely small amount. This means that, by taking a look at exactly where alcohol is listed on each product, you will be able to gain a good idea of how much alcohol that product actually contains.

If there are simple alcohols mentioned at the beginning of an ingredients list, especially in the top three ingredients, then yes, you will probably be best off avoiding that product. However, if the alcohol is only listed at the end, then this may still be a product that is worth trying.

In addition to scrutinizing the ingredient list to see the alcohol concentration within a product, there are also a few other factors that you should take into account when deciding whether or not to purchase a product containing alcohol:

    • The type of alcohol – as mentioned above, fatty alcohols can actually benefit the skin, while simple alcohols do not cause damage at low concentrations
    • The use of the product – products such as hand sanitizers will usually always contain alcohol to kill germs, whereas moisturizers for sensitive skin should never contain simple alcohols
    • Your skin type – everybody’s skin reacts differently to different ingredients, and those that have dry or sensitive skin will be much more susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol in skin care products

So, Do You Need to Completely Avoid Alcohol?

The answer is no, because, as mentioned above, certain alcohols can be beneficial.

However, you do need to be aware of the differences between good and bad alcohols, so that you know which ones to avoid. Naturally-derived alcohols will always be better than synthetic versions, and the concentration of these in products makes a huge difference too. In general, you want to go for fatty alcohols like cetyl or stearyl alcohol, and organic alcohols like organic grain alcohol. Avoid simple alcohols like ethanol, especially if you’re concerned with skin issues like acne.

No matter what, when using a new skin care product for the first time, always be sure to perform a patch test first on a small area of your skin, leaving this for 24-48 hours. This will give you the opportunity to see how your skin reacts to the alcohols in a product, before you apply it to the rest of your body.

 

112 thoughts on “What’s Alcohol Doing in Your Skincare?”

  1. Robert Hogan says:

    Very informative

  2. LISA DEVLIN says:

    I always wondered about the alcohol in beauty products. It great to really an article that explains it all.

  3. Gabrielle says:

    Thank you for this! This is the best breakdown of the various alcohols and their uses and effects in skincare that I’ve read. I really appreciate the information here.

  4. Alicia Hewitt says:

    I never knew about the different types of alcohol. Thank you for the information!

  5. Debbie P says:

    Great and informative article!

  6. Deborah Beyer says:

    Very interesting.

  7. Gail Lindsey says:

    This was very informative regarding alcohol in products and the effects it can have on your skin. Thank you!

  8. Allie f says:

    I love the way you broke down the use of alcohol in this post!

  9. Michele Ziemann says:

    I know we should avoid these things like alcohol in our skin care but I try to get the best I can afford that’s the only thing I can do.

  10. Kathleen Narowski says:

    Interesting info! Good to know.

  11. Wonderful explanation of ingredients.

  12. Anam mahmood says:

    This was such an informative blogpost

  13. Abdelkhalek says:

    Alcohole is important for cleaning bactirias i always use it

  14. Patti Lovecky says:

    Would so love to try these products.

  15. LATOYA A. says:

    Informative article, I am aware of alcohol in skin products in which this helps me to make better choices when choosing skin care products in the future.

  16. Margaret Smith says:

    Very interesting points about Alcohol and skin.

  17. Kyaw Sein says:

    Don’t like alcohol on my skin

  18. Gabrielly says:

    Great article.

  19. Ling Patzelt says:

    love to try it

  20. Ling Patzelt says:

    my skin sure could use it

  21. ARLENE HOULROYD says:

    I trust the products and their ingredients. Never had a reaction.

  22. Paula D says:

    Wow — that’s a lot of information to absorb!

  23. Phyllis Skoglund says:

    I only use alcohol as an antiseptic.

  24. Shelly Covington says:

    Very informative and interesting article. I know understand so much more about alcohol and its effects on skin.

  25. Sherry Russell says:

    no alcohol…it makes my skin sting

  26. Diana Saxon-Brooks says:

    I was not aware that there is alcohol in many beauty products.

  27. Kim Jacobson says:

    I wasn’t aware that there were good alcohols! Thanks for the info!

  28. Rose Joan says:

    This is a great post. I never knew all the other harmful effects of alcohol besides dryness. And now I can keep an eye out for good ones too!

  29. sophie lapierre says:

    Thank you for this great explanation about alcohol in skincare products. It definitely would help me in the future to choose and check the ingredients in them.

  30. Christy says:

    Obviously, I try to be very mindful of what type(s) of alcohol may be in my skincare for the best results and the best experience!

  31. Lanie says:

    Great article. I have used alcohol on my face in the past and it makes it feel dry and tight. I prefer witch hazel if I must use something natural and cleansing.

  32. Dominique Britton says:

    Wow never knew this about alcohol

  33. I would LOVE to try Orogold products! The ingredients are amazing and I have heard great things about this skincare line!

  34. Helen Howard says:

    goodto hear that natural alcohols are good for the skin

  35. Rosie says:

    The information in this post was interesting and surprising!

  36. ERIN says:

    Orogold sounds like a wonderful product.

  37. Debra Simning-Chapman says:

    With sensitive skin myself I have to be extra vigilant with alcohol in items.

  38. scott says:

    I hope to win this great product!

  39. Sandra Dee Murphy says:

    Love the high quality of ingredients in Orogold!

  40. NolaRover says:

    Very concise and informative article. Thanks!
    PS-How about one on the other alcohol? You know like the gin in my martini?

  41. Joan Leonard says:

    good info

  42. Joey RIdenour says:

    OROGOLD products are the ONLY way to go, especially for sensitive skin like mine.

  43. MagB says:

    Very informative post, thank you!

  44. Anita Singh says:

    So informative post , good to know abt these facts

  45. Deborah Onoja says:

    Thank you so much for this. I was enlightened.

  46. Popi T says:

    I am using lotion but it’s alcohol free. I didn’t knew that I am using products contains alcohol!

  47. Alena says:

    Useful, important information, thank-you !

  48. Jamia Geer says:

    This article provided so much information that I am going to have to read it again.

  49. Cynthia C says:

    I learned a lot from the article. Thanks for the information.

  50. carrie s says:

    Thank you for this very interesting and informative article.

  51. everything in moderation!

  52. eileen flynn says:

    I always wondered if I was doing the right thing in using the astringents I use etc. This was actually interesting for me

  53. Lisa Nguyen says:

    Thanks for this info. Never new so much about One Ingredient can break down to be so many different. This is good stuff to know.

  54. cleo says:

    Very informative, thank you

  55. liz kilcher says:

    alcohol is too drying to use on your skin

  56. JustJulia says:

    Interesting article!

  57. Belinda Hughes says:

    I am a true fan of Orogold cosmetics.

  58. Shilpa Shetty says:

    Waaw,.. i was not aware if this,.. I have bookmarked this post,.. i will share this info with my friends too,.. Thank you

  59. Christine W. says:

    Reading this helps me understand why some moisturizers make my skin drier.

  60. liz kilcher says:

    alcohol can dry out your skin

  61. cindy Jolly says:

    great info

  62. Ray Waldrop says:

    I need to learn more

  63. Deborah Caudill says:

    I never understood why so many products contained alcohol since alcohol dries out my skin. I now understand that different types and amounts of alcohol play a large role in whether or not the alcohol will dry out my skin. I won’t use any products that contain too much or the bad or cheaper alcohols.

  64. shannon fowler says:

    This is so much more complicated than I thought. Thanks for outlining it all!

  65. L.Otomo says:

    Very interesting. I learned a lot.

  66. Patricia wright says:

    Interesting about the alcohols

  67. Abigail Stinson says:

    Wow I had no idea how in depth alcohol could get and how it affects your skin so much I think this might be what’s causing my acne I’m glad I know now that this can be a trigger for acne thanks for the information great article

  68. Michelle L says:

    My skin is on the sensitive side and I always look at ingredients, do patch tests, etc I am very aware of toners / alcohol and the damage they can do.

  69. elizabeth gonzalez says:

    Read the labels before you buy,

  70. Sheri Macy says:

    I didn’t know that there were good alcohols for your skin.

  71. CINZIA ROSETTI says:

    Great quality products and impressive ingredient list

  72. Yvonne Tabaracci says:

    Interesting information. Thanks

  73. Barrie says:

    I had no idea there were different kinds of alcohol and some are actually good for my skin. I’ll keep this information close at hand for when I’m purchasing skincare products.

  74. Lexi says:

    Thanks for making your customers aware

  75. Jennifer Phillips says:

    Didn’t really know about good alcohols

  76. marlene a harris says:

    i heard it was very drying is it true?

    1. Michelle says:

      ​Hi Marlene,

      “Simple” alcohols can be very drying on the skin. So be sure to stick to “good” alcohols like fatty alcohols (stearyl alcohol, cetearyl ​alcohol, glycern, cetyl alcohol, etc.) and organic alcohols (organic ethanol, organic grain alcohol, etc.).

      Thank you,
      OROGOLD

  77. Jaima says:

    Thank you for this valuable content! It answers a lot of questions and reflections I’ve made to myself.

  78. Kim Tanti says:

    I never knew there were so many
    different alcohols. Thank you for the info.

  79. belinda bell says:

    Thanks for telling me about what alcohol does

  80. Kathy Lane says:

    I never knew that alcohol can be good and bad for your skin.

  81. Carolle Wieler says:

    I used to wonder what made my skin so red and irritated after cleansing, etc. Did not realise it was alcohol so will look out for this damaging ingredient in the future, thank you.

  82. Julie says:

    Thanks for the informative post. There were a lot of things I learned as well as some things I was misinformed on previously.

  83. Sarah Gould says:

    Thank you for posting this article. Very informative, and a lot of very good information that everyone should know!

  84. melissa mc says:

    What an interesting article and ty for this info – I will be sharing it 🙂

  85. Marguerite Sheldon says:

    very informative!

  86. meghan nyholt says:

    benefits outweigh the cons. the alchol is used to reduce pore size, and aide the killing of dying skin cells so that newer cells can arise more quickly, helping us to look younger, it kills germs which could actually reduce cases of colds,

  87. Samantha Gambello says:

    I know alcohol in a toner I used messed up my skin.I’ve always had combo skin regular redness cheeks n the standard oily t-zone. I began a skin care regimen cleanse-tone-moisturize/serum. Now for awhile my skin felt great, but I noticed it became more oily, so in turn as a quick fix I’d use more toner or wipes. Finally one day I googled “oily skin out of nowhere” . Read through some things. Realized using all the toner, dried out my skin, so in turn my face’ cells or what not produced MORE oil because it felt dried out. This was months ago. I stopped using toner, but too this day my skin is still extra oily. Lesson learned.

  88. Angela Mason says:

    Thank you for this informative article. I use alcohol on my face at least 3 times a week. Have a great day and thanks for the tips.

  89. scott macmillan says:

    I never use alcohol on my face after shaving.I always use a cream to soothe.

  90. Tabitha Miller says:

    Interesting to find out what’s in stuff we put on our skin

  91. Cheryl Davies says:

    I always found that acne cleansers did nothing to help treat my pimples, and now I know why!

  92. Tamara B. says:

    I quit using a certain toner years ago because of all of the alcohol it had in it. It would burn and irritate my skin. This article was very informative thank-you

  93. Beatrice P says:

    Very informative information about alcohol in skincare

  94. Tammy says:

    A very easy to read and informative article about the effects of alcohol on your skin. Making it simple to learn about the science of your skin and the use of harmful effects and beneficial effects on your skin with the use of alcohol. Many things I did not realize.

  95. marissa a says:

    interesting

  96. Kimberly Matlack says:

    I always perform a patch test when trying new products. I have sensitive skin and it pays to be cautious so you don’t have a bad reaction.

  97. Leslie C says:

    I have to admit that I pay more attention to the price tag than to the ingredients but wish it wasn’t so!!

  98. Xia Lee says:

    Very informative

  99. Taylor says:

    Thanks for the info.

  100. I don’t drink alcohol, never given thought to alcohol in beauty products

  101. Jodi Hunter says:

    Incredible Information, thanks.

  102. Ahlam Charai says:

    Thank you so much for the info

  103. chung says:

    Thanks for sharing the great article!

  104. Dana Smith says:

    Very informative, thank you!

  105. Anita Kennett says:

    This should be told to everyone

  106. Margot C says:

    Raising my hand! I knew this. It’s just logical. Alcohol would dry out your skin!

  107. Wen says:

    Great quality products. Thanks for sharing the info.

  108. Bruna Patricia says:

    Thanks for this information, very good

  109. lori laws says:

    I had not idea about alcohol and thanks for the explanation! I would love to try your products!

  110. Katie Rose says:

    Wow this is a really informative post. I’m sure that my past skincare products have affected my natural oils in bad way, now it all makes sense!

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