Alcohol in skincare sounds scary for many of us. But before jumping to conclusions and avoiding all alcohol in skincare, let’s break it down. It’s a bit complicated and please don’t throw away all your products with alcohol as an ingredient. There are good and bad alcohols in skincare.
Skincare manufacturers use alcohol in skincare for many reasons. Because alcohol can be used as antiseptic, emulsifier, buffer, preservative and it enhances absorption of some products.
There are drying type of alcohols, which are bad for your skin and fatty alcohol, which are non-irritating and can be exceptionally beneficial for skin.
The pros & the cons
Fatty alcohols are non-irritating and help to draw and lock in moisture into the skin. Cetyl, stearyl and cetearyl alcohol are good ingredients for dry skin and a small amount of these fatty alcohols are fine for any skin type.
Also, since manufacturers using alcohol as antiseptic reason is because it’s disinfectant and it helps to keep bacteria out of the product and keep ingredients stable in products.
Some fatty alcohol and their functions:
- Cetyl Alcohol (product thickener)
- Stearyl Alcohol (an emollient, traps moisture in skin)
- Propylene Glycol (a humectant, attracts water into the skin)
- Cetearyl Alcohol (an emulsifier, prevents ingredients like water and oil from separating)
Alcohols are astringent, meaning it can dry out your skin, tighten pores and dries up the natural skin oils. Bad alcohol isn’t that bad sometimes, wait what?! Yes, I told you it was complicated. You can use a small amount of it and it’s fine to use it as spot treatments, when the goal of using the product is to kill the bacteria and dry up the infection.
Some toners have ethanol as ingredient, ethanol is an alcohol you need to avoid especially if you have dry sensitive, oily or acne-prone skin. It can dry out your skin and in the long run, they can enlarge pores and increase greasiness.
Should you avoid all alcohol in skincare? No, because fatty alcohol can be beneficial for your skin and it doesn’t irritate your skin. But drying types of alcohol are something you want to avoid if you have a dry sensitive skin. Also, if you have oily acne-prone skin, products with bad alcohol are really something you want to avoid. Yes, it does give your skin a matte finish, but this is only temporary, it won’t do any good in long term.
Ps. Alcohol as a main ingredient (high in the list) in any skincare products is a problem.
Here is a list with good & bad alcohol