By: Jennifer O’Connor/ Fusion Face & Body https://fusionfacebody.com (Medical Esthetician/Skincare Specialist & Skincare Business Owner over 15 years)
Seeing the word alcohol in the ingredient list on your skincare products can make anyone wonder, “Is this safe for my skin?” Many assume alcohol is bad for your skin and can dry out the skin but that is not necessarily true. There are many things to consider before rushing to judgement.
Alcohol comes in many forms and serves many different purposes. It is important to understand the particular properties of the different alcohols commonly used in cosmetic products, and the roles they play in the formulations.
There are three kinds of alcohols:
Simple alcohols: Are found in a wide variety of formulations and are generally derived from the fermentation of sugars, starches and other carbohydrates. They are mainly antibacterial/antiseptic, stabilizers and penetration enhancers. They are excellent solvents of fats and lipids and are therefore excellent to remove excess oils and prepare the skin for treatments such as microdermabrasion or chemical peels.
Some examples: methanol, ethanol (rubbing alcohol) isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Denatured alcohol or SDA are often marketed as being special and different but are simply alcohols that have been rendered to be undrinkable by the FDA.
Alcohol is also used to drive some ingredients into the skin. SD Alcohol shouldn’t be applied alone to the skin but in combination with other ingredients may be perfectly safe.
Aromatic Alcohols: These alcohols are used because of their pleasant odor and generally perform the same functions as simple alcohols in the formulation, but with a fragrant aspect. They also act as a preservative. Benzyl alcohol is the most widely used aromatic alcohol. This is commonly used in concentrations of 3% or less. When it is used alone can be irritating but it is most often combined with essential oils.
Fatty Alcohols: These alcohols are the non-drying type of alcohol. They have emollient and occlusive properties. Unlike simple alcohols, they tend to have a thick, waxy texture. They are used to give products a nicer slip. Their occlusive properties help trap moisture and slow down transdermal water loss, Some fatty acids (Oleyl, Isotearyl, Lauryl) exhibit degrees of comedogenicity and may cause adverse reactions in acne prone skin.
So just remember, if you see alcohol higher up in the ingredient listing it is usually being used to help other active ingredients penetrate deeper. But, you may want to be cautious in purchasing drugstore type toners & astringents which have a lot of simple alcohol because they are geared towards teenagers with oily skin. This is what has given alcohol a bad name. Astringent toners will dry out the skin, which will make oily & acne skin worse in the long run. See an Esthetician to help guide you in what products you should be using at home and try facials to help clear your skin more quickly!
So now you know that you really need to look at the entire label as a whole. In most cases there is a greater purpose for the alcohol. Try to go on the recommendation of your Skincare specialist/Esthetician or even Dermatologist. You can also ask friends and look for reviews but remember to take into consideration your skin because it may be drastically different from theirs and your skincare goals may also be very different as well. Don’t be scared when you see alcohol on your product label as there are many things to consider!
If you have questions about your products bring them into your next facial or dermatology appointment and see what they have to say. I love when my clients bring in their products so I can better guide them on if they are using them correctly, if they are the right products for them and work on coming up with a plan to get them the skin they want.