• Alcohol in Skincare Products; Rather Not!

Alcohol in Skincare Products; Rather Not!

Before buying a skincare product I always check its ingredients list. And if alcohol is listed near the top I usually put it straight back on the shelf. Alcohol in skincare products can dry out and irritate your skin considerably. And although alcohol is widely used in acne treatments, it stimulates sebum production and aggravates the acne.

I have noticed that, since reading my blogs, people are taking drastic action and throwing away any products which have alcohol printed somewhere in their list of ingredients! So I’m now going to give you some more information…

Good and bad types

Not all types of alcohol are bad. The ones to avoid are those contained in your wine or beer. To prevent people from drinking cosmetic products (yes, really…) a chemical is added to the alcohol in order to make the product taste very unpleasant. This very unpleasant alcohol is called alcohol denat (denatured alcohol) or SD alcohol. Other names you might see in the list of ingredients are ethanol, ethyl alcohol, methanol, benzyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol. If one of these names is shown high up on your products list of ingredients you are better off seeking out a new product!

In some circumstances alcohol is added in order to dissolve an ingredient. Because many active ingredients are added to products in low concentrations the amount of alcohol added to dissolve them is also negligible. In this case you’ll find alcohol is listed in the bottom third of the ingredients and you don’t need to worry too much about it.

There are also types of alcohol which don’t or hardly irritate the skin. These are cetyl alcohol, ceteary alcohol, myristyl alcohol and behenyl alcohol. These “fatty” alcohols just retain moisture in the skin and therefore you don’t need to avoid them.

Good for the manufacturer

Alcohol is used in products to dissolve substances. Alcohol is used in many sun screen filters (especially in high factors) as a solvent. Alcohol is anti-bacterial and therefore lengthens the shelf life of a product. It also prevents foaming, dilutes the product and has a degreasing effect. In toners it makes skin feel fresh and “clean”.

The effect on your skin

Because alcohol evaporates quickly, it can dry your skin out. See what happens when you clean a pane of glass with alcohol and water. It becomes very dry! Alcohol in skincare products also dissolves the natural oil from the surface of the skin. And this natural oil is necessary for preventing the evaporation of moisture and damage to the skin from irritating substances. That also makes alcohol a “penetration enhancer”. Because the barrier functioning is broken down substances can penetrate more deeply into the skin. So you might be thinking “great”, but this also goes for substances which you would maybe rather not have deep in your skin. Think about certain preservatives. Lastly, there is also a very important reason for avoiding the bad types of alcohol in skincare products. Alcohol ensures that the precursors for vitamin A (such as beta- carotene and retinol) are unable to convert themselves into vitamin A acid. Your skin then becomes deficient in these “skin rejuvenators”. This phenomenon also partly explains why alcoholics age more rapidly. Not really logical then to add alcohol to products which contain these ingredients!

alcohol Cheers

Luckily a glass of wine now and then doesn’t do any harm. With anti-oxidants such as resveratrol we regain our beauty. I’m quickly pouring myself a glass….

Have a good weekend all,


(Dr. Jetske Ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)

You can also read the blogs: ‘The Sun and Cosmetics; Not Always a Good Combination‘,
Argan Oil; The New Wonder Drug?’,
Such Dry Skin...’,
The Search for Cosmetics; The Ingredients List’ and
Perfume in (Too Many) Baby Products’.

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