There are different types of alcohol that have varying properties. Alcohol may function as a solvent where it thins out a mixture or dissolves a substance. It may be used as an emulsifier where it facilitates the blending together of different substances.
It can function as an antiseptic whereby it kills bacteria, as a buffer it balances pH, as a stabilizer it stops undesired reactions, as a preservative it decreases spoilage or bacterial growth, and alcohol as a penetration enhancer enhances the delivery of ingredients into the skin.
Basically, there are 3 kinds of alcohol that are found in skincare: simple alcohols, fatty alcohols, and aromatic alcohols. This is why it is very inaccurate to simply say “alcohol is bad for skin care”.
Use Of Alcohol SkinCare Products
As earlier mentioned, there are three types of alcohol that may be found in skin care products that are available in the cosmetic industry. The following is a clarification of the different types of alcohol found in skin care products and what they are used for:
These are mostly used for their antiseptic properties. They are essentially derived from carbohydrates, starches, and sugars. They can be described as water-like.
Examples of simple alcohols are methanol, ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) and utilized in rubbing alcohol, isopropyl alcohol that is also utilized in rubbing alcohol, and denatured alcohol.
Alcohol denatured or SD alcohol is the type that dries out the skin. This type of alcohol has a low molecular weight and effectively dissolves surface oil and evaporates quickly to dry out the skin.
When alcohol dries out the skin, its protective barrier is compromised and it becomes vulnerable to irritation.
SD alcohol is only safe for skin application if it is applied together with other ingredients. Its quantity and the content of the formula are the main determinants of its safety. Generally, fatty ingredients or emollients make alcohol skin care products have a non-drying effect.
Common Fatty Alcohols
These alcohols are the non-drying type. This is because they have occlusive and emollient properties. They have a texture that is both thick and waxy, with a few being even solid. They are used in skin care products to provide them with a velvety and smooth feel.
Fatty alcohols that are occlusive in nature slow down water loss.
Examples of common fatty alcohols include behenyl alcohol, caprylic alcohol, stearyl alcohol, oleyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, isostearyl alcohol, decyl alcohol, myristyl alcohol, and lauryl alcohol.
These alcohols perform more or less the same function as simple alcohols. The only difference is that they provide skin care products with aromatic fragrance and also function as a preservative. Benzyl alcohol is the most popular aromatic alcohol.
However, it should be noted that it can be a form of irritant if it is derived from an essential oil.
Pros Of Alcohol In SkinCare
There are a number of advantages of using alcohol in skin care products, and the major pros have been listed below.
- Alcohol is a potent solvent with regard to botanical and herbal extracts.
- Alcohol is a quite effective component in the natural preservation system of the human skin.
- Alcohol can be utilized for the purposes of short-term preservation in several DIY projects.
- Alcohol is considered to be less sensitizing in comparison to numerous other natural preservatives, especially when used in the correct percentages and in an appropriate way.
- Alcohol serves to enhance the penetration and absorption of some ingredients found in skin care products.
Alcohol may help in the removal of excessive amounts of sebum, debris, and dirt in a toner or a cleanser, especially if it is in dismal percentages.
Cons Of Alcohol In SkinCare
There are a number of disadvantages of using alcohol in skin care products, and the notable cons include the ones listed below.
- Pharmaceutical grade organic alcohol which is of the highest quality is exorbitant and thus raises the prices if skin care products that contain it as an ingredient.
- Alcohol has an irritating and drying effect on the skin if the skin care products that contain it have its concentration above the range of 20%-25%.
- Alcohol in skin care products has the ability of stripping off the lipid barrier of the skin and this can result in the overproduction of reactive sebum in some types of skin.
- Alcohol is not potent enough to solely take up the role of a preservative in skin care products.
- A high concentration or over-exposure of alcohol within a skin care product can result in undesirable skin sensitization.
- Not all types of alcohol are manufactured the same and therefore not all of them are good for skin care. It is important to know the difference and consequently the use of each.
How Alcohol Damages Skin
There are numerous ways that alcohol damages the skin, including the following:
The types of alcohol that are dangerous to the skin give it a drying as well as an irritating effect. This is because they remove the natural acid mantle of the skin and increase the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Ethanol irritates the skin and is even associated with contact dermatitis.
Disrupt Barrier Function
The natural barrier of the skin is charged with offering it protection against environmental stressors, as well as other destructive elements, and also retains moisture.
Dangerous alcohols disrupt this layer to leave the skin vulnerable to bacteria, allergens, viruses, and irritants.
Ethanol can damage skin cells.
Acne formulations that contain alcohol aggravate the condition due to the dryness and irritation associated with some alcohol ingredients.
Alcohol SkinCare Conclusion
Consumers of cosmetics should stay clear of skincare products that contain alcohol that causes a drying and irritating effect on the skin. These are known as simple alcohols such as SD alcohol and ethanol.
Skin care products that are front-loaded with the forms of alcohol that damage the skin should not be a skin care alternative as they are pro-aging, deplete vital substances required for healthy skin, and adversely affect the protective layer of the skin.
However, there are many types of alcohol that are not damaging to the skin and can be an important ingredient in useful skin care products.