Should I Use Products With Alcohol For Skin Care?

Question: Should I Use Products With Alcohol for Skin Care?

Alcohol is listed in the ingredients of many different types of skin care products. But is alcohol good for your skin? Well, there is a great deal of information about alcohol that may seem a bit contradictory. Of course, there are some benefits to using this product, but a few downsides as well. What kind of alcohol and how much is used in each product also affects whether or not you should use it. When all of these factors are added together, you may not need to avoid alcohol completely. You just need to be careful when buying your future products. For a complete guide on the good and bad of alcohol in your skin care products, read on!

The Different Types of Alcohols

You may see the word “alcohol” in the ingredients list of most of the skin care products on the market. But this term is very general. There are actually three different types of alcohol. Each of these has a list of alcohols that fall into their category.

Simple Alcohols

When we talk about the harmful alcohols, this usually refers to the simple alcohols. These are usually derived from carbohydrates like starches and sugars. They can also be synthetic produced, giving them a water-like appearance. These are similar to the alcohols used in the spirits we drink, with a few significant changes. The cosmetic varieties are mixed with denaturing agents, which alter the taste. This deters people from drinking these alcohols. There are a number of alcohols that fall into the simple category. These include:

  • simple alcoholDenatured alcohol
  • Alcohol-denat.
  • Ethanol
  • Methanol
  • SD alcohol
  • Isopropyl alcohol (also called rubbing alcohol)
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Methyl alcohol
  • Polyvinyl alcohol

Sometimes these show up only as alcohol on the ingredients list.

The Good and Bad of Simple Alcohols

Simple alcohols are added to your skin care products for a few reasons. They are solvents, which means they can help the other ingredients mix together. This is particularly important in those that aren’t water soluble. Alcohols are also astringents, so they can help reduce the size of your pores and tighten your skin. Another reason alcohol is used in skin care products is that they can enhance absorption. This is one of the reasons manufacturers use them in moisturizing products. The easier the ingredients can be absorbed, the better the product will work. Alcohol dries fast, which is essential for hair products like hairspray to lock in your style. This ingredient is also great for killing germs on the skin as well as preserving your cosmetics.

The downsides of simple alcohols are that they can irritate the skin. It can also take away too much of the oils on your skin, leaving it unprotected. Alcohol can even cause damage by inducing apoptosis in your skin cells. Apoptosis is a programmed cell death, which is necessary for a healthy turnover. But ethanol, in particular, can increase this process, killing off healthy cells. Alcohol can disrupt your skin’s barrier function as well. This barrier protects your skin from environmental damage. It also locks in your skin’s moisture. Without it, your skin is vulnerable to bacteria, irritants, allergens, and viruses. 

In those with oily skin, the fact that alcohol clears away the excess may seem beneficial. But alcohol clears away too much of the oil, leaving your skin unprotected. And the matte finish you may be pleased with won’t last. Your sebaceous glands will see the dryness as a huge problem. They’ll kick into overdrive, producing way too much oil. In a few hours, you have the same oily skin you had before you applied the alcohol-containing product. Those with acne may also notice an increase rather than a decrease in their blemishes over time. This is because alcohol can dry out your skin, causing irritation. It also strips away the protective barrier, leaving your skin open to bacteria. 

Fatty Alcohols

The second type of alcohols is called fatty or wax alcohols. Fatty alcohols are derived from natural oils and fats. These could include jojoba, palm, and coconut oils. They can also be synthetically derived in a lab. Fatty alcohols are used for completely different reasons than the simple alcohols. This is because of the properties these ones display. The specific alcohols that fall into this category include:

  • fatty alcoholStearyl alcohol
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Cetearyl alcohol
  • Arachidyl alcohol
  • Lanolin and Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol
  • Glycol

These alcohols are usually wax-like in appearance. They also feel thicker than any other type of alcohol.

The Good and Bad of Fatty Alcohols

Fatty alcohols are considered good alcohols for a variety of reasons. These ones are emulsifiers, which means they can help combine water and oils. This is important for those who manufacture creams and lotions. Products like these need to have a smooth, even texture or they won’t work properly. Fatty alcohols are also emollients. This means they are naturally moisturizing for your skin. This is why they show up in the ingredients of hydrating products. These alcohols are also thickeners, which is essential in rich creams. No one will buy a runny cream more than once, so the fatty alcohols are a necessity to keep customers coming back.

All of these features may have people thinking there is no downside to the fatty alcohols. And it is true that they don’t cause damage or irritation to most people. But those with sensitive skin always have to be careful with what they put on their face and body. There is evidence that shows fatty alcohols can cause negative reactions for some. If you are prone to contact dermatitis, you should always do a patch test first. This will help you decide whether any alcohol-based products will be safe for you to use. Watch this Youtube video to learn more!

Aromatic Alcohols

Aromatic alcohols have similar functions to simple alcohols. The difference is that they have a fragrance to them. They usually also have the added function of a preservative. This gives you skin care products a longer shelf-life as well as a pleasing aroma. The most common type of aromatic alcohol is Benzyl alcohol. When derived from an essential oil, this one can cause irritation in some people. They can also cause dryness if there is a high concentration of it in the product it is found in. But generally, these types of alcohols are safe to use for anyone who doesn’t have sensitive skin.

Should You Use Alcohol in Skin Care Products?

The harmful side effects of each of these alcohols may have you thinking you should avoid them. But as with everything in life, you should use them in moderation. High concentrations of simple alcohols can cause irritation and dryness. If your skin is already dry, this is a definite no-no. For those with oily and acne-prone skin, you need to be careful with those ones. They can strip away your natural oils, increasing production. Simple alcohols can also increase acne by leaving your skin unprotected. Those with sensitive skin will have to deal with the redness and irritation as well.

Facial CareAs for the fatty and aromatic oils, they are generally safe for everyone. The exception is those with sensitive skin. These people should always try before they buy. To ensure you aren’t using too much of the harmful alcohols, there is an easy way to do this. All you need to do is check the list of ingredients on the bottle you are considering buying. If the alcohol is listed in the first five ingredients, this means there is a high quantity in that product. This is likely too much for anyone to benefit from. Look for products that list the simple alcohol much lower down the list. This will give you the cleansing benefits without causing any damage.

The same goes for aromatic alcohols. These can cause irritation in those sensitive to fragrances. If you are one of those people, look for a fragrance-free product. Otherwise, a lower concentration shouldn’t do any harm. Fatty alcohols are fine for almost anyone. They can hydrate and moisturize your skin. These alcohols also give the products they are used the proper consistency. This gives these products better coverage on your skin. For those with sensitive skin, always be careful. Everyone else should be able to use these with few negative side effects.

Most importantly, watch the way any product affects your skin. If any type of irritation occurs, get rid of it. You can also speak to your dermatologist to get the right medical advice for your specific skin type.

Alcohol for Skin Care Final Thoughts

Should I use products with alcohol for skin care? This is a question the majority of us have been asking for far too long. And the answer is not as simple as yes or no. High concentrations of harmful alcohols can cause irritation and damage if used repeatedly. But smaller doses can actually benefit your skin. And with all alcohols, it depends on your skin type and sensitivity. Moderation with any type of alcohol is a necessity, so check the ingredients. This will ensure you are only using a limited amount to help rather than hurt your skin. I hope you enjoyed this article on alcohol in skin care. Thanks for reading! If you are looking for more hair care articles check out our hair care buyer’s guides.

About the Author Emma O'Brien

I joined BloomGorgeous in 2014 and have been reviewing for them ever since. It's my passion and joy to help people thrive. I have had my up and down days with my my look and my mindset, it is our goal here to help people get through the rough times a little faster.