Let’s talk about Alcohol in Skincare
Are they good? Are they bad? Should I avoid them?
As it turns out, not all alcohols are created equal when it comes to skincare. It can be hard to know which ones to avoid versus which ones are okay for the skin. Simple alcohols are generally best avoided, some alcohols (particularly fatty alcohols) are actually beneficial for the skin. One of our favorite products with simple alcohols is the Circadia Spot Stop.
Before we rule out the bad alcohols, let's understand how to differentiate the bad from the good. "Fatty alcohol, which is derived from coconut or palm oil, is sometimes used to thicken a formulation and can be nourishing for the skin," says Maryam Zamani, MD. "Ethanol is a well-known topical penetration enhancer, which means it can be used to increase the transdermal delivery of certain ingredients into the skin." These come by way of names like cetyl (product thickener), stearyl (an emollient to trap moisture in skin), cetearyl alcohol (an emulsifier), and propylene glycol (a humectant to attract water into the skin)
Rouleau says that evaporative solvent alcohols like SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol (also known as simple alcohols) all have a dehydrating effect to the skin and are often used in toners and gel moisturizers.
You might be wondering...if Alcohol is dehydrating for our skin, why do brands use simple alcohol in their skincare products? Rouleau says they give a tight, cooling, and "refreshing sensation" that oily-skinned gals might find reassuring, despite the fact that they're stripping away the skin's natural oils and damaging the skin barrier. We have all been there, enticed by a product because of that amazing cooling effect it gave our skin. Oops.
Zamani adds that they also act as a vehicle to help dissolve ingredients that aren't water-soluble, as well as drive ingredients deeper into the skin. The large-scale impact largely outweighs any short-term benefit (or perceived benefit), though. "In the long run, they can enlarge pores and increase greasiness, so avoid products containing any type of alcohol if you have an oily skin type or acne-prone skin," she explains.
"Ethanol in toners can also be quite drying for sensitive skin types, so watch out for that, too. The higher the alcohol is on the ingredients list, the higher the concentration and the stronger it will be on the skin."
Fatty alcohols aren't scary and are actually beneficial in skincare to help draw in and hold moisture, but simple alcohols are drying and damaging for most skin types, especially those with dry, sensitive skin, or rosacea. That said, if you want to avoid adverse reactions, be sure to double-check the ingredients label before adding a new product to your skincare routine.
Sometimes bad alcohols aren't so terrible. "They are acceptable when used in spot treatments since the goal is to dry up the infection, and alcohol can do that,".
Try the Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment Mask: