Every passing year, beauty brands are more transparent about what they use in their products. This is largely because society as a whole is a lot more educated now and wants to know what is put in the products that they use daily.
One of the prime ingredients that consumers avoid when shopping for skin care products is alcohol — and no, not the drinking or rubbing alcohol you are thinking of. Alcohols are typically used in skin care products as a foaming agent, to reduce oily finishes and provide a light-weight feel.
The thing is, it’s a disservice to say that alcohols are to be avoided at all costs. The reality is that there are different types, and some are better for your skin than others.
Most brands that carry “alcohol-free” products, will still have products that contain “good” fatty alcohols. For example, Erno Laszlo soaps and beauty products are famous for their balance of natural ingredients. Their toners are alcohol-free, but their soaps are packed with good, fatty alcohols.
Before investing in your next skin care product, consider the spectrum of ingredients that are considered “alcohols.”
What Are Alcohols:
The FDA describes the alcohols found in skin care products as “a large and diverse family of chemicals, with different names and a variety of effects on the skin.” These chemicals are compounds that belong to a hydroxyl group, which is defined as OH.
Types: The Good & The Bad
The reality is that not all alcohols in skin care products are bad. Learn more about the different types of alcohols so you have a better idea of the specific strains you want to avoid, and welcome into your skin care routine:
Bad: ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat & methanol
Bad alcohols are those that are created using petroleum-based ingredients — these are known as simple or denatured alcohols. They are listed in ingredient lists as “alcohol denat.”
Why They’re Used: To improve the preservation, penetrability and lightness of a product. They are most commonly found in gel based moisturizers and toners.
The Effects: These types of alcohols break down the protective layer of your skin, and cause dryness and irritation. Although they are light-weight and can have positive short-term effects for oily, acne-prone skin, they can have long term negative effects. They strip and dry your skin, making it harder to maintain elasticity and moisture — which can result in wrinkles.
Good: Cetearyl, Stearyl, Cetyl and Behenyl alcohol
These are fatty alcohols that come from vegetables and look totally different from other alcoholic properties. They appear as solid, white pieces of wax.
Why They Are Used: To and hold products together. They prevent water and oil-based ingredients from separating, which is why, for example, you’d find these ingredients in products like soap.
The Effects: Instead of drying out your skin, these fatty properties act as emollients. This means that they keep moisture in by creating a protective layer on your skin.
The Verdict: Alcohol in Skin Care
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to alcohol in your skin care products. What’s important, however, is understanding the alcohol in your products. Be aware of why these agents are there, and the impacts they have. The rest of the decision is up to you: