There is Alcohol in my Skincare. Help!


Alcohol in your mojito, yes. Alcohol in skincare, say what?!

Alcohol is probably the most misunderstood ingredient in skincare. We’ve seen it one too many times when someone picks up a product that is labelled “alcohol-free” and is left baffled when they see “cetearyl alcohol” right there in the ingredients list. As it turns out, there are different types of alcohol used in skincare. Some we should avoid at all cost and some that are actually beneficial for the skin. Yes, you saw that correctly, beneficial!

Let’s start with the bad..

The Bad Alcohol in Skincare

The alcohols which belong in the no-nos are ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denatured and menthol. These are what you call evaporative solvent alcohols. Some of the reasons why they get added into skincare is to improve skin feel, boost preservation and help ingredients like retinol and vitamin C to penetrate better. They can make even the heaviest, thickest cream feel super light and non-sticky/oily. However, the reason why the is better penetration of ingredients is because the evaporative alcohol is breaking down the skin barrier. So, you see, the negative impact outweighs the short term, or perceived, benefits.

The break down of the skin barrier means increase in transepidermal water loss which then leads to dryness, irritation and breakouts. Look, these volatile alcohols are better off as disinfectants for your kitchen table.

The Good Alcohol in Skincare

Nope, not the ones you find at the bar (although those are also not good for your skin). We’re referring to fatty alcohols which are derived from vegetables and behave very differently to the bad alcohol. Cetearyl, stearyl, cetyl and behenyl alcohol are some of the most common beneficial alcohols that you’ll see in an ingredient list. In formulas, these ingredients act as emollients to protect, heal and sooth dry skin, and as an emulsifier to help with the stability of the formula. Completely safe and nontoxic to use on skin and hair.

We can hear you asking… Then why are they called alcohols if they’re good?? Well, if you concentrated in chemistry in school… Jokes! In chemistry, alcohol refers to a group of chemicals with a specific chemical structure. An organic compound which contains a hydroxyl group are all considered alcohols and so fatty acids, since they have a hydroxyl group, are also considered alcohols. Science tingz.

The Final Take Home Message

Volatile alcohols = no, drying and can be damaging to all skin types
Fatty alcohols = yes *huge smile* your skin will be singing hallelujah

If you’re unsure whether the alcohol in your product is volatile or fatty then it’s best to get some clarification from Mr. Google or you’re more than welcome to reach out to us and we’ll help you identify which ones are good and bad for your skin.

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