Alcohol formula

Do your skincare products contain “good” or “bad” alcohol? Experts explain

HONG KONG – Many skincare products use “free” lists to demonstrate their commitment to skin safety and environmental awareness. Free of sulfates, parabens, mineral oils, artificial colors, fragrances – the list goes on and on.

One of the most controversial items on “free” lists is alcohol, which has become an unpopular ingredient in recent years as many brands abuse it. Although alcohol can damage the skin, not all alcohols are created – or work – equally. This is where the answer to “Should I avoid alcohol at all costs?” gets a little tricky.

There are certain alcohols you should avoid and others you should embrace. The main thing is to know how to differentiate them.

“When it comes to cosmetics, we separate alcohol into two categories: simple alcohols and fatty alcohols,” explains Ms. Rachaelle Rempe, founder of skincare brand Auraiha. She points out that although there are no “good” and “bad” alcohols per se, they can be used to achieve different results.


These are the ones that should raise a red flag if you spot them on an ingredient list. Simple alcohols – also called volatile alcohols – are deeply dehydrating. Dehydration can trigger a domino effect on your skin that can lead to itching, sensitivity, dullness, excess oil production, fine lines, wrinkles and more.

If they pose such a threat to the health of your skin, why do some brands still use them? Simple alcohols such as ethyl alcohol, methanol, ethanol, denatured alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol and benzyl alcohol are mainly used as antibacterials or as solvents which will improve the texture of ‘a formula.

There are many skincare lines for oily or acne-prone skin that use alcohol as an astringent, able to absorb excess oil and provide a cooling and firming sensation, a sign that the product is doing its job. .

However, what this feeling really tells you is that the product has removed all the natural oils from your skin, both the excess you wanted to get rid of and the ones your skin needs to stay healthy. which can end up damaging your skin barrier. .

Simple alcohols can make a product’s texture lighter, help other ingredients in the formula penetrate the skin better, and act as preservatives. While all of these features sound great, the real issues come after long-term use.

“Many skincare brands incorporate simple alcohols — like the kind we drink — as astringents for toners, which benefits people with oily skin,” Rempe says. “…Although these may produce short-term results, studies indicate that simple alcohols have a negative impact on your skin in the long term – they irritate your skin and interfere with its ability to renew itself.”

Using these products as part of your daily routine can increase the amount of oil your skin produces naturally to compensate for dryness caused by alcohol and worsen conditions such as eczema and rosacea by exacerbating inflammation. .


On the other end of the spectrum, we have a group of alcohols that are exceptionally beneficial for your skin. Fatty alcohols are compounds derived from certain natural waxes, plants and unrefined grains that act as emulsifiers and emollients in certain products.

“These [alcohols] lend themselves to a lubricating, hydrating feel and give body to any skincare product,” says Christin Powell, CEO and co-founder of skincare brand Kinship, so if you find things like cetyl, behenyl, stearyl or cetearyl alcohol on a product’s ingredient list, there is nothing to worry about. “They help stabilize actives like salicylic acid, zinc oxide and hyaluronic acid, and prevent moisture loss from the skin.”

The non-irritating nature of fatty acids makes it the perfect agent to not only blend oil and water-based ingredients, but also to help produce a creamier, thicker texture that will feel luxurious on your skin. .

Plus, the emollient powers of fatty acids help flatten the cells in your skin’s outer layer, improving its texture and making it smoother and softer to the touch.

These non-irritating fatty alcohols can provide multiple benefits for all skin types, but even more so for those looking for extra hydration. “Fatty alcohols come from fatty acids, which are present in oils,” says Rempe. “These create a moisturizing effect and help thicken lotions and creams. [They] benefit our skin in the short and long term, especially for consumers prone to dry skin.


Ultimately, it comes down to how and why these alcohols are there. When using spot treatments or treating an infected wound, simple alcohols are not bad as long as they are not used long term. If a product you use regularly includes a simple alcohol in its formulation and is among the first six ingredients, it is better to stay away from it.

As for fatty alcohols, these are the misunderstood superheroes you want in your routine.

“Fatty alcohols are great…but when denatured, alcohol can have a drying and astringent effect on the skin,” says Powell. “Kinship does not use denatured alcohol in its formulas due to its inability to effectively protect the skin barrier.”

Knowing how these alcohols work is essential to being able to judge a product before deciding if you want to use it, as they can either disrupt or enhance your routine. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST