A skin-loving toner, cleanser or even mattifying lotion will never make your skin feel dry or tight. If you have had such an experience, chances are your product has unhealthy amounts of alcohol in it. Having said that, we do not want you running for the hills, label checking all your products and singling out any ‘alcohol’...because in reality - alcohol in skincare is more complicated than an anecdote or ‘tip’. For instance, did you know that there are ‘good’ alcohols out there?
- What’s the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ alcohol in skincare?
- Uses of alcohol in skincare, and side effects
What’s the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ alcohol in skincare?
Yes, there are the good kinds of alcohol present in skincare, the most commonly used ones are fatty alcohols that are derived from coconut or palm oil. You can locate them on your product label as:
- Cetyl alcohol, which is used as a product thickener Stearyl alcohol, which functions as an emollient and actually nourishes your skin by trapping moisture in your skin
- Cetearyl alcohol, a combination of cetyl and stearyl alcohol and used as an emulsifier (mixes water with the product)
- Propylene glycol, which behaves like a humectant and is capable of attracting moisture from the air and delivering it to your skin
- Vitamins A1 (retinol) and E, both of which are actually alcohol.
These above-mentioned variants of alcohol are actually acceptable in skincare. It is the simple alcohols that raise cause for concern - SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol are evaporative solvents that srtip your face of natural oils.
So, if the distinction between the two types of alcohol is so clear, why are the ‘bad’ ones added in your skincare staples?
Uses of alcohol in skincare, and side effects
Simple, dehydrating alcohols are used in skincare for a sole purpose - they help get the product absorbed easily, mattify oily skin and feel ‘fresh’. They are also a strong agent to dissolve oil and dirt build up on your skin, making alcohol infused toners and astringents a go-to product for degreasing skin.
While the immediate benefits of alcohol in skincare are undeniable, the ingredient can affect your skin. And that goes for both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ alcohols as too much of any can overly sensitise your skin. You might also start to notice enlarged pores, redness of skin, and excessive oil production. This happens because your skin tries to constantly recover from being stripped of natural oils so suddenly, leading to weakening of barrier health and much more pressing issues later on. Not to mention, they are a big no-no for sensitive skin types.
So, is it best to avoid alcohol in skincare altogether? That largely depends on what kind of skincare you are building. If you are replacing ‘good’ alcohols with other ingredients that offer the same benefits, then it is fine. Also, if your ‘good’ alcohols are way down the ingredient list, that means they are used in lesser concentration as the other nourishing ingredients. So, there again, you are golden. As for ‘bad’ alcohols, it might be in everyone’s interest to avoid them totally.