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Is Alcohol in Skin Care Bad?

Alcohol in Skin Care: When Should You Avoid It, and When Is It Beneficial?

Photographer: Maria del RioProduct Credit: American Apparel BodysuitRestrictions: Editorial and internal use only. No advertising, no print.

With the rise of disruptive beauty brands on the market like Deciem, we're all getting to know a little bit more about the ingredients that go into our favourite skincare products. Being ingredient-savvy means knowing what we do and don't like when it comes to skincare products, and one of the ingredients that often sets alarm bells ringing is alcohol. But what if not all alcohol in skin care was bad? We spoke to Consultant Dermatologist Dr. Sharon Crichlow to find out once and for all which alcohols you should stay away from and which are perfectly fine to see on the labels of your favourite moisturiser.

When is alcohol bad in skin care?

Dr. Crichlow says that alcohol being harmful in skin care all depends on the type of alcohol used and the purpose for which it is being used. She explains that "in general, simple alcohols and aromatic alcohols act as solvents and dissolve the protective lipids, reinforcing the stratum corneum (the outer layer) of the skin. This dehydrates and damages the skin, inducing an irritant dermatitis. This damage to the protective barrier of the skin also allows easier penetration of other harmful ingredients from cosmetic products into the skin, which can worsen the dermatitis." These types of alcohol can appeal to those with oily skin, as they provide an instant non-greasy and mattifying finish. However, beware that they can worsen the problem long term, as this drying can cause the skin's oil production to increase. Not ideal.

Which ingredients listed with alcohol will not harm the skin?

Unlike simple alcohols, Dr. Crichlow says that fatty alcohols and esters of alcohol can help the skin. These are used to thicken creams and ointments and act as emollients, helping the skin to retain its moisture. When used in the appropriate formulations at the right concentrations, these products will not harm the skin in the vast majority of people. They can, however, still clog pores to produce acne, and they are still capable of causing allergic contact dermatitis in a small proportion of more susceptible individuals.

So what do we look out for on labels?

Ones to avoid or use with care:

  • Ethanol
  • Propanol
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Methanol
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • SD alcohol
  • Benzyl alcohol

Ones that can be beneficial to the skin:

  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Stearyl or isostearyl alcohol
  • Cetearyl alcohol
  • Lauryl alcohol
  • Isopropyl myristate
  • Isopropyl palmitate
  • Glyceryl stearate
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Maria del Rio
Product Credit: American Apparel Bodysuit
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