FAQs – Alcohol

After yesterday’s post, alcohol was the most-requested topic in the comments…

As you would expect, there are mixed views throughout the industry (and it may well be clear as mud after this post).

Similar to yesterday’s ‘toxic’ conversation, alcohol can also be discussed in terms of dosage.

Alcohol used in cosmetics can be separated into 3 groups:
Simple, Fatty and Aromatic (used in fragrances).

Fatty alcohols are used as emollients. They’re thick, wax-like and non-drying. This group includes the most commonly used cetyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol. This type is used as a thickening agent and helps give products their slip. I think it is unfair to accuse this group of ‘cell death’.

Aromatic alcohol – benzyl alcohol, in skincare, is found in the fragrances and outside of that –  head lice treatments (eew). It can be an irritant for some, not for others. It is not used in high %s in products and is usually one of the last ingredients listed on the inci list.

Simple alcohol is where the problem lies, and probably where every other alcohol gets its bad name. Used under names such as isopropyl alcohol and denatured alcohol (alcohol denat or SD alcohol) – this used in its strongest form, can be incredibly drying.
Think of the strongest astringent toners aimed at acnaic skins – they are what you don’t want on your skin. This type is also used heavily in hand sanitizers, that’s why they can be so drying and why I am always asked for hand creams recommendations from people working in places like hospitals.
However, some of the exfoliating toners that I use do contain alcohol and used sporadically, my skin has no issue with it.

In short, not all alcohols are created the same. Keep an eye out for astringents, and don’t be overly concerned with the fatty alcohols you generally see listed in face creams and cleansers.
Just bear in mind, if it’s the first thing on the ingredient list it’s probably nail polish remover!