How confused are you about alcohol in your skincare? If you answered VERY, you are definitely not alone. It’s an ingredient that’s easily misunderstood. When people see the word alcohol on a product label, many assume it is not their friend. In some cases, though, it’s there for a reason and a good one at that.
There are many different types of alcohols and each performs a different function. Alcohols can play several roles — solvent, emulsifier, antiseptic, buffer, stabilizer, preservative, penetration tool and even as a fragrance enhancer, just to name a few. And where would our favorite cocktails be without them?
So, let’s break it down. To debunk the negative connotations around this versatile ingredient, we’re bringing you a crash course covering the different types of alcohol and the different varieties that can serve as elements of a complete formulation – not just as a one undiluted ingredient.
Fatty Alcohols: These alcohols include cetyl and cetearyl alcohol. The misconceptions may result from the fact that if too much is present, it might clog pores and result in congested skin. However, in small amounts they are considered especially good for dry skin and just fine for all skin types. These alcohols act as emulsifiers – they help mix water with oils to create creamy formulations (emollients), provide natural moisturizing properties, and thicken product textures.
The Workhorses: SD (Specially Denatured alcohol), Denatured and Isopropyl alcohol are used in formulations primarily because they provide a quick drying finish and make your product feel weightless, less gooey and less sticky. Used alone or in high concentrations they can dry skin and cause skin irritation. But with the correct percentage, as part of a final formulation, they can help increase the penetration of key ingredients such as retinols, vitamins that can translate into more collagen production, and other positive skin benefits.
Preservatives: We believe all skincare products need a preservative to avoid bacterial growth. Grain alcohol A.K.A. Ethanol alcohol (note: this is not meant for drinking) and phenethyl alcohol act as a preservatives that kill microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and viruses while increasing the penetration ability of other skin care ingredients. Ethanol also acts as an astringent to help clean skin.
Conclusion: At certain concentrations, even the alcohols that get a bad rap can be key elements of your skincare regimen, while high concentrations of “good” alcohols can be problematic. This brand has always been about empowering others through education. There is no right or wrong answer – it’s about making the best choice for yourself. Personally, I’m all about moderation and feel that if used correctly, alcohols can make sense as as part of my healthy, wholesome skincare journey.