Beauty school: A is for Alcohol

Join our beauty class where we debunk the ingredients in your beauty products.

Alcohol is often top of the list when it comes to the ingredients in your beauty products, but have you ever wondered why?

We asked Dr Dev Patel, cosmetic doctor and medical director of Perfect Skin Solutions, to explain all.

 What is alcohol? 

“An alcohol is an organic compound whose chemical structure contains in part, a hydroxyl group bound to a carbon atom, which in turn is bound to other carbon and/or hydrogen atoms,” says Dr Patel.

But before you confuse the kind you drink with the sort you’d find in your moisturiser, Dr Patel explains: “Alcoholic beverages contain ethanol, which is just one type of alcohol. Although ethanol may be found in some skin products, generally, the alcohols used in skincare are quite different.”

Why is alcohol in skincare and what does it do?

Alcohol-free products are in reality claiming to be ethanol-free, he says.

Alcohol is used in skincare for a number of reasons. Denatured alcohol may be added to enhance skin absorption, enabling key ingredients to get deeper within the skin. It is also added to some acne products for its anti-microbial and astringent properties. Other uses of denatured alcohol include acting as a solvent and controlling viscosity.

Most of the emollients (moisturisers) prescribed to patients of all ages suffering with conditions such as eczema, contain cetostearyl alcohol.

Is alcohol good or bad for your skin?

 Despite its benefits to formulations, denatured alcohol in itself is not great for skin. However, within a good cosmeceutical formulation, it is unlikely to cause any problems, even for most sensitive skins.

“People are often concerned about the potential of alcohol drying or irritating their skin. However, in most preparations in which it is used, this will not happen due to the type of alcohol used, the amount it is used in and the balance of other beneficial ingredients. In fact, certain alcohols are actually added for their moisturising properties,” he says.

“So, one cannot label all alcohols in skincare products as either good or bad.”

Is there anyone who can’t use skincare with alcohol in?

Not necessarily, says Dr Patel.

“There is a lot of hype and indeed there are many studies which seem to contradict one another on the potential impact of alcohols in skincare products.

“For me, I never fuss about the alcohol issue with my patients. I also don’t want to see any ingredients that simply do not need to be there. The products also need to have these key ingredients high up on the list and derived from high quality origins. Lastly, the manufacturer should have been able to provide me with a high standard of clinical evidence on their formulations; not simply on the ingredients they have used”


Share this post:

Receive our editor's picks weekly to your inbox