Alcohol in skincare products: good or bad?

Updated: Jan 10

Alcohol is still widely used in skincare products and it is often not entirely clear whether this is good or bad for our skin. To answer that question, it is important to first understand why they are being incorporated into skincare products so that you can determine for yourself whether you want to buy a product containing alcohol or not. In this blog I will explain which types of alcohol are either good or bad for your skin.

Types of alcohol that you want to avoid The type of alcohol you want to avoid is the alcohol that dries out your skin. Products that contain this type of alcohol have a quick drying effect and defat the skin. These types of products are often aimed at oily skin to balance the oil production, but beware; in the short term it seems like it’s helping your skin, but in the long term it will only cause damage. It dries out the skin and damages the skin barrier, making your skin more susceptible to inflammation and irritation. They are used in skincare products because they allow ingredients to penetrate the skin better, make creams feel lighter, and act as a preservative. When you see the following names at the top of the ingredient list, you can be sure that they will irritate your skin and you should therefore avoid this:

  • SD alcohol or denatured alcohol 

  • Ethyl alcohol

  • Isopropyl alcohol

  • Ethanol

Types of alcohol that are good for you Fortunately, not every alcohol is bad for the skin. There are types of alcohol that hardly irritate the skin and that ensure that moisture remains in your skin; these are the fatty alcohol types. These are often of vegetable origin and are especially good for dry skin, but are also very suitable for all the other skin types. They have a number of additional functions in skincare products; one of them is that they work as an emulsifier. This means that they can bind water and oil together so that, for example, a delicious cream can be made. In addition, they help to keep the product stable so that you can enjoy the product longer. These fatty alcohols are often used in small quantities in skincare products and are therefore often at the bottom of the ingredient list. Some examples are:

  • Cetyl alcohol

  • Cetearyl alcohol

  • Stearyl alcohol

Benzyl alcohol Benzyl alcohol is an aromatic alcohol with a floral fragrance that is found in essential oils such as jasmine, ylang-ylang, and lavender. In skincare products, it is used as a preservative or odor enhancer. It is among the 26 fragrances that must be listed on the ingredient list of a product when they are present in a certain amount (European legislation), because they can have an irritating effect on people who are allergic to it. Benzyl alcohol is safe in small quantities and is one of the least irritating preservatives; it is therefore very popular in natural cosmetics and it is also Ecocert approved. 

Do not be fooled Another well-known function of alcohol is that it helps to make active ingredients such as vitamin A and C penetrate deeper into the skin. It is indeed true that alcohol can ensure that chemicals can be transported deeper into the skin, but it also damages your skin barrier. This is something you absolutely want to avoid, since it does more damage than good.

Be careful! Always scan the ingredient list carefully before you buy a skincare product and check whether it contains alcohol and where it is stated in the ingredient list. Remember that the higher up the list, the more of it is included. Avoid products with a lot of alcohol; that way you will keep your skin looking beautiful and healthy for a long time.

Alcohol in skincare. Alcohol in huidverzorging