Why is there Alcohol in Skincare?
Alcohol is an ingredient which is most misunderstood. You hear it and your face crumples up. It's so badly hated because it so badly misunderstood.
In scientific terms alcohol is described as a organic compound which is part of the hydroxyl group (-OH) and is attached to a carbon compound which is further attached to other hydrogen and/or other carbon atoms.
So what does this all mean you ask?
Well, it means that there are different types of alcohol which have different roles. Some can be used as an emollient, emulsifier or a preservative.
The texture and feel of the product also changes depending on which type of alcohol is used in the product. One of the main functions of alcohol and one of the main reasons it is used in skincare is that it works as a solvent. It helps non-water soluble ingredients mix smoothly with the other ingredients. Some even act as lubricants.
So, what are the bad alcohols then?
Alcohols such as ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat, and methanol are the ones that you want to avoid. Though they do help other ingredients penetrate into your skin, make your creams feel lighter and act as a preservative. They can cause dryness, irritation and breakouts. So they should be avoided as much as possible.
If the product contains high concentration of these ingredients or these ingredients are at the top of the list in the ingredients listed at the back of the pack then it is a complete No-No. In high doses they damage your skin's protective layer which means that your skin can no longer retain moisture, leading to dryness and stimulating your skin to produce more oil leading to breakouts- if your skin produces too much oil.
Then, are there any good alcohols in skincare?
Yes, they are. Fatty alcohols such as Cetearyl, Stearyl, Cetyl and Behenyl alcohol are your good alcohols. They are derived from natural sources such as vegetables. They also look completely different from the bad alcohols.
They are usually pearly white and wax looking in appearance and help emulsify products i.e. they help oil and water mix well and prevent it from separating.
The best thing about them is that they do not dry your skin at all. In fact they are opposite in nature. They also act as emollients i.e. they helps retain moisture in your skin and protect your skin. These alcohols are the alcohols you want to see on your label ingredients.
So, what's the final take away?
Fatty alcohols are the non-scary alcohol ingredients that really benefit your skin. They help retain moisture but simple alcohols such as ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat, and methanol are drying and damaging for all skin types, especially dry and sensitive skin types. That said if you want to avoid such reactions to your skin be sure to check the ingredients at the back of the product before adding it to your skin routine.
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II DISCLAIMER: Every skin is different, not everything works for everybody. I recommend you test the product before completely using any new product. II