The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on Alcohols in Skin Care
Alcohol is one of the most misunderstood ingredients in skincare. Well I'm here to help you out with the confusion behind alcohol; the good and the bad when it comes to skincare.
For those of us in the plant based, naturally derived world of skincare, many that even see the word “alcohol” gasp. How could that be good for you? You may be prone to leave the alcohol to your wine or margarita because you know your liver can handle it, but to think that it could be good for your skin gives pause.
When people see the dirty word “alcohol” they immediately think of a drying type of alcohol that you’ll most often see listed on an ingredient label as SD alcohol (40), denatured alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, methanol and benzyl alcohol. These types of volatile alcohols found in some toners and some acne products give products a quick-drying finish, immediately degrease skin, and feel weightless on skin, so it’s easy to see their appeal, especially for those with oily skin. They can also be used as a preservative. They have, however, long term negative effects on skin. And we definitely do not use these types of alcohols in any DeVita product or accept raw materials which use these alcohols as incidentals. We feel very strongly that these types of alcohols should be avoided in skin care.
In the world of chemistry, the word alcohol is used to describe (nerding out here) any organic compound in which a hydroxyl group (-OH) is bound to a carbon atom, which in turn is bound to other hydrogen and/or carbon. All I’m trying to say is that there are many types of alcohol – good alcohols and bad alcohols.
Moving towards the light now, there are other types of alcohols, known as fatty alcohols, which are absolutely non-irritating and can be exceptionally beneficial for skin. These are typically derived from natural fats and oils, often from coconut and palm oil (sustainable in our case). Examples you’ll see on ingredient labels include cetyl, stearyl, myristyl alcohol, glycol, C12-16 (I despise ugly INCI names) and cetearyl alcohol. These compounds can be cleanly extracted from vegetable oils in nature. It’s all about sourcing and watching for incidentals in raw materials. That’s our job. These kinds of “alcohols” are good ingredients for dry skin. It’s important to discern these skin-friendly forms of alcohol from the problematic types of alcohol.
On a final note:
Do your homework from a reliable source. Ask yourself, “is this ingredient safe?” and find a company you can trust.
Cherylanne DeVita, Ph.D.