Some Truths About Alcohol That Surprise You In Your Skin-Care Products
Despite the fact that it can be extremely beneficial, alcohol has become an extremely unpopular skin-care ingredient. Some of that reputation stems from people still being traumatized by whatever pungent, stinging toner they used in middle school. But, sadly, much of it is outright misinformation.
So, before you go scouring the ingredients list of a product for a single mention of alcohol to decide whether or not to buy it, there are a couple of things you should know.
Top 5 truths about alcohol that surprise you as your skin care product
- Surprise! Not all alcohol causes your face to sting and burn.
Alcohols range from the fun part of wine to rubbing alcohol to retinol and beyond. All alcohols share that hydroxyl group, but their structures—with different molecular weights—determine how each type of alcohol interacts with your skin and other ingredients in a skin-care product.
- Most commonly, alcohol is used to make products easier to apply and absorb.
Alcohols are commonly used in cosmetics as either solvents or emulsifiers. And which one is which is determined largely by molecular weight. Alcohols with low molecular weights, such as isopropyl alcohol and ethanol (often listed on ingredient lists as SD alcohol or denatured alcohol/alcohol-denat. ). Act as solvents, encouraging ingredients that don’t want to dissolve in water to do so. They are the most common liquids that evaporate quickly.
That is why lower-molecular-weight alcohols are so effective at achieving a specific product texture.
- Some types of alcohol can actually moisturize the skin.
High-molecular-weight, or “fatty,” alcohols like cetyl, stearyl, and Cetearyl alcohol not only keep oil-and-water emulsions from separating but also add emollience to the final product, making the skin’s outer layer feel smoother and softer. These alcohols are typically derived from fatty acids found in plant and/or vegetable oils, hence the term fatty alcohols. They’re the type thick, waxy, and often totally solid at the temperature of the room.
When it comes to how they feel on your skin, fatty alcohols—cetyl, stearyl, Cetearyl, and behenyl—have the opposite effect as low molecular weight alcohols. They impart a thick, luxurious feel to a product, as well as a heavy texture.
- However, using too much alcohol in skin care products can undoubtedly irritate the skin.
According to best cosmetic products manufacturers, using too much of either type of alcohol can have some negative consequences. Solvent-type alcohols are excellent at increasing water solubility and rapidly evaporating, but they can carry some of the water in your skin with them. The increased skin penetration benefits active ingredients but not potential irritants such as heavy fragrances and essential oils.
- How to find the best type of alcohol that suit your skin:
The bottom line is that different alcohols have a strong influence on the texture and feel of a product. Which, in turn, influences how it interacts with your skin. But keep in mind that cosmetic formulas are often more than the sum of their ingredients. The presence of one type of alcohol on an ingredient list tells you very little about the product as a whole. It all comes down to how much alcohol is in a product. How you use it, and whether or not it is suitable for your skin type.
So, I suppose the answer to the big existential question about alcohol in skin care is, “It’s complicated,” but it’s also not! Every type of alcohol can be beneficial in the right product and at the right concentration.