From toners to moisturisers to face masks, most skincare products contain some percentage of alcohol. However, the truth is not all alcohols in skincare formulations are a red flag – there are both good and bad types and the latter are often present for a good reason. Here’s a quick crash course on alcohols in your skincare:
Volatile Alcohols: The Bad Guys
Volatile alcohols a.k.a simple alcohols, are the kinds we’d strongly advise you to watch out for in your skincare products. Some examples of these alcohols include isopropyl alcohol and SD alcohol. They essentially give the skin a quick-drying finish, leaving no trace of grease or oiliness.
If you have oily skin, you’d probably be drawn to using products containing these types of alcohols, since they would have the effect of mattifying your skin. However, while they offer short-term benefits (more like perceived benefits), these types of alcohols come with serious long-term consequences, including dryness, breakouts, bumps, and erosion of the skin over time.
“Volatile alcohols come with short-term benefits but long-term consequences like dryness, breakouts and a damaged skin barrier.”
Fatty Alcohols: The Good Guys
That being said, there is a class of alcohols that can be exceptionally beneficial for your skin. We’re talking about fatty alcohols—alcohols derived from fatty acids of plant sources. Some examples include Cetearyl Alcohol and Butylene Glycol.
Products containing fatty alcohols are non-irritating, often feel thick and luxurious, and they have the effect of smoothening the surface of your skin. Fatty alcohols should definitely be on your radar if you have dry skin in particular because they act as an emollient, a.k.a they keep your skin hydrated by locking in moisture.
“Fatty alcohols are super beneficial if you have dry skin because they act as an emollient, a.k.a they keep your skin hydrated by locking in moisture.”
Other Roles Alcohols Play in Skincare
We’ve established that good alcohols in skincare do exist and they are actually beneficial for your skin. But they also play another pivotal role: they keep the formulation stable and enable the actives ingredients to better absorb into your skin. On top of that, alcohols act as an effective preservative, which prevents bacteria from easily contaminating your skincare products, prolonging their shelf life.
Long story short, you shouldn’t shun alcohols from your skincare completely because good alcohols do exist and you need them. It’s all about differentiating between the goods and the bad, so make sure to always skim through the ingredients list on your skincare products to double-check before purchasing!