The presence of alcohol in skincare or makeup products can be devastating to your skin. We’re referring to a drying type of alcohol that you’ll most often see listed on an ingredient label as SD alcohol, denatured alcohol, or, less often, isopropyl alcohol. These types of volatile alcohols 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. These short term benefits end up with negative long term consequences. The research (and we mean a lot of research) makes it perfectly clear: alcohol as a main ingredient in any skincare product is a problem. But first we need to clarify what kind of alcohol we want you to avoid.
Bad vs. Good Alcohol in Cosmetic Formulas
When you see SD alcohol, denatured alcohol or isopropyl alcohol listed among the first six ingredients on an ingredient label, without question they will aggravate and be cruel to skin. No way around that, it’s simply bad for all skin types. Consequences include dryness, erosion of the surface of skin (that’s really bad for skin), and a strain on how skin replenishes, renews, and rejuvenates itself. Alcohol just weakens everything about skin.
There are other types of alcohols, known as fatty alcohols, which are absolutely non-irritating and can be exceptionally beneficial for skin. Examples you’ll see on ingredient labels include cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl alcohol. All of these are good ingredients for dry skin, and in small amounts fine for any skin type as they give a pleasing texture and help keep ingredients stable in products. It’s important to discern these skin-friendly forms of alcohol from the problematic types of alcohol.
You may have heard that alcohol is a good ingredient because it helps other ingredients like retinol and vitamin C absorb into skin more effectively. Although it’s true that it does enhance absorption of ingredients, the alcohol also destroys skin’s surface and the very substances that keep your skin healthy over the long term.
How Alcohol Damages Skin and Makes Breakouts Worse
If your skin is oily, it can be tempting to use alcohol-based products because they provide an immediate matte finish, essentially de-greasing the "oil slick." The irony of using alcohol-based products to control oily skin is that the damage from alcohol can lead to an increase in bumps and enlarged pores.
Bad types of alcohol harm your skin’s protective surface, depletes vital substances needed for healthy skin, and makes oily skin worse. It’s also pro-aging. Best advice - when it comes to skin care products...be a label reader!