Most of the beauty advice about alcohol as an ingredient is negative. We say this too, but only when it comes to astringent toners that can strip the skin of all natural oils. The problem with this is, alcohol is a general term in the cosmetic industry. There are different types of alcohols, all with very different properties. So, calling alcohol bad for skin is inaccurate.
Alcohol’s function may be as a solvent (a solvent is a solution which is able to dissolve or thin out a mixture), emulsifier (a solution which allows two different substances to blend together), antiseptic (kills bacteria), buffer (balances pH), stabiliser (prevents separation or unwanted reactions), preservative (minimises bacterial growth or spoilage), penetration enhancer (improves delivery of an ingredient into skin), or fragrance fixative. Alcohol is a versatile ingredient that can perform a range of functions. Here are three kinds of alcohol that you can find in our Athlete Performance skincare range:
1. Simple alcohols
2. Fatty alcohols
3. Aromatic alcohols
Simple alcohols are mostly used as an antiseptic – to give the product antibacterial qualities. Simple alcohols are derived from sugars, starches, and other carbohydrates and are usually water-like in consistency.
Here are some examples:
- Ethanol (also goes by the name ‘Ethyl Alcohol’, used in Rubbing alcohol)
- Isopropyl (also used in Rubbing alcohol)
-Denatured alcohol (also appears as SD alcohol or Alcohol Denat)
The type of alcohol that can dry out skin is SD alcohol or Denatured alcohol (abbreviated to Alcohol Denat). It may also appear as simply ‘alcohol’ on a label. The alcohol in SD alcohol is Ethyl alcohol (Ethanol). It is also found in Rubbing alcohol and is NOT used in any of the products in the Athlete Performance range.
This kind of alcohol (a low molecular weight alcohol) dissolves surface oil but dries out skin (because it evaporates very quickly). When skin is dried out by alcohol, the skin’s protective barrier is weakened, which opens up the skin to all sorts of issues, including the likelihood of more irritation.
Common Fatty Alcohols
Fatty alcohols are the non-drying type. Some fatty alcohols have emollient and occlusive properties, which makes them good for slowing down water loss. Unlike simple alcohols, they tend to have a thick, waxy texture, some are even solid. They are used to give products a smooth, velvety feel, which give products a nicer slip.
Here are some examples:
Behenyl, Caprylic, Cetearyl, Cetyl, Decyl, Lauryl, Myristyl, Isostearyl, Oleyl, Stearyl
Aromatic alcohols perform similar functions to simple alcohols, but have an aromatic fragrance. Aromatic alcohols function as a preservative or as a component of a fragrance or essential oil.
Benzyl alcohol is the most common one, but it can be an irritant if derived from an essential oil. Phenethyl alcohol is another common aromatic oil that is considered safe to use as a humectant and preservative.
So, there you have it! Just because an ingredient has the word ‘alcohol’ in it, doesn’t make it a bad ingredient. You’ll know right away if a product is drying out your skin, simply by trying it.