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Alcohol & your skin

N o, this article is not about the effect of alcohol consumption on your skin, although that is considered as one of the risk factors of accelerated ageing. Rather we have gathered together some good-to-know information around the topical application of alcohols - namely what you should avoid, and things to consider when choosing a product with alcohol content.
Let's start with the basics: Your skin needs moisture - that's the opposite of alcohol.
Damaging alcohols (that are simple and aromatic) are certainly ingredients to avoid. But there are also some alcohols that are beneficial to your skin (fatty alcohols). This makes alcohol one of the most confusing ingredients in skincare, often misunderstood.

Damaging alcohols

Simple alcohols as Ethanol or Propanol are used in skincare for their antibacterial properties. Many products contain ethanol, like body wash, exfoliators, eye creams, face serums, etc. Ethanol will often be listed as SD alcohol or alcohol denat.

Aromatic alcohols like Benzyl alcohol is used as fragrance in skincare products and it also has preservative qualities.

What alcohol can do is strip away natural oils that our body produces (also called sebum) and give us a shine-free look for the day. To many oily skin types, this sounds like a great option because it feels weightless and seems simple. But the shocking truth is that using alcohol to remove natural and necessary oil is a bad idea. It is needed for our skin’s health and protection. Alcohol is a quick fix that should be avoided at all costs.

Furthermore, it breaks the skin’s natural protection barrier and allows for dirt and toxins to enter the skin. It can cause inflammation, enlarged pores and it can cause acne. 

Beneficial alcohols

Fatty alcohols have a completely different chemical make-up to simple alcohols, and they do not irritate the skin.

These will usually be found in waxy substances and can be listed as the following examples: cetyl, stearyl, or cetearyl alcohol. All of these are good ingredients for dry skin, and in small amounts fine for any skin type. They have emollient and occlusive characteristics.

It’s important to differentiate these beneficial forms of alcohol from the problematic types of alcohol.

Many 'alcohol-free' products may contain alcohol. Always double check the label!

Many products nowadays have “alcohol-free” written on the packaging to let consumers know that there is no alcohol in the ingredients. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If you do not make yourself aware of these terms for alcohol you could still be unknowingly damaging your skin.

Sticking to evidence based and scientifically backed products are a safer bet. In the end, checking labels and arming your skincare regime with personal research and knowledge is the safest way to getting healthy, glowing looking skin.

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