Alcohol in skincare

Alcohol in Skincare Products

In chemistry an alcohol is any organic compound with a functional hydroxyl group (-OH), which means that there are thousands of different alcohols, usually named ending on -ol. Many of these are actually beneficial for skin, for example the so-called fatty alcohols such as arachidyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, hexyl decanol, stearyl alcohol, etc.

Alcohol in skincare

The most widely used alcohol in cosmetics is indeed identical to the one in alcoholic beverages – but your skin would be better off with you enjoying a glass of wine now and then rather than using skincare products with a high content of denatured alcohol.

Therefore, the mere presence of the word “alcohol” in an ingredient list of a skincare product should not be a cause for concern on its own. Instead, you should be wary of very specific alcohols. Those include methanol, isopropyl alcohol and benzyl alcohol but the one we want to focus on here is the most commonly used; denatured alcohol  which can also be listed as alcohol denat., SD alcohol (40), ethanol or simply alcohol. This alcohol, which is indeed identical to the intoxicating compound in alcoholic beverages, is widely used in skincare products all around the specter; from creamy moisturizers to fluid toners, high-end to low-budget. In small quantities (meaning that it comes late on the ingredient list) it does not pose a problem, but if it is among the first five ingredients on the ingredient list you should probably avoid the product in question. At the end of this post we have made a list with some of the many many skincare products with a high amount of denatured alcohol.

Harmful Effects of High Contents of Alcohol in Skincare Products

The problem with denatured alcohol is that it is quite harmful for the skin because it breaks down surface layers of the skin and “de-greases” it – which might feel great at first for those with oily skin, but denatured alcohol can actually increase the oil production and thus make matters worse.

Damaging effect of alcohol on skin

Regardless of skin type, alcohol causes severe damage to the protective surface of the skin when applied topically. Image by Katie Tegtmeyer.

For those with dry skin, the damaging effects of beauty products with a high level of denatured alcohol will be more immediate as it is a highly drying and irritating ingredient. Regardless of skin type, ethanol will cause long-term damage to the protective surface of your skin. As described in an article from 2003: “…antiseptic alcohols are capable of dissolving stratum corneum lipids and destroying the barrier. If not rinsed off the alcohol may evaporate and the lipids remain on the skin. Nevertheless, they will not reassume the structure and arrangement they had in the original barrier and will not provide the sealing function” (Journal of Hospital Infection, Vol.55, issue 4, page 241).

Skincare Products With a High Content of Alcohol

In spite of the known detrimental effects of ethanol on skin, manufacturers of all kinds still produce skincare products with a high percentage of it. Denatured alcohol does make a formula feel lighter and less greasy, but there are many undamaging alternatives – although they may not be as dirt-cheap to use as ethanol. Nevertheless, it is also a commonly used ingredient in high-end products; an expensive price tag is unfortunately not a guarantee that a skincare product will only contain ingredients of the highest safety and efficacy. Manufacturers of “natural skincare” will maybe put emphasis of the natural or organic origin of the ethanol they use in skincare products, but the production method does not decrease the skin-damaging characteristics of the ingredient.

Below we have listed some skincare products which currently* include a high content of denatured alcohol, meaning that it is among the first five ingredients on the ingredient list. The list is far from exhaustive or complete (that would involve thousands and thousands of products), but it might give you an idea of just how common it is for manufacturers of all sorts to include a big quantity of denatured alcohol in their beauty products. As this is particularly often the case with sun screen products (especially sprays) and toners, these product groups are listed on their own.

Toners with a high content of alcohol

All Clarifying Lotions from Clinique have a high alcohol content. Cropped image from Vimeo.

Toners and Fluid Lotions

Aesop Bitter Orange Astringent Toner

Caudalie Beauty Elixir, for All Skin Types

Chanel Le Blanc Brightening Moisture Lotion

Clean & Clear Deep Cleaning Astringent, Sensitive Skin

Clinique Acne Solutions Clarifying Lotion

Clinique Clarifying Lotion 1

Clinique Clarifying Lotion 2

Clinique Clarifying Lotion 3

Clinique Clarifying Lotion 4

Dr. Hauschka Clarifying Toner

Dr. Hauschka Facial Toner

Estee Lauder Nutritious Radiant Vitality Energy Lotion

Estee Lauder Perfectly Clean Multi-Action Toning Lotion

Kiehl’s Rare Earth Pore Refining Tonic

Toners with high alcohol content

It may be organically sourced but there is still way too much alcohol in the Kora lavender mist for it to be calming. Image from femaledaily.com.

KORA Organics Calming Lavender Mist

KORA Organics Energising Citrus Mist Revitalise and Uplift

La Prairie Advanced Marine Biology Tonic

L’Oreal Paris HydraFresh Toner

Origins Make A Difference™ Plus+ Rejuvenating Treatment Lotion

Origins Original Skin™ Essence Lotion With Dual Ferment Complex

Origins Plantscription™ Anti-Aging Treatment Lotion

Origins United State Balancing Tonic

Origins Zero Oil Pore Purifying Toner With Saw Palmetto & Mint

Neutrogena Pore Refining Toner

Neutrogena Rapid Clear 2-in-1 Fight & Fade Toner

The Body Shop Pomegranate Invigorating Toner

The Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Toner

Vichy Normaderm 3-in-1 Unclogging Purifying Toner

Sunscreen Products

Clarins Bright Plus HP Brightening Hydrating Day Lotion SPF 20

Sunscreen with high alcohol content

This Clarins day cream with SPF is alcohol-based. Image from BeautylifeSivar.com

Coola Body SPF 15 Unscented Sunscreen Spray

Coola Sport SPF 30 Citrus Mimosa Sunscreen Spray

Coola Sport SPF 30 Pina Colada Sunscreen Spray

Coola Sport SPF 30 Unscented Sunscreen Spray

Coola Sport SPF 50 Fresh Mango Moisturizer

Coola Sport SPF 50 Unscented Sunscreen Spray

Coppertone Sport Spray SPF 15

Coppertone Sport Spray SPF 30

Coppertone Sport Spray SPF 50

Coppertone Tanning Dry Oil Sunscreen Continuous Spray SPF 10

Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration Clear Mist Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 30

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 30 Cooling Water-Lotion Sunscreen

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Cooling Water-Lotion Sunscreen

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 45 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid for Body

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid for Face

Neutrogena  Beach Defense Water + Sun Protection Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Neutrogena  Beach Defense Water + Sun Protection Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 70

Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 50

Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 70

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen SPF 45

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen SPF 70

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen SPF 100

Shiseido Refreshing Sun Protection Spray SPF 16

 

Other (High-end) Products:

Chanel Le Blanc Brightening Moisturizing Cream

Chanel Le Lift Firming Anti-Wrinkle Crème

Chanel Le Lift Firming Anti-Wrinkle Crème Fine

Dior Capture Totale Dreamskin

Estee Lauder Clear Difference Targeted Blemish Treatment

La Mer The Lifting Intensifier

La Mer The Radiant Infusion

Lancome Énergie De Vie Liquid Care Moisturizer

La Prairie Cellular Serum Platinum Rare

MD Formulations Glycare Lotion

Yves Saint Laurent Forever Light Creator Skintone Corrector Serum

*Ingredient lists found on official brand websites, if available – or on other pages which sell the products such as: sephora.com, walmarts.com, drugstore.com and ulta.com.

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