Death To Alcohol in Skin Care

Skin drying, dehydrating topical alcohol that is.

If you haven’t heard by now, drinking alcohol dehydrates your skin reducing its puffiness and making it look dull while speeding up the aging process. Knowing this, I am constantly amazed at how much alcohol is found in skin care products from lotions to face cleansers, body washes, eye serums, anti-aging creams, face masks, and exfoliators. On average, a person might apply alcohol to their face 3-5 times a day depending on how much they wash or apply products. That’s five times a day that a person is drying out their skin with topical alcohol and speeding up the inevitable wrinkling.

Using alcohol-based skin care products is primarily an American phenomenon. In comparison, Europeans and other regions of the world have traditionally used organic oils and butters to moisturize their skin. The Dermatology Review notes that Europeans follow the premise of staying natural with their ingredients and using the bare minimum. French and Italian women are famous for looking beautiful and younger longer than Americans due to their love of facial oils and their intolerance to alcohol in skin care products.

The Science Behind Alcohol for Skin

If so many products on the market have alcohol as a primary ingredient in them, they can’t be that bad for our skin, right? Wrong. Let’s take a quick look at the facts:

  • Using alcohol-based products breaks down the skin’s natural defense against the elements, notes a study published by Science Direct in May 2012. Alcohol is used by the skin care industry to help ingredients penetrate the skin at a faster rate.

  • Removing the skin’s natural anti-bacterial layers with cleansing agents and antiseptic alcohol facilitates the growth of infection in dry, cracked skin while jeopardizing the skin’s overall health, says another study the National Institutes of Health in 2003. If the skin cannot self-regulate, it opens the doors for bacteria, microbes, fungi, and UVB/UVA rays to make a home in skin.

  • Surfactants and alcohol contribute to the problem of acne instead of preventing outbreaks while additionally causing dryness and irritation, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health in 2011.

  • Ethanol causes the death of skin cells and reduces their ability to protect against inflammation and defend against free radicals, reports Science Direct April 2002. Healthy skin needs cells to regenerate and maintain elasticity. When cells break down, sagging and wrinkles appear.

  • “Glycerin draws moisture from the lower layers of the skin and holds it on the surface, drying the skin from the inside out,according to U.S. Library of Medicine’s Toxicity Data Network. Some skin care ingredients are designed to keep moisture at the skin’s surface, yet at the expense of the skin organ in its entirety.


The Power of Marketing in the Skin Care Industry

The larger implication for the skin care industry is that the use of alcohol has changed our perception of how products should feel on our skin and how our skin should feel on a daily basis. Our skin naturally produces sebum, what we know as oil, to self-regulate its health. Alcohol, in essence, strips away the natural oil on our skin. Our pores thus freak out and over-produce more sebum. For dry skin types, taking away the natural oil makes skin painfully raw and irritated. In lotions, it produces a quick drying effect which consumers have become accustomed to. Skin feels squeaky and some products can leave a thin film or even dry out the top layer after a few minutes. The squeaky feeling from bar soap is also what we perceive as what clean should feel like. Instead, dead skin cells need to be exfoliated and rinsed off followed by deep moisturizing to retain the skin’s plump softness.

Alcohol for Oily and Acne-Prone Skin

For oily skin types, alcohol will kill acne-causing bacteria on the surface of the skin in extremely high doses. It is quick-drying and de-greases oil for an instantaneous effect. However, the alcohol dries out skin from underneath and causes the sebaceous glands to over-produce sebum furthermore making skin breakout more. It also irritates skin on a whole new level. There are alternative forms of acne-prevention ingredients to alcohol. Most notably, organic Tea Tree oil (Melaluca) can do the same thing. One study found that tea tree oil worked as well as 5% benzoyl peroxide in controlling the symptoms of acne. Due to its concentration, pure organic tea tree oil should not be used directly on skin and needs a carrier oil to disperse safely on skin. (Verità Skin Therapy – Acne & Rosacea Fighter)

Types of Alcohol in Skin Care to Avoid:

  • Ethanol – EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database defines this ingredient as “Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is considered broadly toxic and linked to birth defects following excessive oral ingestion,” although it poses lower health risks than drinking alcoholic beverages. It is used an anti-foaming, anti-microbial agent, and an astringent.


    • Alcohol Denat., SD Alcohol 3-A, SD Alcohol 30, SD Alcohol 39, SD Alcohol 39-B, SD Alcohol 39-C, SD Alcohol 40, SD Alcohol 40-B, SD Alcohol 40-C or just plain alcohol

  • Glycerin (also called glycerol) – While organic skin care brands have been turning to this vegetable source as opposed to an animal fat to strip sweat and dirt away, it is actually naturally occurring alcohol compound. It will make skin feel squeaky and dried out.


  • Extracts – A fruit, plant, or flower extract is most commonly infused in alcohol. However, it is not required to add the word alcohol to the ingredient label. While an extract can offer the vitamins and nutrients from the plant or flower, it needs the alcohol to penetrate into the skin. An alternative is an extract infused with apple cider vinegar or white hazel (alcohol-free), oil infusions, and essential oils.

    • Examples: Tamarindus Indica (Tamarind Extract), Camellia sinensis (White Tea Extract), Punica granatum (Pomegranate Extract),Gingo Biloba leaf Extract,Olea europaea (Olive leaf Extract), Aspalathus linearis (Rooibos) Leaf Extract , Camellia sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract

  • Benzyl Alcohol – this is a synthetic ingredient that acts as a preservative or solvent. Nonetheless, it needs to be added in high doses for it to work as an effective preservative, which may cause over-exposure to the negative effects of alcohol.


What are Fatty Alcohols?

Not all alcohols are bad, which may surprise you after everything you have just read. There are fatty alcohols that will not dry skin out. The chemical composition of these alcohols is different and they are usually known as waxy solids. Either way, oils and butter have deep moisturizing properties and are a wonderful alternative to lotions and creams that contain waxes with contain synthetic agents that dry quickly.

Fatty alcohols may still cause irritation to sensitive skin and can be comedogenic, or clogs pores that lead to breakouts. They are used in skin care products as emollients and thickeners. Common fatty alcohols include cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, behenyl alcohol, arachidyl alcohol and myristyl alcohol. For instance, cetyl alcohol is a long chain organic alcohol found either as a wax in spermaceti from whale or dolphin sperm or synthetically as vegetable cetyl alcohol. Most of these are synthetically produced and added the skin care products for texture. While the skin care industry largely affirms that fatty alcohols are not harmful to skin, Verità skin care uses only organic and naturally occurring ingredients free from synthetic compounds. Organic oils and butters have enough deep moisturizing properties that they do not need synthetic additives to perform the same function. The synthetics ingredients can sometimes be cheaper, but as a rule of thumb – you get what you pay for.

What Your Skin Should Feel Like

Your skin is the largest single organ in your body. It needs nourishment and vitamins to function properly and remain healthy for the long haul. Skin gets nutrients from the food we eat and from the products we put on its outside layers. Skin should not squeak like a white board. It should not feel filmy or chalky. When you scrub your body, your hands should not bump around like screech marks. Skin should also not flake under your fingers.

Healthy skin should be soft and smooth. The best time to moisturize skin is in the shower when skin is wet or right after cleansing when skin is slightly damp. The skin will absorb moisturizers faster with oils and butters without feeling greasy. Skin should feel plump and like silky, velvety softness. In the shower, scrubbing or gently massaging the body with oil and an exfoliator will cleanse the outer layer of excess sweat, dirt, and dead skin cells while deep moisturizing the skin. It is normal to feel smooth in the shower with a touch of oil for all skin types – yes, even oily skin!

- Amanda Riggs



June 16, 2015

Excellent article!


September 05, 2014

my skin type is dry.

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