Alcohols in cosmetics - good or bad?

laboratory glassware-with different-coloured-fluids

Shelf life and fat solvent: alcohol is a solution

Alcohol is used very frequently in the cosmetics industry: hardly any other substance is so reliably able to kill bacteria and dissolve fat at the same time. The latter is necessary, for example, because some plant substances are not water-soluble.
Thus, alcohol is the most common extraction agent for natural extracts. Moreover, alcohol can be used to preserve a product. Moreover, alcohol also helps to transport certain substances into the skin as it penetrates the skin barrier.
But there is no need to worry: not all alcohol is harmful and then the dose used is always important.

The use of alcohol in cosmetics

Well, substances can be dissolved in alcohol: Alcohol is an excellent solvent, for example to dissolve greasy or oily substances. Alcohol is also used to extract plant extracts.

Furthermore, alcohol is an excellent preservative due to its antimicrobial properties.

In addition, alcohol - as already mentioned - helps to transport certain active ingredients into deeper skin layers. It can do this because it has the fat-dissolving function mentioned above. If alcohol hits our skin it may temporarily make our skin barrier permeable.

Depending on the type and dose used, alcohol has the potential to dry out and irritate the skin.

What types of alcohol are used?

Basically, we distinguish in cosmetics between good alcohols, because they are nurturing, and bad ones, because they dry out.

What is bad alcohol?

From the skin's point of view, monovalent, short-chain alcohols are among the bad ones because they can damage and dry out the skin.

Between the bad alcohols one again differentiates between those that have been denatured and those that have not been denatured.

Alcohol is denatured to make it undrinkable, so that producers do not have to pay alcohol tax (as with alcohol in drinks, for example). Various substances are used for denaturation, e.g. other monohydric alcohols or phthalates. Phthalates are also used as softeners (e.g. they soften plastics) which can be absorbed through the skin.

Unfortunately not all substances used can always be found in the INCIS. However, you should be very attentive when you read the following descriptions:

  • ETHANOL
  • ALCOHOL
  • METHANOL
  • ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL
  • DIETHYL PHTHALATE
  • SD ALCOHOL
  • ALCOHOL DENAT.
  • ETHYL ALCOHOL
  • BENZYL ALCOHOL

Disadvantages of bad alcohol

In higher concentrations, bad alcohols disturb the hydrolipid film of the skin, so that it may dry out and tend to redden and irritate. If the hydrolipid film is disturbed, inflammation or infection can also occur more quickly.
Alcohol also inhibits the action of antioxidants in the body.

Bad alcohol in skin care: the dose makes the poison

Studies assume that an application concentration of up to 10 percent in a skin care product is largely unproblematic as long as the product contains enough refattening and caring substances, quasi as a balance.
The exact percentage of alcohol in a product is mostly not evident as it does not have to be stated on the packaging by the manufacturers. However, one can orientate oneself by the following aspects:

  • Bad alcohols should not appear in the first third of the contents.
  • Poor alcohols in the last third of the contents are usually not dramatic, because then one can assume a proportion of less than 1 percent.
  • If a product contains undenatured ethanol (ALCOHOL, ETHANOL), you can assume that it contains very little. This is because taxes are incurred for use per litre - this cost factor is reason enough for manufacturers to use it sparingly.

Even better, of course, is to avoid bad alcohols altogether. Fortunately this is not difficult, because there is enough of the good kind!

What is good alcohol?

When talking about "good alcohol" in skin care, this refers to those types of alcohol which have skin care properties. They differ from the bad alcohols by their chemical valency or their molecular size. They are roughly divided into sugar alcohols and fatty alcohols.

Good sugar alcohols in cosmetics

  • BUTYLENE GLYCOL
  • PENTYLENE GLYCOL
  • PROPYLENE GLYCOL (also called PROPANEDIOL)
  • GLYCERINE

Sugar alcohols preserve and help to transport moisture and active ingredients through the skin barrier. They are moisturizing and caring, even in higher concentrations. Glycerin also keeps preparations moisturized and prevents preparations from drying out.

Good fatty alcohols in cosmetics

The so-called fatty alcohols also belong to the good alcohols. These owe their name on the one hand to their origin, as they are obtained from the fatty acids found in plant parts. On the other hand, they have refatting properties.
Used in cosmetics they are called fatty alcohols:

  • CETYL ALCOHOL
  • CETEARYL ALCOHOL
  • STEARYL ALCOHOLE (also called 1-OCTADECANOL)

They ensure that moisture remains in the skin and thus make the skin supple. They are also used as thickeners and support the production of emulsions. Fatty alcohols are mild and do not cause blackheads or pimples.

Does "non-alcoholic" really mean without alcohol?

Cosmetic products are declared "alcohol-free" if they do not contain any of the bad, drying alcohols. Conversely, this means that cosmetics declared as "alcohol-free" may well contain alcohols, namely those of the good variety. This has nothing to do with a deceptive package, but is a sensible simplification in the interest of the customer.

Which alcohols does HighDroxy use?

HighDroxy uses PENTYLENE GLYCOL and PROPANEDIOL.

Propanediol belongs to the group of dihydric alcohols and is of course one of the good kind. Even the very good kind: Propanediol provides moisture and is also responsible for the pleasant skin feeling after application. It helps to dissolve the other ingredients and transport them into the skin layers after application. In addition, the propanediol we use has a welcome "side effect" because it has preservative properties.

Ethanol is also used in one of our products, naturally in the undenatured version.

It is contained in the product IN:FUSE at a proportion of well below 1% - and for good reasons: The multilamellar liposomes in IN:FUSE would not be producible without alcohol. They are explicitly barrier-repairing, caring and the best proof for this: The dosage and the specific application are decisive.