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 capable of killing bacteria and dissolving fat at the same time. The latter is necessary, for example, because some plant active ingredients are not water-soluble. Alcohol is the most common extraction agent for natural extracts. In addition, alcohol can be used to preserve a product. Alcohol also helps to transport certain substances into the skin because it penetrates the skin barrier, but there is no need to worry: not all alcohol is harmful and it always depends on the dose used.


Good alcohol, bad alcohol

Alcohol occurs in different forms. The reason why we are looking at this issue and taking a close look at it is that there are both good (caring) and bad (potentially drying out) alcohols.


What is good alcohol?

Good alcohols are the so-called fatty alcohols, which are used as plasticizers and thickeners. Fatty alcohols are obtained from the fatty acids found in plant parts. They make the skin supple, because they cause moisture to remain in the skin. Fatty alcohols are mild and do not cause blackheads or pimples.


What is bad alcohol?

For the skin, monohydric alcohols are among the bad varieties because they can damage and dry out the skin. The quantity used plays a particularly important role here - we will discuss this aspect below.

The most common monohydric alcohol used in cosmetic products is ethanol, often referred to as "alcohol" in INCIS. This alcohol, which is used in cosmetics, is denatured - it makes it unpalatable and no tax has to be paid on it. After all, it's not about the "stimulant" alcohol.

  • The denaturation of alcohol is mostly done with phthalates.
  • These chemical softeners, which are both fat- and water-soluble, are absorbed through the skin and are unfortunately not particularly good for the skin.
  • They get into the blood and can not only damage the skin with frequent contact, but can even make it diabetic or infertile.
  • On the list of ingredients (INCI) they are called diethyl phthalate and dimethyl phthalate, abbreviated to DEP and DMP.
  • The term "Alcohol denat." or also "SD Alcohol" as abbreviation for denatured alcohol is, however, seen much more frequently.


At a glance - the good and bad alcohols:

Good alcohols:

Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behenyl Alcohol, Lanolin Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Myristyl Alcohol, Benehyl Alcohol and Stearyl Alcohol indicated

Bad alcohols:

Alcohol denatured, ethanol denatured, ethyl alcohol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol and benzyl alcohol


Poor alcohol in skin care: the dose makes the poison

If you have now found a bad alcohol as an additive in your cosmetics and care products, this does not necessarily mean that you are damaging your skin: It now depends on how much of it has been used in your product. Too much can - as mentioned above - destroy the natural sebum layer of the skin.

  • How do you know exactly how much alcohol is contained? You will not find an exact percentage of the substances in the list of ingredients by the cosmetics industry, because this does not have to be listed.
  • However, you can use the order of the ingredients as a guide: These are listed in decreasing order according to their concentration.
  • If the alcohol is at the top of the list, the concentration is correspondingly high.
  • Of course a bad alcohol should not be found in your product at all.
  • However, if it is the last or penultimate substance, you can consider whether other, very good substances might still make the product suitable for you.
  • If you tolerate the product well and have no complaints, you can decide to use your product at least to the end.


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 mainly uses PENTYLENE GLYCOL and PROPANDIOL. Propanediol belongs to the group of bivalent alcohols and is of course one of the good grades. Even the very good one: Propanediol provides moisture and is also responsible for the pleasant feeling on the skin after application. It helps to dissolve the other ingredients and to transport them after application into the skin layers. 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, of course in the undenatured variant: IN:FUSE contains significantly less than 1% of it - and for good reasons. Because the multilamellar liposomes in IN:FUSE would not be possible without alcohol. They are explicitly barrier-repairing, caring and the best proof of this: the dose and the concrete intended use are decisive.


Image source: pedrosala/