Updated: 2019, Aug 3

Alcohol in Skin Care Products – Pros and Cons You Need to Know

By - Reviewed by CHD Team
Alcohol In Skin Care Products

Checking out the lengthy list of ingredients on the back of skin care products bottle and containers can be daunting. There are often plenty of words that you know nothing about -some even seem impossible to pronounce. For many people, it is surprising to find that alcohol is one of the many ingredients contained in the list.

A common ingredient in skin care products, alcohol serves a few purposes in the overall formula of many products. However, there are other ingredients that can be substituted. Many people would even argue that substitutes should always be used because the inclusion of alcohol in skin care is controversial.

Before putting an alcohol-containing product on your skin (which is supposed to be a barrier protecting you from nasty chemicals and other damaging things,) consider the pros and cons of this common skin care ingredient and its effects on the skin:

Pro: Alcohol Makes Skin Care Products Feel Lighter

Many skin care products are naturally dense. Made with powders, extracts, and acids, products applied to the skin would often be too concentrated if not diluted. Alcohol is frequently used to dilute the products, making them easier to apply.

The lightness of the product diluted by alcohol also aids in the skin’s absorption of the product. Alcohol breaks through the skin’s barrier, allowing more of the other ingredients in skin care products to be absorbed, like vitamins.

Pro: Alcohol in Skin Care Products Can be Moisturizing

Moisturizing Product

Although there are some risks in using skincare products that contain alcohol, not all alcohol ingredients are the same. For instance, a rubbing alcohol breaks cells down. Alcohols containing fatty acids, on the other hand, can be moisturizing.

Helpful fatty alcohols used as ingredients in skin care products include cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. Ingredients like these are used to thicken products, not dilute them. The fatty content hydrates cells instead of damaging them.

Pro: Alcohol is an Anti-Microbial

You may be aware that alcohol has been used throughout the previous centuries (and even decades) as a sterilizing agent. Doctors and nurses have often applied alcohol to wounds to sterilize the area, for instance. Sometimes alcohol is still used to numb and cleanly prepare an area of skin for the insertion of a needle.

The reason that alcohol is so helpful in this sterilizing capacity is that the ingredient has anti-microbial properties. As a result, some skin care products include alcohol in part because it will clean the skin while also serving other purposes, like diluting a thick product or helping the skin to absorb more nutrients.

Con: Alcohol in Skin Care Can Damage and Even Kill Cells

Alcohol in Skin Care Can Damage Kill Cells

Of course, there is a reason that many people find the use of alcohol in skin care products controversial. There are cons to using alcohol as an ingredient. Many suggest that the most obvious and dangerous effect is that alcohol can damage and even kill skin cells.

Every layer of skin is made up of skin cells. Each cell that is exposed to alcohol is at risk of damage by free-radicals. If the damage begins with the alcohol, it does not matter how quickly the substance evaporates: a chain reaction has begun. One study even found that Ethanol, a common skin care product ingredient, could lead to a 26% increase of skin cell death after just two days of use.

Skin cells die naturally and are replaced by new ones rising to the surface. When the process is sped up, the skin is not as effective as a protective barrier. Younger, less developed cells rise to the surface imbalanced, often resulting in acne and even skin irritation.

Con: Alcohol Can Dehydrate the Skin

One of the foremost consequences of using skin care products that contain alcohol is having dehydrated skin. Many types of alcohol used in skin products damage the skin cells’ ability to retain water.

Think about it: the skin is a barrier that keeps stuff out of the body, but also one that holds things in. When the barrier is broken down because cells are damaged or destroyed, the skin can easily be dehydrated. Unlike dry skin, which does not produce enough oil, dehydrated skin is lacking in water. Dehydration of the skin can seem irritating and can lead to deep wrinkling or sagging.

Con: Alcohol Can Cause Permanent Deterioration of the Skin

Some people mistakenly believe that the damage alcohol causes to the skin is easy to counteract. For instance, some people think that the dehydration caused by alcohol in skin care products can be compensated for my using moisturizing products as well. Unfortunately, the damage alcohol does to skin cells can lead to permanent deterioration. Cell death and dehydration are all a part of a long-term chain reaction that results in wrinkly, worn, and dry skin.

Once the process of skin cells being damaged begins, it can continue for a long time, resulting in long-lasting deterioration. For instance, when alcohol decreases the skin, the natural balance of the skin’s oils is altered. The de-greasing makes the skin look better at first. Then, without the correct balance of natural oils, the skin tends to break out with acne later (and repeatedly.)

Extra: Drinking Alcohol Can Also be Bad for the Skin

The debate over alcohol’s effect on the skin as a skin care product can be considered controversial. The consumption of alcohol has an effect on the skin as well, and its disadvantages certainly outweigh the benefits.

Alcohol dehydrates the body as a whole and depletes it of nutrients- including those that are essential for the health of the skin. Further, consuming alcohol commonly causes the blood vessels to dilate. Frequent dilation can lead to the blood vessels becoming more apparent, causing red striations of the skin.

Due to the way that alcohol affects the skin when consumed, many people choose to avoid the ingredient in beverages and in skin care products in order to maintain youthful, fresh appearances.

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