We are used to thinking of alcohol only as ethanol that has additives to make it poisonous, bad-tasting, foul-smelling. In fact, alcohol is a huge family of substances with different properties, united only by the hydroxyl group – OH. They perform many functions: from the activation of certain components to disinfection. So, is it bad or not if cosmetics and beauty products contain alcohol?
How does alcohol affect the skin?
The most popular opinion is that if beauty products contain ethanol it is “very bad and makes your skin dry”. It is considered dangerous because it can dry out the skin by accelerating the evaporation of moisture and violate the barrier function of the epidermis. Alcohol-based products are undesirable for sensitive skin, but the presence of alcohol is justified if the product is packaged in a vial-pump or spray form.
“Without a solvent-ethanol, the pump clogs through a couple of applications, and the alcohol that has passed through it evaporates without a trace and simply does not reach the skin,” explains Elena Yeliseyeva, dermatologist and medical expert of the brand Vichy.
Aromatic alcohols are not very dangerous, because they are very volatile and evaporate even before the product is absorbed into the skin. Fatty alcohols include glycerine and panthenol. They cannot be blamed for the drying action.
“Fatty alcohols have excellent occlusal properties, significantly reduce the evaporation of water from the skin surface, which contributes to moisturising. Also, this is widely used in the composition of nutritious creams. For dry and sensitive skin, these alcohols serve as soothing helpers. In multi-component cosmetics, fatty alcohols act as an emulsifier – they mix water and oil, they work like a good thickener,” says Elena Saratseva, a dermatologist and cosmetologist at the Westmed clinic.
The main benefit of simple alcohols is their antiseptic function. It is popular to add them to cosmetics to achieve a matting effect, narrowing the pores. However, they might have a short-term effect and dry the skin.
Do ‘alcohol-less’ beauty products exist?
Beauty products without alcohols do not exist as they perform several functions – and the emulsifier, and solvent, and thickener. Cosmetics without alcohols would essentially be a mixture of oils that will also stratify periodically. Without ethanol alcohol, the remedies for problematic skin and male skin will lose their refreshing and cooling effect. Without stearyl alcohol, the creams will lose their pleasant texture, will not nourish and soften the skin. Without panthenol, the most popular ointment will stop healing abrasions.
There are no harmful alcohols. It is only harmful when cosmetic products have been used for a long period of time and have not been selected properly for the respective skin type. Only then irritation or dryness can occur. If your skin is hyperreactive, then it is preferable to use creams, lotions and tonics without alcohol. The manufacturer always indicates the absence of alcohol on the packaging.
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Text: Irina Gorskaia
Images: Allure, Planet Organic