Why have Alcohol in skin care products? 

Alcohol is used in skin care products to help other ingredients to penetrate your skin, for example it helps retinol and vitamin C penetrate into the skin more effectively. Unfortunately it does that by breaking down the skin's barrier! Alcohol acts as a preservative, can make a thick skin care product feel weightless offering a pleasing texture to your skin. Fast Drying because alcohol evaporates quickly it gives skin a 'cooling effect'. Alcohol in toners can tighten the skin and refine pore size acting as an astringent - alcohol acts as a solvent to assist with solubilising ingredients that do not mix with well with water to create a smooth cream, or moisturiser that doesn’t separate.


  • Dryness [skin is no longer effective at keeping moisture in] 
  • Erosion of the surface of skin [protective barrier] causing:
  • Irritation - makes redness worse
  • Breakouts [stimulates oil production]
  • Oily skin - produces more oil
  • Triggers free-radical damageSmall amounts of alcohol applied to skin cells in lab settings 3% alcohol [skin-care products contain amounts between 5% to 60%] over the course of two days increased cell death by 26%. It also destroyed the substances in cells that reduce inflammation and defend against free radical damage.

What to AVOID

Always check the ingredient list on everything you intend applying to your face and or body. If you see the names of alcohol [listed below] among the first six ingredients on an ingredient label, they may aggravate skin:

  • D alcohol 
  • Benzyl Alcohol
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Ethanol
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Methanol and 
  • Isopropyl alcohol


Fatty Alcohols are derived from vegetables [coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil or a mixture of] and are non-irritating and can be very beneficial for dry skin, and in small amounts are well tolerated by most skin.* They are used to help emulsify skin care products, emollients help protect your skin and help keep moisture in. Look for:

  • Cetyl
  • Glycol
  • Stearyl
  • Cetearyl alcohol
  • Behenyl alcohol
  • Oleyl alcohol


In a 1990 study - researchers applied emulsifying agents, including cetyl stearyl alcohol, to real human patients. A total of 54 out of 737 experienced reactions —redness, inflammation.

2011 study also referred to the possibility of reactions with coco- and lauryl glucosides, which are mixtures of fatty alcohols and glucose. These ingredients can be found in cleansing products and some sunscreens. 

Aromatic alcohols - Skin care products that contain fragrances may contain aromatic alcohols such as benzyl alcohol or components of essential oil concentrations. These ingredients may cause skin irritation or dryness, especially for those with sensitive skin. To avoid this type of alcohol, choose fragrance-free products.

If you have sensitive or reactive skin it is wise to avoid all alcohol in skin care products. A 'skin patch test' is always recommended prior to using any new product to check for possible reactions.*


be human | be kind | be you

founderGabrielle is the founder and creator of Human & Kind {Organics} The aim of my blog is to share information to educate the reader with the latest research on skin health. I believe we can all achieve beautiful, radiant, healthy, glowing skin without using products containing toxic chemicals which will damage your skins microbiome. Certified organic (ACO) skin care is better for your skin health and the planet Earth.

SIGNUP (using the 'JOIN US , PLEASE' form at the bottom of this page) to our Newsletter and receive $10 (AUD) towards your first order. Signing up and commenting on our blog posts enters you into our bi-monthly draw to receive a FREE bottle of *Superb Serum [face]. (*this draw will commence after the launch of our first product Superb Serum [face] early 2018.)




  • Experimental Dermatology, October 2009
  • International Journal of Toxicology, Volume 27, 2008
  • Lachenmeier DW, “Safety evaluation of topical applications of ethanol on the skin and inside the oral cavity,” J Occup Med Toxicol, November 13, 2008; 3(26): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19014531.
  • Tosti A, et al., “Prevalence and sources of sensitization to emulsifiers: a clinical study,” Contact Dermatitis, August 1990; 23(2):68-72, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2145129.
  • An Goossens, “Contact-Allergic Reactions to Cosmetics,” Journal of Allergy, 2011, Article ID 467071, 6 pages, http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ja/2011/467071/.
  • Tosti, A., et al., “Contact dermatitis from fatty alcohols,” Contact Dermatitis, November 1996; 35(5):289-9, http://www.researchgate.net/publication/14201921_Contact_dermatitis_from_fatty_alcohols.

2 Responses


February 2018, 10

Hello Jane
So happy you found this weeks BLOG post informative and useful.
Thank you


February 2018, 10

I have always found it so confusing as to why alcohol is even used as a skincare ingredient. Now I understand and know exactly what to look for in the future on labels!
Thank you
Jane :-)

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