Formulas containing Alcohols (especially toners, cleansers and moisturizers) are a popular choice for their quick-drying finish and being weightless on the skin. However, alcohol used as a skin care ingredient is a debatable subject. While certain volatile alcohols weaken the skin and have negative long term consequences, including rapid skin aging, others can lead to enlarged pores, oily skin, breakouts, (or conversely increased dryness), irritation and bumps.
Alcohol as the Main Ingredient
The three types of alcohols in the ingredient list of various topical skin care products are:
- Simple Alcohols, like Ethanol, Methanol, Isopropyl Alcohol, Propanol and Denatured Alcohol (or rubbing alcohol) that are used to make creams and lotions feel lighter in consistency.
- Fatty Alcohols, like Cetearyl Alcohol, Lauryl Alcohol and Acetyl Alcohol that are used as emollients and thickeners.
- Aromatic Alcohols, like Benzyl Alcohol that are used as solvents in fragrance-rich products and as preservatives.
If you choose a skin care product that contains any of the above mentioned forms of alcohol as its ‘main ingredient’, consider this a red flag. When applied topically, highly concentrated alcohol containing formulas harms the skin and begin a chain reaction of damage that continues even after it has evaporated.
Alcohol vs Oily Skin and Acne
There are two short-term benefits of alcohol – It degreases the skin and kills acne causing bacteria. This is the reason many of us with oilier skin continue using alcohol based skin care products.
However, alcohol based anti-acne products increase both dryness and irritation in the long run and disturb the skin’s pH balance. As the skin becomes drier, the body compensates by overproducing protective natural oils, making the skin oilier than before (Kapha dosha). An oily skin with blocked pores is a hotbed for acne causing microbes.
Alcohol vs Dry Skin and Aging
Alcohol is primarily a dehydrating agent, removing moisture from the skin. Alcohol also negatively impacts antioxidant action (such as Vitamin A, C and E) which are critical for the regeneration of new cells.
Ultimately, skin lacking in moisture and antioxidants stalls the production of collagen and causes a rapid breakdown of the skin’s protective barrier (outermost layer of the skin and the lipid matrix). This causes premature aging with the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, crow’s feet and sagging skin (Vata dosha).
Did you know? Alcohol theoretically helps anti-aging ingredients like Vitamin C and Retinol to penetrate the skin effectively. But it also breaks down the skin’s protective barrier, ultimately damaging the collagen-elastin matrix that keeps the skin healthy and young.
Over drying the skin makes it susceptible to germs and bacteria which negatively impacts sensitive skin conditions like Rosacea, Psoriasis and Eczema.
Are Commercial ‘Alcohol Alternatives’ Safe for the Skin?
Fatty Alcohols derived from natural ingredients like coconut, nuts and vegetable oils and even petroleum derivatives are increasingly being considered as ‘safe for the skin’. These fatty alcohols include Cetearyl Alcohol and Stearyl Alcohol and are used as emulsifiers, emollient and thickening agents.
Though fatty alcohols are less irritating than simple alcohols, they can still create inflammation and irritability in sensitive skin (Pitta dosha). Long term usage can block pores and accelerate acne and bacterial build-up.
Organic Alternatives to Alcohol – Astringents, Preservatives & Emollients
Alcohols are customarily used as cheap ingredients for solving three purposes –
- Toning the skin
- Improving shelf life, and
- Giving the product a desired consistency
Removing alcohol completely from your skin care regimen detoxes, improves quality & benefits the skin in the long run. There are various organic and natural alternatives to alcohol that can perform similar roles for being used as an astringent, a preservative or an emollient.
Green Tea, Aloe Vera, Rose, Lemon and Chamomile are all known to cleanse pores and gently tone the skin. When used in the form of an Organic Toner/ Hydrator regularly, these botanicals further reduce redness, shrink enlarged pores and control oil secretion.
Natural preservatives like Neem, naturally-derived Vitamin E, Grapefruit Extract, Rosemary, Potassium Sorbate and undiluted pure Manuka Honey, contain powerful antioxidants that slow down the process of rancidity and can be substituted for harmful preservatives to lengthen the shelf life of products.
All our products are 100% alcohol-free, chemical preservative and paraben free. Learn more about our Clean, Organic and Ayurvedic approach to healthy skin care and hair care on our FAQs page.