These days, we’re all too familiar with alcohol, which is known to be a good disinfectant. It has the ability to kill COVID-19, as well as other viruses and bacteria found on surfaces outside the body. Did you know that alcohol can also be hiding in your skincare, makeup, fragrance, and hair-care products? Many alcohols can dry out your skin and cause irritation, while others can moisturize. Alcohol is defined by the FDA as a large and diverse family of chemicals that have a variety of effects on the skin. Alcohol can be added to a product to make it feel lighter, speed up absorption of a product, and act as a potential preservative. The following are a list of several alcohols commonly found in skincare products.

Ethyl Alcohol – This is a grain alcohol and is denatured, which allows it to be used in cosmetics.

Denatured Alcohol – To avoid paying taxes on alcohol, companies use denatured alcohol, which tastes bitter so you would never want to drink it. This alcohol can be found in skincare, makeup, fragrance, and hair-care products. It is also known by names such as methyl alcohol, SD alcohol, eg 3-A, 30, 39B, 39C, and 40C.

Isopropyl Alcohol – This is also known as rubbing alcohol and is readily found in skincare, hair, and nail products. It serves as an astringent, anti-foaming agent, and solvent.

Methyl alcohol or methanol – This is mainly found in bath products.

Benzyl Alcohol – This is an alcohol that is naturally found in fruits and teas, which is used in soaps, cosmetics, cleansers, and hair-care.

Acetyl, stearyl, or lanolin alcohol – These are fatty alcohols, which are different from the traditional alcohols used in skincare. They can often be found in conditioners, foundation, eye makeup, cleansers, and moisturizers. They help hydrate skin and prevent oil and liquid from separating.

There are pros and cons to using alcohol in skincare. Firstly, this ingredient can help dissolve dirt and penetrate oil build up on the face. For those with oily skin, an alcohol-based toner can help reduce sebum which clogs pores. On the other hand if your skin is dry, sensitive, or you have eczema or allergies, that same toner will dry out your skin, so be sure to read the ingredient list. Also, if you have an irritation or rash and your skin barrier has a break, it’s going to burn when applied.

Just as you read food labels, examine the sequence of ingredients in your makeup and skincare products. Be aware that when alcohol is found in small concentrations, it may be beneficial. It is reasonable for this ingredient to appear as the sixth ingredient or lower, which won’t be concentrated enough to wreak havoc on your skin.

If a product states alcohol-free, it won’t contain ethyl alcohol but may be confusing because it can still include acetyl, stearyl, or lanolin, which is an entirely different category of alcohol. These are found in cleansers, lotions, moisturizers, thickeners, and emulsifiers. This has the ability to lock in moisturizer and form a protective barrier that water cannot penetrate, making it suitable for dehydrated skin. Lanolin alcohol is actually derived from wool.

In general, alcohol can be a useful addition to help ingredients penetrate the skin, preserve a product, or make it feel lightweight. It’s unlikely to be harmful, unless you have dry or sensitive skin, or are prone to eczema or allergies.

Risselle Naimark is a Professional Freelance Makeup Artist and Skincare Consultant. She carries an extensive line of personalized skincare, cosmetics, and anti-aging products. Risselle is also available for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, makeup lessons, and all of your beauty needs. She can be reached at 718 263-5517.