When you see the word “alcohol” in a product, what comes to mind?
In terms of skincare, I bet most of you will associate the alcohol type of alcohol that is a strong smelling clear liquid that dries the skin and often causes your skin to sting. Truth be known, “alcohols” are actually a large family of substances and some alcohols especially the “fatty alcohols” are very good for your skin (and no, they won’t make you fat, but they will help soothe, smooth and hydrate your skin).
In case you didn’t know here is the definition of alcohol: an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxyl group (-OH) is bound to a carbon atom and this carbon is saturated. Now that you know that, let’s proceed in talking about how and why this is relevant to your skin.
Different Types of Alcohol in Skincare
If you see the word “alcohol” alone in the ingredient list, it is the same alcohol contains in our beer, wine, and hard liquor. It is also called ethanol or ethyl alcohol.
In case you’re wondering it is ethanol that we use in our Germs Away Mist and Before Bed Spray. We use ethanol for its germ-killing properties and ability to effectively disperse into the air, when sprayed.
Another common alcohol is SD alcohol, isopropanol, or isopropyl alcohol. These alcohols have an additive in them to make the alcohol undrinkable, so it doesn’t end up in somebody’s stomach. This alcohol is not ideal for your skin since it is drying and irritating, even though it has antibacterial, antiseptic, and astringent properties.
Below is the “bad alcohol” list. I wouldn’t suggest using a skincare product if one of these appears near the top of the ingredient list.
- Isopropanol, isopropyl alcohol, IPA
- Methanol, methyl alcohol
- Benzyl alcohol (usually used as a preservative, not ideal but not so bad if you see it towards the end of the ingredient list)
Alcohols That Are Actually Good for Your Skin
A group of good alcohols is fatty alcohols, and they don’t look, feel and smell like anything mentioned above. In fact, most fatty alcohols look like white pearls. They have a slippery feel and help to protect and soften our skin. Most of these fatty alcohols are often derived from a plant source such as from coconut.
Here’s a bit of history: Cetyl alcohol was originally derived from whale oil after it was discovered in 1817. Its name ‘cetyl’ comes from the Latin name for whale, cetus. Gladly, whale oil is no longer used. The cetyl alcohol we use in our formulations helps to form a protective film on the skin so water does not easily evaporate, thus helping your skin to retain moisture.
Stearyl alcohol is another commonly found fatty alcohol in skincare products. Typically, it is derived from cocoa, shea butter. Stearyl alcohol is a great emollient and is commonly used as an emulsifier — helping oils and water to form smooth mixtures.
Lastly, cetearyl alcohol is a mixture of cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol, usually derived from coconut oil. It acts as an emollient, keeping moisture in the skin.
All that said, when you look at our ingredients lists, you can feel safe knowing that we only use the best plant-based fatty alcohols in our creams and none of them will dry out your skin.