Is alcohol in cosmetics safe or not?
We all try to avoid it as much as possible but many of us don’t know that are many types of alcohol: the good ones and the nasty ones. In benign form alcohols are glycols used as humectants that help deliver ingredients into skin. When fats and oils are chemically reduced, they become a group of less-dense alcohols called fatty alcohols that can have emollient properties or can become detergent cleansing agents. No matter your skin-care concerns, alcohol as a main ingredient in any skin-care product is a problem.
The nasty ones have low molecular weights. These include ethanol, denatured alcohol, ethyl alcohol, methanol, benzyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, and SD alcohol, which not only can be extremely drying and irritating to skin but also cytotoxic.
Benzyl alcohol is actually a natural ingredient. Many plants, fruits, and teas have it as a component, as do essential oils like jasmine, hyacinth, and ylang-ylang.Unfortunately, in most personal care products, you’re not going to find the natural version, but you will find the synthetic version very irritating to the skin. Most of the time, you’ll find this ingredient in bath products, soaps and detergents, eye makeup, blushes, cleansing products, shaving products, makeup, and blush, as well as in hair, nail, and other skin care products.
Sometimes it can be very confusing with alcohol as some of them can be in the ingredient listing under several different names. As for the good ones there is cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl. Well It seems that the good ones are not so many, so I hope is easy to keep them in your mind while your shopping for new cosmetics.
Cetyl is extracted from coconut oil, it is an emollient that is included in skin care products to stabilize the formulations or to alter their consistencies, or to increase their foaming capacity. It is often included in baby lotions, hand creams, foundation, lipsticks, shampoos, mascara, deodorants, nail polish removers, and their effects on the skin are quite different from those of ethyl alcohol.
Stearyl alcohol is also derived from coconut oil. Because it is an emollient as well as an emulsifier, it can be substituted for cetyl alcohol to firm skin care formulations. It is mostly found in creams, lubricants, depilatories and conditioners.
Cetearyl alcohol is an emulsifying wax that is used to soften thick formulas like skin ointments. Derived from natural oils and fats, it is very efficient in stabilizing skin care formulations because it imparts an emollient feel to the skin.
Alcohol harms your skin's protective barrier, triggers free-radical damage, makes oily skin and redness worse, and is best described as "pro-aging."Alcohol-based anti-acne products increase both irritation and dryness, and this can make it harder for those battling acne to stick to their routine.Anti-acne products that contain milder alternatives to alcohol are better for skin. The irony of using alcohol-based treatments is that the damage they cause leads to an increase of acne-causing bacteria, and makes inflammation worse, the consequence of which are red marks that stay around for much longer than they would otherwise.
For those with oily skin, alcohol can stimulate oil production at the base of the pore, so the immediate de-greasing effect is eventually counteracted by oily skin producing even more oil.
You can easily avoid this preservative by passing by any products that list it on the label. Be careful, as well, with products that simply say “fragrance” on the ingredient list, as that means the product could contain benzyl alcohol, but they don’t have to tell you because fragrances are protected as proprietary formulas.
Sources: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, August 2009, pages 20–24
eMedicine Journal, May 8, 2002, volume 3