People, products, or places – we are quick to reach a judgement based on the information available on the internet and social media. From undeserving ingredients gaining popularity to the deserving ones falling prey to cancel culture, skincare has suffered some major repercussions. We are talking about extreme hate towards certain ingredients often led by poorly researched videos. This, while viral products and hacks on the internet get likes and continue to dictate our choices, often without proper knowledge and the right information.
In this ongoing series on ingredient villains, we are looking at alcohol in skincare and the reason it’s hated by the beauty gurus. Does it deserve the hate or are we missing facts that are now veiled under the layers of propagated negatives? We investigate.
“Putting alcohol in skincare does not need to be scary, but one must be aware and cautious about the products they are using,” says Dr Chytra V Anand who’s a celebrity dermatologist and founder of SkinQ. While alcohol in skincare makes the skin feel dry and dilapidated, Dr Chytra talks about using it on the right skin type and in moderation. However, the idea is to look for ‘good alcohols’.
So, What Are Good Alcohols for Skin?
It’s important to differentiate between good and bad alcohol. “One category of alcohol that is good and least harmful for the skin is called fatty alcohols like the cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and propylene glycol which are derived from coconut oil or palm oils,” explains Dr Chytra. These are used to thicken the formulation and are good for the skin. “The fatty alcohols are used more as an emollient in skincare, are non-irritating, and help moisturise the dry skin,” she adds.
Benefits Of Good Alcohols for Skin
Apart from fatty alcohols, the other category called simple alcohols is regarded as the demon ingredient which isn’t safe to use. Simple alcohols like isopropyl and evaporative solvent alcohols like SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, and ethanol dry out the skin and make it dehydrated. “Alcohols in skincare are typically used as solvents to help strip the skin barrier and penetrate the products into the deeper skin,” explains Dr Chytra.
However, why are these still widely used in skincare products? The answer is there in the function they perform – stripping off oil from the skin which people with oily skin type might feel benefitted from temporarily. Dr Chytra also credits its fast-acting property and cheaper cost as other reasons for its popularity in skincare. “Alcohol makes heavy formulation seem lighter; the consumer gets a refreshing feel, so for instant gratification purposes, some brands use them,” she further explains. In the long run, simple alcohols can lead to enlarged pores and increased greasiness. So, oily and acne-prone skin types – which might benefit from simple alcohol instantly due to reduced greasiness – can produce more oil to compensate for the dryness.
Does It Mean It’s Wise To Avoid Alcohol in Skincare At All Costs?
Alcohols (here are some alcohol-free toners) are always terrible for the skin. The idea is to keep the skin type and ingredient label under check before using one. “They are fine to be used in spot treatments but to avoid long-term damage, it’s better to avoid it in routine skincare,” says Dr Chytra. However, don’t avoid every ingredient that ends with OH (abbreviation for alcohol), you might miss out on the benefits of fatty alcohols.