Alcohol in Skincare
Ethyl alcohol is used in many different skincare products, including those that are classed as organic and natural as it's produced by fermenting grains. However, many patients still express concern that alcohol may dry and irritate the skin. Read on to find out more about alcohol in skincare
I often get asked about the use of alcohol in skincare ingredients, so thought it would be useful to try and clear up some of the confusion surrounding this often divisive but surprisingly useful ingredient.
Alcohol has been used for hundreds (if not thousands) of years and has been used for a multitude of different purposes including medicine, household products, preparation of drinks and in skincare preparations.
In chemistry terms, alcohol is a large group of substances whose molecules contain the hydroxyl part. Ingredients like glycerin, menthol and some plant-based waxes are also alcohols, according to their chemical structure. There are also many synthetically derived alcohols.
The alcohol we are happy to see in skincare preparations can only contain the natural ethyl alcohol, derived from plants. Ethyl alcohol presents as a colourless, volatile liquid with a light scent. This food grade alcohol is produced from grains such as wheat, corn or sugarcane.
So let's look at ethyl alcohol a little closer and try establish whether or not it does cause dryness and irritation to skin?
There are several studies showing that there is in fact no transepidermal water loss caused by topical application of ethyl alcohol. Various scientific studies have also shown that skin irritation is very low or non-existent. There is also a long history of dermal application in the form of surgical spirit, in clinical settings, with no evidence of skin irritation or allergic reactions to ethyl alcohol.
So, if we accept that this food grade alcohol is safe for skin, why do we use it and what is its purpose?
What is ethyl alcohol used for?
The main use of Ethyl alcohol in skin care is as an antimicrobial preservative and unlike many other skincare product preservatives; alcohol evaporates from the skin surface in seconds, meaning there is very little absorption. It has useful antimicrobial properties, but once it's applied to the skin it vanishes very quickly and is therefore classed as one of the gentlest preservatives available. Alternative preservatives absorb into skin and accumulate, causing increased risk of skin damage over time.
It seems that not only is ethyl alcohol safe, it is also incredibly useful. From a dermatological point of view, ethyl alcohol is one of the mildest antimicrobial agents and is even considered safe for those with sensitive and dry skin. Higher concentrations of alcohol may also be beneficial for combination and oily skin types, helping to cleanse the skin as well as regulate the function of sebaceous glands. In addition, alcohol acts as a penetration enhancer for many active ingredients, boosting the effectiveness of many skincare products.
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Written for you by: Kate, Face the Future
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