SI Glossary: Alcohol


Your cheat sheet to the basics of alcohol in skincare.

What is alcohol?

In chemistry, an alcohol is any carbon-based compound that contains an OH or hydroxyl group. In skincare people are generally talking about ethanol, when they refer to alcohol, which is a denatured alcohol, often listed on skincare ingredient lists as Alcohol Denat or SD Alcohol.

But it’s important to note that just because something is an alcohol it does not mean it has the same properties on your skin as ethanol does. For example:

Glycerin and glycols are humectant moisturisers that hydrate skin.

Cetyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol moisturiser that feels oily.

They do not all come under one category.

Why is ethanol used in skincare?

Ethanol in particular is a good solvent. This means that it can dissolve some things that water can’t.

And so it is used in toners to help remove lipids, oils and waxes from the skin. It can also be used to prepare skin for treatments like peels.

It is also used to help extract ingredients from plants, again due to its superior solvent abilities compared to water.

It’s solvent properties are utilized to help other products penetrability and application too!

Is it safe to use?

Clinical trials tell us (although there aren’t many, because it’s expensive) that using a massive amount of alcohol on your skin doesn’t have a huge impact.This my very well be because a lot of it evaporates after it’s applied to the skin.

In extreme instance, that involve the application of alcohol based products multiple times a day, alcohol can have a negative imapct.

These include; inflammation, dehydration and skin barrier disruption. Although, it should be noted that more research needs to be done and these side effects are associated with many applications a day. In the concentrations and number of application’s that would be used in skincare, it is deemed totally safe.

Pictured is Alpha H Liquid Gold which contains alcohol denat.

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