If you have been religiously following all the skincare routine from Hollywood artists to Korean latest beauty products, yet not getting the porcelain, flawless skin that you wish, then maybe it is time for you to check the ingredients labels of your favourite skincare products. The main culprit could be *drumroll, please* alcohol.
When we talk about alcohol, we MIGHT be reminded from the alcohol we dabbled with in our science school lab, the colourless and probably pungent smell that comes with it. Before that, let’s get the fact straight; not all alcohol is bad.
The types of alcohol
Alcohol can be divided into two main categories; low-molecular-weight alcohol like isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denatured, methanol, and ethyl alcohol. The second category is high-molecular-weight or better known as fatty alcohol that is commonly derived from vegetables. The example of fatty alcohol is cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl, and propylene glycol alcohol, to name a few.
Let’s discuss the big no-no alcohol for the skin. Volatile alcohol or specially denatured alcohol in skincare is a red flag. If you see it is being listed in the first line on the ingredient label in your beauty products, please have a second thought. Here is the big why. This simple alcohol is usually added in beauty products’ formulation to make the cream or cleanser feel much lighter and acts as a preservative, especially in water-based products.
When we apply beauty products with simple alcohol, we might think that it makes the beauty product fast-absorbing or having cooling down effects on the skin, which would be most appreciated by those with oily skin, as it leaves the skin feeling less-greasy or non-greasy after application. It is just the evaporation process that takes place and as the alcohol evaporates, the moisture on our skin evaporates together making it dry. As a result, our skin produces more sebum to compensate for the water loss on the skin and sometimes, might overproduce the sebum too!
Drinking lot of water might not be such a help to replenish the skin water loss because according to Dr Piliang, a dermatologist from Cleveland Clinic in United States, she explained that the degreasing ability of the solvent-type alcohol cause the lipid barrier on the outside layer of the skin to break down. That on the other hand provides a good penetration for retinol and vitamin C for the skin. However, it also makes the skin to be highly sensitive and increase irritation, itchiness, skin peeling, and dryness. Without any barrier, the skin can be easily penetrated by fragrance, essential oil and other sensitizing ingredients in skincare. That will further erode the skin to its inner layers and disrupt its natural microbiome too. Yikes!
The longer the skin is expose to alcohol-based products, the damage to the skin will be worst.
The world currently has to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and personal hygiene is more important now than ever. The usage of alcohol-based hand sanitisers with at least 60% concentration to effectively kill the viruses and bad germs, is inevitable. We highly recommend you to moisturise your hands after sanitising to ensure they are properly hydrated to counter the effect of dryness from the alcohol used. You can choose from using natural beauty oils (such as olive oil, virgin coconut oil, argan oil, or rosehip oil) or your hand lotion.
The good alcohol!
And now please make way for the good alcohol (–OH)!
The fatty alcohols are long-chain alcohol usually present in a solid and white wax form. This alcohol is commonly derived from fatty acid in the plant and/or vegetable oils. They have different function compared to solvent-type alcohol. These fatty alcohols act as emollients to lock in the moisture of the skin and protect the skin with enhancing the natural lipid barrier at the outer layer. It makes the texture of the beauty product thicker and has moisturising effect on the skin. Look out for beauty products with ingredients such as cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl or behenyl alcohol, which is especially recommended for those with dry skin. The Food Drug Administraion (FDA) in the United States allowed products containing cetearyl alcohol to be labelled as “alcohol-free” due to its chemical structure.
Now you know that not all alcohol is bad for us. Look out for those good fatty alcohols in your personal care and skincare products in the ingredient labels when you go shopping next time. Your shampoo, conditioners, moisturisers, or body cream will make a difference if you choose beauty products with clean and safe alcohols.
Learn to know your beauty products ingredients label and make an informed decision for yourself and loved ones.