Is Alcohol In Skincare Really Bad For Your Skin?

July 5, 2021

Is Alcohol In Skincare Really Bad For Your Skin?


Is alcohol truly the villain in all skincare tales?

Depicted as a heinous ingredient that should be banished from the realm of skincare, alcohol have in recent times been put on the hot seat and accused as the culprit for many adverse skin reactions. It is commonly identified as a harsh ingredient that is irritating, overly drying, and can strip the skin of its natural moisture. Many people perceive alcohol as an aggravator to existing skin conditions such as acne and therefore try to avoid it at all costs. Skincare products formulated with alcohol have been outed and shunned, but does the ingredient rightly deserve the label of a villain or has it been misunderstood?


The Myth: All Alcohols Are Bad For The Skin

With many skincare brands wearing the ‘alcohol-free’ claim like a badge of honour, it is no wonder that consumers now watch out for alcohol as a red flag when shopping for skincare. It is true that in some cases, products are developed with drying alcohols to give a tight, cooling and refreshing sensation on the skin which can be reassuring especially for people with oily skin. These types of drying alcohols can strip the skin of its natural oils and in the long run, damage the skin barrier and cause it to produce more oil.

However, it is NOT TRUE that all alcohols are bad for the skin. It is easy and convenient for brands to generalise all alcohols as bad and should be avoided in order to paint their alcohol-free products in a better light. We are here to set things straight and counter misinformation with facts.


Fact 1: Alcohols Are Not All Created Equal

“Alcohol is a chemistry term, [and] it just means that a molecule has a hydroxyl group at one end,” explains John Zampella, MD, Assistant Professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health. This means that all organic molecules with a hydroxyl group, an oxygen-hydrogen atomic bond, are classified as alcohol no matter their beneficial or harmful effects on the skin. Learning to differentiate the good from the bad can help you go a long way in your skincare journey.


Fact 2: Alcohols Can Be Nourishing

Contrary to popular belief, certain types of alcohol can have a moisturizing effect on the skin. “Fatty alcohol, which is derived from coconut or palm oil, is sometimes used to thicken a formulation and can be nourishing for the skin,” says Maryam Zamani, MD. For instance, Cetyl is a common product thickener, Stearyl is an emollient that helps trap moisture within the skin, Cetearyl Alcohol acts as an emulsifier and Propylene Glycol functions as a humectant. These beneficial alcohols protect the skin and enhance its natural lipid barrier.


Fact 3: Alcohols Can Help The Skin To Absorb Product Easily

In chemical formulation, alcohols act as a medium to dissolve ingredients that are not water-soluble so that they may penetrate the skin. Cult favourite Vitamins A and E are not water-soluble and therefore are usually formulated with alcohols. Also, alcohols enhance the delivery of skincare ingredients, such as Retinol and Vitamin C, into the deeper layers of the skin due to its low molecular weight. This helps the skin to better absorb the active ingredients for better results.


Fact 4: Watch Out For Drying Alcohols

Evaporative solvent alcohols such as SD Alcohol, Alcohol Denat, Isopropyl Alcohol, have drying effect on the skin and are typically found in toners. Skincare products formulated with these drying alcohols may immediately degrease the skin, however, they may cause longer term damage such as an increase in bumps, enlarged pores and excess oil production.  


Alcohols are not all bad in skincare. Learning to differentiate alcohols can help you choose the right products for your skincare routine so that you may reap the benefits of certain types of alcohol while avoiding the damaging ones. The higher alcohol is on the ingredient list, the higher its concentration will be. Consider the long-term impacts the alcohol has on the skin instead of just its temporary cosmetic effects. Our products are all free from drying alcohol so that you can experience their acne-fighting efficacies without dealing with harsh side effects.


Have a question on Lumipeau skincare or anything related to acne? Reach out to The Lumipeau Concierge via email at or Whatsapp at 6338 8183 and the team will be glad to assist!


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