I am wondering if you have any information or thoughts about alcohol in skin care products. Specifically ethanol, or grain alcohol. Just about everything I find on the web says don’t use products that have it. They say it can be drying, or make your skin produce more oil, or cause free radical damage. However, I know many natural products use plant extracts that are in a solution with grain alcohol. So, I’m wondering if it’s as bad as they say? Or is it okay in small doses, and if so, how small?
One thing to understand is that rarely is there a black and white answer and there are many things to consider.
Alcohol has the ability to extract lipids and so in that sense can dry the skin. By extracting lipids ethanol may also increase dermal absorption of other ingredients. There is also some evidence that small amounts of topical ethanol can be absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream. The increased use of ethanol in skin care products is seen now because of the search for more natural preservatives.
Ethanol can certainly be considered ‘natural’ and it is also antimicrobial at concentrations of 15-20%. Because it can be irritating and drying to the skin, formulators will often try to counteract this effect by using other ingredients that are anti-irritants and more moisturizing.
So, while using 15% ethanol just diluted in water may be very irritating to the skin, when it is used at 15% diluted in other cosmetic ingredients it may not be irritating to the skin. Although it shouldn’t be a problem with normal, healthy skin, skin that is already damaged may react differently.
For more information, read ‘Safety Evaluation of Topical Applications of Ethanol on the Skin and Inside the Oral Cavity‘