Is alcohol dangerous in skincare and should you be avoiding it? 

The majority of the products you’ll see here on The Formula contain no drying alcohols whatsoever. You will be able to easily see which do and which don’t indicated in the table beside each product! But a few products do have some of this type of alcohol and that’s a good thing - Let us tell you why..

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation floating around the internet and social media on whether alcohol in skincare should be strictly avoided or not. This confusion exists because the answer isn’t simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It depends. 

There are many types of alcohols that cosmetic formulators can use - some of these are ‘fatty’ alcohols and help to moisturise and smooth the skin and others are ‘drying alcohols.’ Both serve a function in skincare and both can be beneficial or problematic depending on the quantity used, the individual’s skin and how often you use them. Most commonly it is the drying alcohols that are avoided as these can cause the most irritation and damage to our skin. 

Some examples include isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, SD alcohol and alcohol denaturant. These types have a low-molecular weight (they’re small) and they can penetrate more easily into the skin which is both great and not so great…

They are used to dissolve ingredients within a formula that don’t like to be dissolved in other substances (like water) and they also help to deliver these ingredients further into the skin where they are needed to work their skincare magic! They evaporate very quickly on the skin and help the product to feel thinner with a non-greasy feel which a lot of people prefer. 

So when is it desirable to have some of these drying alcohols in the formula? In products containing active ingredients like Vitamin C or Retinol that need to pass through the skin’s protective lipid barrier to get to deeper levels of the skin. Alcohol disrupts this barrier for a short time, allowing things to pass through. Because these types of alcohol are so good at disrupting our skin’s protective lipid barrier, we should be careful of products containing large amounts of drying alcohols and how often we are using products like this. Skincare designed to mattify, dissolve oil from the surface of the skin or to give a ‘cooling’ effect will most likely be using drying alcohols in order to achieve these outcomes which can be detrimental for skin’s health in the long term. Unfortunately, it’s often acne prone or oily problematic skin that is targeted by brands that formulate in this way. The last thinking acne prone skin needs it to be dealing with the added burden of a damaged skin barrier - this only leads to a more comfortable environment for acne to thrive in and the vicious cycle begins!

It’s also fine to have small amounts of alcohol in a formula to stabilise, preserve and solubilise other elements - you’ll find these inclusions of drying alcohols right at the end of the ingredients list. Every product included on The Formula containing drying alcohols has been chosen because there’s only a tiny amount in there and it serves one of the purposes above. You will not see products containing alcohol for the purposes of mattifying, reducing oils or stripping back the skin - that’s just not our skincare philosophy.

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