The word alcohol is used very loosely in the English language; usually the word is used in reference to ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, most commonly found in alcoholic beverages. In the cosmetics industry however, you may also find ingredients such as benzyl or cetyl alcohol. The question is, are any of these chemicals beneficial when it comes to your skincare?

Different Types of AlcoholUsage in Skincare and Cosmetics

Different types of alcohol have different sources, but most of them have similar chemical properties. Some of the ways it may be used in skincare solutions include:

  • To thicken the consistency of a cream or lotion
  • As an antiseptic or antimicrobial
  • As a solvent
  • To decrease or increase foaming
  • As an emulsifier

Is it Bad for the Skin?

Not every kind of alcohol is bad for the skin, but many can have negative effects. Chemicals that are derived from ethanol or petroleum are rarely beneficial. Ethyl alcohol and propyl alcohol can strip away the natural oils and acids that are produced by the skin. Breaking down this barrier layer leaves skin susceptible to damage from the sun and other elements.

Many ethyl or propyl-based skin products that promise to improve oily skin can have negative effects on the skin’s natural biochemistry. Frequent application can totally unbalance the oil production cycle, causing it to overcompensate by producing even more oil than before. The result is a thicker layer of the shiny oils that you were trying to reduce.

Some of the the negative compounds to avoid in skincare and cosmetic products are:

  • SD Alcohol
  • Ethanol
  • Methanol
  • Benzyl Alcohol
  • Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Methyl Alcohol

Beneficial Chemical Compounds

Some forms of alcohol are derived from plants; these are referred to as aliphatic or fatty compounds. These have several practical uses in cosmetic products, often as thickening agents or emulsifiers. Even better, fatty compounds can help the skin to absorb and retain moisture while adding an extra layer of protection.

Here are a few examples of fatty compounds:

  • Cetyl alcohol has lubricating properties, as well as the ability to protect skin against irritation.
  • Cetearyl alcohol is used as an emulsifier and to treat dry skin.
  • Stearyl alcohol is an emollient for the skin and can be used to increase opacity or foaming qualities in cosmetic formulas.

Look for these beneficial compounds in your future skincare purchases.  You can also find alcohol-free personal care products on