The mention of alcohol in the ingredient list of skincare and personal care products is often frowned upon. But, there are two kinds of alcohol — the good and the bad. While the former can make your skincare products more effective, depending on your skin type, the latter can cause irritation, redness, and allergic reactions, as well as long term damage like dryness and a compromised skin barrier.
Usually found in perfumes, moisturisers, sanitisers, etc., alcohol is added “as a solvent to dissolve oil, an antiseptic to kill bacteria, as a buffer to get the right pH, and as an agent of drug delivery”, says Dr Gunjan, lead dermatologist at Proactive for Her.
Why is alcohol used in skincare products?
“There are two purposes of using simple alcohol, like ethanol and isopropyl in skincare products — firstly, to dissolve some active ingredients that cannot be dissolved in water. Secondly, alcohol penetrates very fast into the skin. So, for some products which cannot enter the skin, alcohol is used to make their absorption better,” explained Dr Manjul Aggarwal, senior consultant dermatologist, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.
Agreed Dr Gunjan, and added that alcohol reduces oil/bacteria in cases of acne/oily skin and acts as drug delivery agent. For instance, minoxidil solution has alcohol in it, which is used for androgenetic hair loss. Alcohol also reduces bacteria fungi/viruses when used in sanitizers, a staple nowadays. While cetyl alcohol acts as a gentle cleanser for sensitive skin, benzyl alcohol, found naturally in fruits like apricots and cranberries as well as essential oils like ylang ylang, acts as a preservative and has a bacteriostatic effect in cosmetics and creams. However, it can cause an allergy, too.
Dr Aggarwal also pointed out that products which contain simple alcohol are not appropriate for dry and sensitive skin types as well as for people with eczema, as alcohol evaporates fast, and can dry the skin out further. “But, on the other hand, for oily and acne-prone skin, you …….