Alcohol is one of the most misunderstood ingredients in skincare. So much so that you nearly hear it screaming like a moody teenager ‘You just don’t get me!!!!!’.
In this case they’re right. Many of us don’t get them or understand them.
In the world of chemistry the word alcohol is used to describe (excuse the chemistry-ese… we’ll be quick!) an organic compound in which a hydroxyl group (-OH) is bound to a carbon atom, which in turn is bound to other hydrogen and/or carbon atoms.
We do apologise for that as it hurt our brains as well. And that’s just not cool on Sunday. All we’re trying to say is that there are many types of alcohol – not just the good stuff in your Long Island Iced Tea.
The bad alcohol in skincare
Alcohols like ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat, and methanol are used to make creams feel lighter, help other ingredients to penetrate your skin, and as a preservative.
On the surface that all sounds OK BUT there is a downside.
These alcohols can cause dryness, irritation and breakouts. So we’re firm believers that they don’t have a place in skincare.
Bad alcohols when used in high concentrations in skincare deteriorate your skin’s protective barrier which means your skin is no longer effective at keeping moisture in. It also stimulates oil production which could lead to breakouts if your skin makes too much oil.
What about Benzyl Alcohol?
Benzyl Alcohol is a little different to the other "bad" alcohols. Yes, it's a listed allergen with the EU but it's also a product necessary to keep organic and natural skincare products safe from bacteria. Benzyl Alcohol is found naturally in essential oils like Peru Balsam and is an approved preservative under the COSMOS Organic Certification criteria. It's used by many organic and natural brands (including ourselves) because of this. It allows us to create more active formulations which are natural as many other natural/organic preservative choices are not compatible.
When used in the correct, low concentration it's regarded as safe so we regard this as an 'OK' alcohol. Though if you have sensitive skin you should always patch test to make sure it's ok for you :)
The good alcohol in skincare
No, it’s not a 2 for 1 Happy Hour In the realms of alcohol, fat is your friend. Fatty alcohols are derived from vegetables and look completely different to those “bad” alcohols.
These good, fatty alcohols are usually solid, pearly white wax pieces and are used to help emulsify cosmetics (i.e. they help hold the product together so the oil and water don’t separate).
They’re not drying or irritating to your skin at all. In fact, they have the opposite effect. They act as emollients which protect your skin and help it to keep moisture in.
Cetearyl, Stearyl, Cetyl and Behenyl alcohol are the most common so if you find them in an ingredient list you have nothing to worry about. They get the Happy tick of approval
The ugly alcohol
OK you got us – there’s no ugly alcohol in skincare.
The ugly alcohol is that one last Mojito you shouldn’t have had. You know the one, it was a good idea at the time but at 9am the next morning it doesn’t feel like a good idea anymore.
Hope you gave the ugly alcohol a miss last night!
Ready to try something new? Start with a sample pack
If your current skincare regime is loaded with the 'bad' alcohols or is making your skin unhappy then it could be time to mix things up a bit and try something new - something that will make your skin happy and contains only ingredients that are kind to your skin.
The best way to get started with Happy Skincare is to get yourself one of our deluxe sample packs. We've got a pack for every skin type and each sample pack has over 2 weeks worth of product so you can really get to know the range without investing in full sized products.