Do you avoid alcohol in your skin care products? Not all alcohols are bad for you.

I always recommend that sensitive skin sufferers check ingredient lists and give beauty products containing alcohol a wide berth.

Ethyl alcohols dry the skin, cause irritation, trigger Rosacea flare-ups and prevent the absorption of Vitamin A – the lack of which promotes premature ageing.

These drying alcohols are listed as ‘alcohol denat.’, ‘ethanol’ or ‘ethyl alcohol’.

Some companies market alcohol as a “skin balancer” – if you have oily skin, then it will dry it out. There are better ways to rebalance your skin!

This is a cynical marketing gloss for the true reasons for including alcohol – it is used as a “natural” preservative in organic products, as well as a fixing agent for fragrances.

But it only works in high concentrations – for alcohol to work as a preservative in skin creams, it must be used in concentrations of up to 20%, which is why you see it high up the ingredients list.

But…Pai uses a form of alcohol in its products – is it also drying and a skin irritant?

No. Not all alcohols are created equal. They can take various forms, serve different purposes and not all are bad for the skin.

There is a class of wax alcohols such as cetearyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol.

These are referred to as ‘fatty alcohols’ and are commonly used as an emulsifier or thickener in creams.  They actually have a non-drying moisturising effect on the skin.

These alcohols are usually naturally derived from vegetable sources such as coconut and are well tolerated by sensitive skin sufferers.

Drying alcohols carry a ‘moderate’ hazard rating of 5-6 on the Cosmetic Safety Database while fatty alcohols have a ‘low’ hazard rating of 0-1.

So, know your alcohols – we at Pai do use Ethly Alcohols but we use them to clean and disinfect our work surfaces. Which just about says it all.

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  • Claude Edwin Theriault

    Good to see someone showing the perils of alcohol in skin care product,very nice article.

  • Joanna Vargas Skin Care Solutions

    Thank you for this information. I will look into this further as it sort of makes sense to me but I'm not convinced that some alcohols, although different won't hurt the skin. Joanna Vargas

  • Chloe Blue

    Hello ~

    I have been going nuts for the past few years looking for ANY face cream that does not contain alcohol – this includes the so-called fatty alcohols.

    The times I have used any skin cream with cetyl, cetearyl or stearyl alcohol, I have have noticed increased dryness with repeated usage. The cream might seem wonderful the first few days, but the first thing I’ll notice is that the delicate area under my eyes will seem thin with tiny lines appearing …..and what’s really frustrating is that I have NO lines under my eyes, so seeing a product actually create what it’s supposed to prevent is just crazy.

    I now only use organic rosehip oil or vitamin E oil near my eyes.

    The ONLY face cream I can find that isn’t ruined with alcohol is the very basic moisturizing day cream by Burt’s Bees. It’s one of their first products in a yellow box. Unfortunately ALL the rest of their line has the dreaded cetyl, cetearyl, or stearyl alcohol included.

    Before using the Burt’s Bees cream, I was only using natural oil on my face, and even using just olive oil to avoid these ingredients which cause my skin damage.

    Now I mix oils into the Burt’s cream to thin it a bit….there is also a night cream by them in a tiny jar with no alcohol.

    I swear, sometimes I think they’re adding the alcohol because the drier our skin is, the MORE cream we’ll use! LOL

    I’ve also stopped using face washes on a daily basis.

    I use a mild wash maybe twice a week and use straight apple cider vinegar on a cotton pad all the other days. (I don’t wear foundation or other make-up, so this works for me)

    Hawaiian spirulina is also helping me from the inside…the skin on my body especially is becoming as smooth as when I was a child! :-)

    Thanks for your blog!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Chloe,

    The fatty alcohols we use in some of our products are recognised as safe for sensitive skin – they neither dry out or irritate the skin. If you’re having trouble with those particular ingredients, it could be that you’re sensitised to them specifically.

    It’s great that you’ve found something that works for you – but it’s worth bearing in mind that apple cider vinegar does contain some alcohol! x

  • Chloe Blue

    Hello – I appreciate the information. I just don’t see how I could experience this crepey/thinning look to my under area every time I use a product containing alcohol of any kind, without the issue being the alcohol. Also, the lotions containing these ingredients create a situation where at first my skin seems plumper and soft but after repeated use I have to use more and more of the lotion.

    I had no idea ACV contained alcohol….good to know!
    I’ll look into this — thank you.

    Have a beautiful Christmas and Happy New Year as well! xo

  • abbeysbooks

    Oh oh. You need to read Hulda Clark on alcohol. Anything with proby in the chemical name contains it. They put a kind of poison in it so people can’t drink it as it makes them violently sick needing to gt their stomach pumped. You know so the liquor industry can keep their prices high. So you make your own using vodka or White Lightening (100% proof) in the creme. If you get a creme without alcohol put a few drops in to preserve it from bacteria. We are turning into quite a health thread here eh.

  • abbeysbooks

    It’s “rubbing alcohol” and it’s cheap. That’s why it is used. If they used pure alcohol for consumption or vodka it would be too expensive and not enuf profit.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Chloe, it could just be a particular sensitivity to those ingredients which is causing that reaction.

    Thanks! Have a great Christmas too! x

  • C

    I was always told not to apply moisturizer directly underneath the eyes. The skin is different there and when moisturizer is applied there it can accentuate fine lines. Using an eye cream instead should help.

  • Mike Gorey

    You’re allergic. It’s not them, it’s you—cetyl alcohol is not drying to the skin. I’m allergic too, sadly.

  • Emily UK

    Hi, PLEASE could you respond to this question:

    I used Clinique toner no. 2 (which contains alcohol denat) a couple of days ago – three times over 2 days – and have since stopped using it due to the burning sensation and redness it caused on my face.

    However, my skin is still suffering from excessive dryness / oiliness in T zone. I had never used anything containing alcohol before. Are these effects treatable? My skin is still itchy and very sensitive (much more than before) – how can I return it to its previous, very healthy state ?!!


  • Anonymous

    Hi Emily, So sorry to hear that you’re having a tough time with your skin. It sounds as though you’ve had a reaction to this product which has thrown your pH and oil levels off balance. These effects are treatable, but you’re going to need to be paitient and gentle with your skin whilst it recovers. Firstly, we’d recommend avoiding any foaming products as these contain detergents which strip the skin of its natural oils and can further discupt the oil balance. Instead, try a cream cleanser free from alcohol and irritants and gently cleanse every evening. Our Camellia & Rose Cleanser is ideal. Whilst your skin is so sensitised, we’d recommend our Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Cream which is packed full of soothing and strengthening botanicals to help get your skin back on track. If you’d like any more in depth advice please email our team of sensitive skin experts on: [email protected]. x

  • sumayya

    i bought Bioderma white objective night serum two days back but then i noticed “Alcohol Denat” listed as the second ingredient. my skin is of combination type and sensitive . Do you think it’s safe for me to use it ?

  • Ed

    Hi Sumayya,

    I suggest you patch test the product first.

    Apply the product to the inside of your elbow and check for redness or irritation. If none appears, apply a small amount to a small area on your face and check again.

    We would normally expect products that contain high levels of alcohol to be unsuitable for sensitive skin and we don’t recommend the use of alcohol to rebalance combination skin.

  • Vicky

    what about benzyl alcohol? I’ve been using Melvita apiscoma cleanser and Cattier both sting my face and caused me red cheeks for more than 20 min, the burning feeling is like eating a teaspoon of chilli :( hurrrrrrrt!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Vicky – Benzyl Alcohol can be very irritating to sensitive skin. If it’s causing redness and irritation I would recommend that you stop using it. You could try our Cream Cleanser instead, it’s much more gentle on the skin and contains no alcohol. Hope that helps! x

  • Salma

    Best article ever read on alcohols in Skin products. Thumbs up!

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