Alcohol As An Ingredient In Skin Care Products

Alcohol droplets illustrating alcohol in skin care products

This is a guide to the difference between alcohol, denatured alcohol, and fatty alcohols in skin care. The best alcohol in skin care depends upon what Baumann Skin Type you have.


Why Is Alcohol Added To Skin Care Products?

Denatured alcohol is the traditional form of alcohol used in skin care products. This is a true alcohol according to chemistry definitions of alcohol and is what you think of when you hear the word alcohol in association with cosmetics. True alcohols have antimicrobial abilities that keep microbes from growing in the skin care product. They extend the shelf life of the cosmetic product.


True alcohol, also called a simple alcohol, is a solvent that helps dissolve other ingredients and stabilizes skin care formulas. All simple alcohols have emulsifying, antimicrobial and emollient properties. Alcohols are found in   toners, essences, sunscreens, serums, moisturizers, creams, and lotions as a penetration enhancer to help other ingredients get into the skin. It also decreases foaming of products by counteracting the effects of surfactants and lowers viscosity making products more fluid.


But First- Is Alcohol Safe In Skincare?

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) board assessed the safety and dangers of alcohol in cosmetics[i] and found alcohol to be safe.  It does not penetrate through skin and enter the bloodstream. The only side effect and safety concern to worry about is the drying effects of alcohol. The drying effects depends upon the amount of alcohol in the product.  Toners and essences have the most alcohol, which is why we usually do not recommend toners and essences for Baumann Dry Skin Types.

Is Denatured Alcohol Safe on Skin?

Learn more about denatured alcohol here.

Are Fatty Alcohols Safe On Skin?

Fatty alcohols are not true alcohols.  Click to learn more about these.

Are Aromatic Alcohols Safe On Skin?

Aromatic alcohols have fragrance. They are often found in essential oils. Fragrances are a very common cause of skin allergy.

Can I Be Allergic To Alcohol in Cosmetics?


It is common to be allergic to alcohols.    The most common ingredients that are allergens in skin care products are found here.:

These are the most common alcohols to cause a skin allergy:


Benzyl alcohol

Cetyl Alcohol

Lanolin Alcohol

Why should skincare be alcohol free? Is alcohol bad for skin?

Denatured alcohol is only bad for dry skin types because it can harm the skin barrier.

If you are unsure about your skin type (Over 80% of people guess incorrectly!!) you can take the scientific skin type quiz here that dermatologists sue to diagnose dry skin.



Alcohol Free Skincare That Has Alcohol

Why was I told that I should avoid alcohol in skin care, but my dermatologist recommended a product with alcohol in it? Click here to learn why.

There is a difference between alcohol and fatty alcohols.  It is confusing - I know. Fatty alcohols are not true alcohols.  They do not have the chemical structure of alcohols.  They do not dry skin and do not have the same side effects that alcohol in skin care has. You can learn more about fatty alcohols here.


Myths About Alcohol In Skin Care

  • Myth: Using alcohol on the skin does not increase the production of sebum.
    • The science says: This has never been proven and is unlikely to be true.
  • Myth: All alcohol in skin care is bad.
    • The science says: Small amounts of alcohol in skin care has many benefits without the side effect of drying the skin. It’s the type and amount f alcohol that is important to consider when choosing the best skin care products.
  • Myth: Alcohol is the best way to clean the skin.
    • The science says: Alcohol disinfects the skin and kills microbes, but it is not the best way to remove sunscreen, dirt, makeup and sweat from the skin. Alcohol is not the most effective way to clean skin because it does not penetrate through sebum to get into the pores and clean out the pores. Choosing a cleanser for your Baumann Skin Type is a better option to clean the skin on the face.

Types of Simple Alcohols in Skin Care

Benzyl alcohol- Used as a preservative and fragrance. Helps stabilize the formula and make it more fluid (Less viscosity).

Ethanol- penetration enhancer. Same chemical as found in alcoholic beverages.  Used to extract ingredients form plants. For example, this is how essential oils are made. Evaporates off skin in about 10 seconds.[ii]

Methanol- High doses applied topically and oral ingestion can result in toxicity.[iii]

Alcohol denatured- learn more about denatured alcohol here.

Ethyl alcohol- same as ethanol

Phenethyl alcohol- Aromatic alcohol. Has a EWG rating of 1.

Isopropyl alcohol- This is rubbing alcohol. It is considered a secondary alcohol. It can cause a contact dermatitis skin allergy[iv] especially in people with eczema.

SD Alcohol- the same as denatured alcohol

Other names for alcohol in skin care products

Propylene glycol- This is an alcohol and is also in a skin care ingredient category called glycols.


Worried about what skin care products are the safest for your skin type, our dermatologists can help.  The first step is to take the skin type quiz and find out your Baumann Skin Type.


[i]Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. (2008). Final report of the safety assessment of alcohol denat., including SD alcohol 3-A, SD alcohol 30, SD alcohol 39, SD alcohol 39-B, SD alcohol 39-C, SD alcohol 40, SD alcohol 40-B, and SD alcohol 40-C, and the denaturants, quassin, brucine sulfate/brucine, and denatonium benzoate. International journal of toxicology27, 1-43.

[ii] Pendlington, R. U., Whittle, E., Robinson, J. A., & Howes, D. (2001). Fate of ethanol topically applied to skin. Food and Chemical Toxicology39(2), 169-174.

[iii] Chan, A. P., & Chan, T. Y. (2018). Methanol as an unlisted ingredient in supposedly alcohol-based hand rub can pose serious health risk. International journal of environmental research and public health15(7), 1440.

[iv] García‐Gavín, J., Lissens, R., Timmermans, A., & Goossens, A. (2011). Allergic contact dermatitis caused by isopropyl alcohol: a missed allergen?. Contact dermatitis65(2), 101-106.

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