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What do you know about types of alcohol in skincare?


Alcohol in skin care is something many people are concerned and wary of, and with good reason! It can be so confusing which alcohols are good and bad and why! All the confusion and frustration has lead me to realise that although different types of alcohols in skincare are like chalk and cheese, they are not scary things if you pay attention to what kinds of alcohol you are using and how it reacts with your skin.



Fatty Alcohol (GOOD)


Fatty alcohols are a type of alcohol derived from natural fats and oils, completely safe and beneficial to skin. They are used for fragrances, emollients, emulsifiers, stabilising agents, and thickeners.  Fatty alcohols have no relation to simple alcohols, they are like chalk and cheese with completely different chemical makeup and origin. Reactions can occur from fatty alcohols from people with sensitive skin. Like anything, you have to find what is best for you.


  • Lauryl alcohol - Obtained from palm kernel or coconut oil fatty acids. In cosmetics, it is used to sooth as an emollient. It is also used as a fragrance ingredient.
  • Stearyl Alcohol – Made from stearic acid (a naturally occurring fatty acid) coconut oil or vegetable fatty acids. Used to soothe and soften. Also, used as an emulsifying and stabilising agent
  • Oleyl alcohol – Derived from olive oil, beef fat oil and fish oil. It is used in creams and hair shampoos and conditioners as emulsifiers, emollients and thickeners.
  • More Fatty alcohols are:
    • Caprylic alcohol
    • Cetyl alcohol
    • Myristyl alcohol

Organic Alcohols


Organic Alcohols are organically grown and harvested. They are typically used in natural hand sanitisers, cosmetics and fragrances.


Alcohol in hand sanitisers is essential to kill 99.9% of germs. People are often put off when they see alcohol as one of the first ingredients, but non alcoholic hand sanitisers are not effective and can be more harmful than helpful! When looking at the alcohol content in hand sanitisers, look for organic alcohols in the ingredients to make sure you aren't absorbing any unnecessary harmful chemicals into your skin.


Organic alcohols can come under:


  • Organic Ethyl Alcohol AKA Ethanol (made from sugar cane)
  • Milk Whey Alcohol (ethyl alcohol/ethanol made from milk whey)
  • Organic Cane, Wheat, Grape, Corn and Grain Alcohol.


None of these are derived from petroleum or denatured, which should be avoided.


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Even while using products with organic alcohol you should still take care not to dry out your skin. Letting your skin dry out can increase oil production. As more oil is produced, pores will become clogged causing more acne to form. To avoid this make sure to use an effective moisturiser to keep your skin hydrated and healthy! So please remember, moisturise, moisturise moisturise!


Non Organic Alcohols (AVOID!)


♦ Denatured Alcohol


Simple alcohols are used for many things including alcoholic beverages, antiseptics, fuels, preservatives and as solvents. Unfortunately these alcohols are often denatured when used in anything that isn't consumable. This includes cosmetics.


Denaturing alcohol adds various harmful and toxic chemicals. This is done to avoid paying extra tax on the alcohol due to it being consumable.


Any alcohol that is denatured should be avoided as toxins will be absorbed into your skin and go strait to your blood stream. While there are different types of alcohols that get denatured it is largely ethanol that is used. On an ingredients label denatured alcohol is usually listed as 'denatured alcohol', 'SD (specially denatured) alcohol', 'alcohol denatured' or 'alcohol dent'.


♦ Synthetic Alcohol


If alcohol is not listed as denatured you should still use caution as it may be synthetic. Synthetically made alcohols are known to be moderately to highly toxic.


Benzyl alcohol is a common alcohol people are often concerned about. It is commonly used in perfumes or scented products as a component of a fragrance. Synthetically made benzyl alcohol is considered moderately hazardous due to toxicity concerns by EWG.


Benzyl alcohol, when naturally derived, comes from fruits and plants and is not considered toxic. You will find it listed in natural products and is found in some products we stock. Many products offered by Weleda list benzyl alcohol in the ingredients. Benzyl alcohol hasn't actually been added as an ingredient but is a component of some of the naturally derived essential oils used in Weledas products. Because of this it is listed as an separate ingredient. While usually it is a non issue, as a potential allergen it is important they list it separately.


Most mainstream products containing benzyl alcohol use the synthetic form. If you are trying to avoid synthetic alcohols check if the ingredients label notes if it is naturally derived or a component of one of the natural ingredients. If it does not clarify this the alcohol content may be synthetic.



To Summarise...


♥ As a general guide, there are some alcohols that are good and nourishing for your skin. These are fatty alcohols which work well in skin care products.


♥ Organic alcohols are the next best thing to use are effective antibacterials in hand sanitiser. They will dry out your hands however and should be used alongside a moisturiser.


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♥ If you have very sensitive skin it is probably best to avoid all alcohols in your skin care products but you may find some that work for you.


♥ Avoid denatured alcohols as these are toxic and have become denatured for the purpose of making them unfit for consumption.


♥ Finally, use caution with other types of alcohol. Some are not a cause for concern as long as you moisturise, others are synthetic and/or have toxicity concerns. This can be hard to determine at a glance. Look for a note confirming it is naturally derived or a component of naturally derived ingredients. Otherwise assume synthetic or toxic to be on the safe side.


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