Alcohols in skin care: The good, the bad and the beautiful?


Alcohol: great with dinner… fun in social settings… not so great on your skin.

Understanding an ingredients list can sometimes be a difficult undertaking. But fear not, dear reader, you don’t have to have a Ph.D. in chemistry to decipher it. Together, we can understand the in’s and out’s of knowing which alcohols are good for your skin and which ones you should steer clear of when you come across them.

To fully understand why they are harmful for your skin, we’ll need to start with a basic chemistry lesson (stick with me, I promise it won’t be too painful!)

“Alcohol” is a type of chemical compound with a similar section in their chemical structure (-OH) attached to a saturated carbon atom (joined to hydrogen atoms in single bonds). Imagine the common section of the compound as a ball, while the rest of the structure can be imagined as a stick. While the structure of the common section stays consistent among different types of alcohols, the length and branching of the “stick” portion can vary and thus affect the way the alcohol will behave.


When the “stick” section of the alcohol is short, these are referred to as “simple alcohols”. Simple alcohols like ethanol (the delicious stuff found in that martini you may or may not have indulged in) evaporate faster than water. This is because the bond, or attraction, between the individual molecules is not as strong as those between water molecules. This allows them to separate from one another a little easier and evaporate into the air. In skin care, these simple alcohols can be helpful in making a product dry quickly after application. However, the alcohol also damages the skin barrier and will allow moisture to escape as the ethanol evaporates.

Thankfully, as we mentioned earlier, not all alcohols are created equally and not all of them are harmful for your skin. Long-chain alcohols, referred to as “fatty alcohols”, are derived from natural fats and oils and usually occur as waxy solids. This different in structure means that they will act very differently than the simple alcohols we talked about earlier. Often used in skin care to thicken creams and lotions, they have softening and moisture-sealing qualities that can be very helpful.

Now that you are fully armed with the knowledge of what makes an alcohol good or troublesome for your skin, you’ll need to know how to tell them apart and to uncover the masked impostors of bad alcohols among the rest! After all, it can often be the cutest exteriors that cause the most problems 😉 This is where your ingredient reading skills will come in handy (dun dun duuuuuun!) Whether it’s the food we eat, the soap we wash with, or the sunscreen we use to protect our skin, if it’s going on or in your body, it’s a good idea to know what’s in it. I know, I know… it’s a daunting task, but you just need to keep an eye out for certain ingredients that, once you commit them to memory, are easy to spot. There are many other alcohols listed in the ingredients among skin care products. I just wanted to list out the most common ones for you to watch out for. Hopefully the list below will make the process a little less torturous.


There are many products on the market today that are listed as “alcohol free”. This often refers solely to the fact that they do not contain harmful simple alcohols, not alcohol all together. An example of one such product is Garnier’s SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water. It’s great at removing makeup and won’t leave your skin feeling tight and dry. There is even a version specifically designed to remove that extra stubborn waterproof makeup for when it just won’t budge! (affiliate links)

I hope our epic odyssey through the land of alcohols was a fun and informative one (despite the lack of actual drinks) and that you feel better prepared to face the next skin care ingredients list you encounter! Do you have a favorite alcohol-free skin care product that you love? Did you enjoy what you read and want to see more? Don’t forget to like, share, comment and join my email list below!!

Until next time, keep a scientific eye on the world and a happy thought in your head!

❤ Julie

One comment

  1. Hi Jewlz , very interesting blog. Now , I can look up the kind of alcohol ingredient if it’s good or bad in the skin👍. Thank you .


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