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Your guide to alcohols in skincare

There are many types of alcohol that find their way into skincare products and not all are created equal! Keep reading for our quick guide to which alcohols are great for fussy skin types and which are a big NO in our books.
Did you know? 'Alcohol' is a chemistry term that simply means that a molecule  has a hydroxyl group at one end (A hydroxyl group is an oxygen atom bonded to a hydrogen atom), and is a term that describes a huge quantity of molecules. Alcohols can have vastly different structures—with different molecular weights—and that’s what determines how each type of alcohol plays with your skin and other ingredients in a skin-care product.

Drying Alcohols:

Low molecular weight alcohols evaporate quickly and can help ingredients penetrate the skin, which can lead to the unwanted result of having a drying effect on the skin. They are generally listed on an ingredient label as SD alcoholdenatured alcohol, or, less often, isopropyl alcohol. Although products containing these ingredients may feel especially appealing to oily skin types at first (they often feel lightweight, quick-drying and reduce oiliness on application), these volatile alcohols can actually lead to long term consequences for your skin if used repeatedly. This includes dryness, irritation of skin barrier and weakening of your skin's natural regenerative processes, especially when applied to sensitive skin. And although they might make your skin feel less oily when first applied, the irony is that alcohol can actually increase the oiliness of your skin and enlarge appearance of pores over time. If you spot one of these alcohols in your skincare products, a good tip to keep in mind is to pay attention to where it sits in the ingredient list- the higher the alcohol is placed in the ingredients, the higher the concentration it will be in the formula and the greater impact it will have on your skin. In general, we recommend avoiding any products with bad alcohols in them, especially if you have sensitive or reactive skin.

Fatty Alcohols:

High molecular weight or 'fatty' alcohols, generally derived from coconut or palm oil, are actually beneficial in skincare to help draw in and hold moisture. These have names like cetyl (product thickener), stearyl (an emollient to trap moisture in skin), cetearyl alcohol (an emulsifier), and propylene glycol (a humectant to attract water into the skin). Fatty alcohols are thick, waxy and often totally solid at room temperature. They enhance the natural lipid barrier and make a product feel thick and luxurious. At Glow Gen we are a big fan of fatty alcohols and aren't shy to include them in our products, although we always recommend listening to your skin and not over-doing it with any ingredient.


Key Takeaways:

  • Drying alcohols should generally be avoided by all skin types as they can have a negative impact on your skin over time.
  • Fatty alcohols can be beneficial for the skin and have a variety of functions from enhancing texture of products to moisturising your skin.
  • We always recommend listening to your skin and not over-doing it with ANY type of alcohol. If in doubt, go with a product that has been formulated for your skin type, and patch test before use. Stop use if irritation occurs.

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