playing the skincare long game by avoiding drying alcohols

What isn’t in your skincare is just as important as what is.

When used in skincare, alcohols fall into two simple categories: good alcohols and bad alcohols. Good alcohols have emollient properties (e.g., cetyl alcohol), whereas bad alcohols  (e.g., isopropanol) are considered drying alcohols.

Most commonly used bad alcohols:

  1. denatured alcohol: commonly added to skincare to aid product penetration.
  2. isopropyl alcohol: often found in acne treatments and as a sanitizer.
  3. ethanol (SD Alcohol 40) or ethyl alcohol: widely used for its quick-drying properties, ethanol is found in many toners and astringents

The consistent use of skincare products containing drying alcohols has several long-term effects on the skin, ranging from dehydration to accelerated aging:

  • dehydration: drying alcohols strip the skin of natural oils. This can result in a dull complexion, fine lines, and an overall lack of elasticity.
  • sensitivity and irritation: drying alcohols may compromise the skin barrier’s function, making it more prone to redness, irritation, itching, and a heightened susceptibility to environmental aggressors.
  • long-term damage: SD Alcohol 40 and denatured alcohol harm the skin upon application, starting a damage response that continues long after they’ve evaporated. Studies have found that with regular exposure to drying alcohols, cleansing becomes a damaging ordeal - skin can no longer keep water and cleansing agents from penetrating it, further eroding its surface layers.
  • accelerated aging: ironically, many “anti-aging” products use drying alcohols to help ingredients like retinol and vitamin C penetrate into the skin more effectively but do that by breaking down the surface layers of skin - destroying the very substances that keep your skin healthier over the long term.
  • imbalance in oil production: paradoxically, the excessive use of drying alcohols can trigger an overproduction of oil as the skin attempts to compensate for moisture loss. Which, in turn, can trigger more breakouts.

If you’re playing the long game with your skincare, you need to consider how each product - and ingredient within that product - will affect your skin tomorrow and two decades from now.  That means avoiding products that contain drying alcohols is a non-negotiable skincare must.




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