Alcohol in skincare- Is it really that bad?

Alcohol in skincare- Is it really that bad?

Frequently found (read: hidden) in many skincare products, alcohol is one of the most contentious and controversial components in skincare. It is the main culprit behind the dry and flaky skin you experience post cleansing and toning using most skincare products. And even if you try to avoid products containing the ingredient, it can be quite tricky to spot because of its many distinct names and varieties. 

So if it’s that harmful for your skin, why do skincare products still contain this ingredient and how can you make better choices when it comes to opting for skincare that is gentle on your skin? Let’s find out.

What is alcohol?

An organic molecule with at least one hydroxyl functional group (OH) attached to a saturated carbon atom is known as alcohol. A hydroxyl group is an oxygen atom linked to a hydrogen atom that can be found on almost every organic molecule.

Wine, rubbing alcohol, retinol, and alcoholic beverages are all examples of alcohols. Although all alcohols have the same hydroxyl group, their structures vary greatly.

Not all alcohols are made equal when it comes to skincare. While basic alcohols should be avoided, other alcohols (especially fatty alcohols) can be helpful to the skin. However, when people talk about alcohol in skincare, they're usually referring to ethanol, which is known for being drying and irritating. It’s the alcohol in action that leaves you with the squeaky clean feeling after washing your face and toning it, but it’s not actually a good sign. This stripping feeling indicates the presence of ‘bad’ alcohol in your skincare product.

Why is alcohol added to skincare products?

Alcohol is added into your skincare for two major reasons. 

  1.  Alcohols are added to skincare products as preservatives and emulsifiers that maintain a lotion or cream, preventing it from separating by binding the oil and water components together. 
  2. It makes a formula creamy, sensual, and rich by thickening it and allows it to be absorbed quicker into the skin.

Is it bad to have alcohol in your skincare products?

Just like anything, alcohol in skincare has both its pros and cons. Products containing alcohol can be beneficial or those with excessively oily skin as it helps to penetrate the oil buildup, making it easy to dissolve and remove dirt, grime and sweat that would otherwise clog the pores of the skin. 

However, for those with sensitive and dry skin, alcohol can cause irritation and redness. The same goes for those with eczema and psoriasis as alcohol can cause nasty flare ups. Its ability to allow better absorption of products also raises the concern that it will enhance the penetration of toxic and harmful components in the product, causing a significant amount of damage to the skin. 

So what should one do?

Opt for products that have little to no amounts of alcohol present. You can easily determine that by having a look at the ingredient list.

“In small or reasonable concentrations, products can still benefit from the good effects of alcohol to optimize their product while reducing the bad effects,” says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a board-certified dermatopathologist in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Another option is to go for organic skincare products. Realizing the harm that alcohol can cause to the skin, many conscious skincare companies have painstakingly created products that are alcohol free. 

A point to note here is that products labelled ‘alcohol free’ are those that do not contain ethyl alcohol, commonly known as ethanol, per the FDA. It may however contain fatty alcohols like cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl, or lanolin alcohol which are beneficial for the skin. 

Fatty alcohols are often found in cleansing lotions and moisturizers owing to their ability to form a protective barrier and locking in moisture. They aren’t irritating and can be beneficial for dehydrated skin.

If not alcohol, then what other ingredients are safe to use on the skin?

There are numerous natural and safe alternatives that can make a wonderful skincare formulation. 

Look for products that contain natural astringents, such as green tea or witch hazel. Natural compounds like radish root ferment filtrate can be used instead of toxic preservatives to extend the shelf life of products without endangering the health of consumers.

Ingredients and antioxidants such as organic english lavender, organic chamomile, organic english marigold, organic aloe vera, organic green tea and organic ginger can be used to give your skin benefits that would last in the long run. 

Leovard prides in having a range of skincare products that are completely natural and safe for the skin. All products are completely alcohol free and are an absolute nourishing treat for the skin. Only the Leovard Handsanitizer contains ethanol owing to the nature of the product, but balances it out wonderfully with hydrating and healing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and others.


Alcohol in skincare damages your skin's protective surface and depletes the skin of critical nutrients. Given the hundreds of skin-friendly options available, avoiding products that are pre-loaded with skin-damaging kinds should be easy enough. And is made even more easy, thanks to Leovard skincare solutions.

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