There are a variety of alcohols available, and they are used for many things from skin care to perfume to food. Since each type is unique, it can be helpful to know a bit about the main ones.
Cetearyl / Cetyl Stearyl / Cetyl Alcohol is considered a fatty alcohol. Fatty alcohols are used to emulsify. They dissolve into a formula to allow the other ingredients to blend easily. Take salad dressing, for instance, if you use a creamy French recipe, it calls for olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Those two ingredients will remain separate until you add mustard as the emulsifier. Cetearyl is used in skin care to thicken and bind everything together and sometimes used as cleansing agents.
Glycol Alcohol can be used as a humectant; it attracts and holds onto water to moisten and deposit ingredients into the skin.
Ethanol and Ethyl Alcohol evaporate quickly and can be used to deposit goodness into the skin. I use ethanol when I make my annual bottles of Limoncello, which consists of lemon zest, ethanol, sugar, and water.
Denatured Alcohol provides a cooling effect, assists in absorption, and achieves an optimal pH which helps maintain the overall integrity of the outermost layer of skin. This type of alcohol prevents the growth of bacteria. Due to its astringent properties, it temporarily minimizes your pores, making your skin healthier and cleaner. Denatured alcohol is essentially ethanol with some extra chemicals added to make it undrinkable.
SD Alcohol: Specifically denatured alcohol; this industrially denatured alcohol is highly toxic if ingested.
Methanol: Not commonly used in skincare, occasionally added to ethanol as a denaturant.
Isopropyl Alcohol is commonly known as rubbing alcohol and used to disinfect an area of skin before an injection and sometimes facial extractions. It is no longer used to clean out wounds, in case you’re still doing that. You can (hopefully) find this alcohol in your bottle of hand sanitizer.
Benzyl Alcohol is a naturally occurring alcohol found in certain fruits. Along with its antibacterial properties, it is used as a preservative, pH adjuster, and solvent.
Some researchers say that certain alcohols can produce free-radical damage and negatively impact the surface of the skin. However, these studies were done using cultured skin cells (skin grown in a petri dish). Therefore, the results are not entirely indicative of the effects on human skin. Our skin is protected by a thick layer of keratin, making it much more resistant to potential damage. While alcohol can cause damage at high concentrations, our Face + Body Toner, for example, uses a lower percentage of alcohol that is much more beneficial than harmful. Our toner uses witch hazel as an astringent, allowing us to minimize the concentration of alcohol.
Note: Keep in mind that perfume is primarily made up of alcohol, and I’ve yet to see anyone’s neck or wrists dry out.
What the FDA Says:
“Cosmetic companies sometimes ask FDA about identifying botanicals only by their Latin names, identifying color additives only by the “CI” numbers used in the European Union, or using terms from other languages, such as “Aqua” and “Parfum” instead of “Water” and “Fragrance.” Under the FPLA, however, ingredients must be listed by their “common or usual names,” and FDA does not accept these alternatives as substitutes.”
Manufacturers like myself have strict guidelines to follow when creating a list of ingredients. The laws we follow are from an international organization called INCI, and they have had to work together to develop a “Harmonization” of Ingredient Names based on all languages.
When it comes to a generic word like alcohol, it is challenging to determine which type is in your product. It is at these times when you need to fall back on trusting your brand. At S4 Skincare, we have worked closely with our laboratory to bring you safe, high-quality ingredients that we know you will love.
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