Alcohol In Skincare: Isopropyl Alcohol - The Dermatology Review

Alcohol In Skincare: Isopropyl Alcohol

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12.28.20 AD DISCLOSURE

What Is Isopropyl Alcohol?

Isopropyl alcohol is also known as rubbing alcohol that is used in skincare and cosmetic products to help improve the application and absorption of the other ingredients in your product. 

Alcohols in skincare have been given a bad reputation, mostly due to the association between alcohol-containing toners and dryness. While it is true that astringent toners that contain a high concentration of alcohol can be drying to the skin, alcohols, like isopropyl alcohol can actually be beneficial to the skin. They also don’t damage the skin as many online rumours would have you believe. 

Isopropyl alcohol is different from ethanol which is the alcohol you would find in that after-work glass of wine. They differ in their chemical structure, these differences mean that isopropyl alcohol is better suited for skincare because it readily evaporates from the skin. This evaporation means that it often isn’t in contact with the skin for long enough to cause any damage or irritation.

Isopropyl Alcohol

the good: Helps other ingredients in your skincare to be absorbed easier. It also helps to improve the application of your product.

the not so good: Isopropyl alcohol can be drying or sensitizing when formulated in high concentrations or in combination with other drying or sensitizing ingredients.

Who is it for? All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients

Keep an eye on: Not all alcohol is created equal in the skincare world. Keep an eye out for all the other types of alcohols you may find in your skincare.

What Are The Benefits and Concerns About Using Isopropyl Alcohol?

The benefits of using isopropyl alcohol in skincare products are that it helps to dissolve other skincare ingredients, allowing them to be distributed evenly throughout the formulation. The other benefits of including isopropyl alcohol in skincare formulations is that it helps to improve both the absorption of the product and how the product spreads on the skin. Improving the absorption and spreadability means that the other key ingredients in the product are evenly distributed and are more likely to penetrate into the skin to provide their benefits. 

One of the other main benefits of isopropyl alcohol is that it kills bacteria. This is why it is often used in hand sanitisers. This combined with the fact that isopropyl alcohol readily evaporates makes it a great ingredient in both skincare and hand sanitiser products. 

The concerns that usually arise when talking about alcohols in skincare is that they can be drying to the skin. This is usually only an issue if the product is formulated with other drying or astringent ingredients. However, if you have sensitive skin or skin with a disrupted barrier you may experience a temporary stinging feeling if the skin is open or severely dry. If this is the case it may be best to avoid alcohol-containing products until your skin has healed. 

The other concern that has circulated recently is that alcohols in skincare may disrupt the skin’s natural barrier. The skin’s natural barrier consists of the top layer of skin cells, oils, ceramides, proteins and cholesterol. The skin’s barrier helps to protect the skin from allergen, bacteria and water loss. When the skin’s barrier is disrupted it can increase irritation and sensitivity. However, the claim that alcohols may disrupt the skin’s barrier don’t seem to have any validity. The only time where this may occur is if the skin’s barrier is already disrupted, in this case, alcohols may exacerbate the sensitivity this causes. 

Is Isopropyl Alcohol Safe?

Isopropyl alcohol is considered to be safe in its current uses in skincare, hand sanitisers and skincare products. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, a group responsible for evaluating the safety and efficacy of skincare and cosmetic ingredients has review isopropyl alcohol. In their review, the Expert Panel determined that isopropyl alcohol is safe when used under the current guidelines and for the currently approved uses.

References:
Heldreth, B, et al. 2012. ‘Final Report of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel on the Safety Assessment of Methyl Acetate’, International Journal of Toxicology.

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