What Is Ethyl Alcohol?
Ethyl alcohol is the same type of alcohol that is consumed in alcoholic beverages. However, as it is also used as a skincare ingredient the ethanol is denatured so as to avoid being taxed as an alcoholic beverage. Denaturation of ethanol means that a small amount of denaturant is added to the alcohol in order to make it taste bad and unsuitable for drinking.
Ethyl alcohol is used in many skincare and body care products such as makeup, moisturizers, perfumes, and fragrances as well as oral care, hair care, and in toners. It is mainly used to improve the texture of the product. This includes acting as a solvent, viscosity decreasing agent, astringent and antifoaming agent.
the good: Helps to stabilize products and improve the texture and consistency of the formulation.
the not so good: Like any ingredient, it can cause allergies for some people. It can also cause irritation and sensitivity in some people. It can also be mildly drying particularly in high concentrations.
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: Alcohol denat or ethyl alcohol can be drying particularly when in high concentrations, if you have dry or sensitive skin you may want to look into avoiding products that contain a large amount of ethyl alcohol.
Why Is Ethyl Alcohol Used?
Ethyl alcohol is used as a solvent, viscosity decreasing agent, astringent and antifoaming agent. All of these properties are designed to improve the texture and consistency of a product.
As a solvent ethyl alcohol helps to dissolve other ingredients so that they can be evenly distributed throughout a product. This allows for key ingredients to be better delivered to the skin.
A viscosity decreasing agent is just another name for thinning out a product and making it less thick and easily spreadable.
Astringents are ingredients that allow for a temporary tightening of the skin. This can temporarily improve the appearance of pores etc. However, astringents such as the old school type of toners that leave your face feeling dry are going out of fashion. If you have sensitive skin, barrier disrupted skin or dry skin, definitely avoid these astringent based toners as they have been found to exacerbate the symptoms.
This one is mostly self explanatory, ethyl alcohol can act as an anti-foaming ingredient and prevent foam from forming when the product is shaken.
Is Ethyl Alcohol Safe?
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, a group responsible for evaluating the safety of skincare and cosmetic ingredients has reviewed the research on ethyl alcohol. The Expert Panel concluded that ethyl alcohol is safe for its current uses and in the current concentrations in which it is used. The US Food and Drug Administration or FDA also includes ethyl alcohol on its Generally Recognised as Safe list.
Interestingly, in 2016 the FDA released a document regarding antibacterial and antiseptic products that are sold over the counter. This document included a ruling that ethyl alcohol should not be considered to be an active ingredient in products such as antibacterial soaps or hand sanitisers. This ruling came after a number of studies suggested that antibacterial soap products aren’t actually more effective than washing your hands with soap and water.
Lachenmeier DW. Safety evaluation of topical applications of ethanol on the skin and inside the oral cavity. J Occup Med Toxicol. 2008;3:26. Published 2008 Nov 13.