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Alcohols – Are They Really Skin Care Evils?

By Marilynn Syrett Published 11/3/2009 | Beauty
Alcohols have been long dismissed as a skin care evil. They are talked about as harmful ingredients that if present in skin care products, serve to dry and irritate the skin. However, cosmetic alcohol is not a single ingredient. Rather, it has many forms and performs different functions on the skin. They have some really beneficial results.

In cosmetic labels, the term 'alcohol' refers to ethyl alcohol (also called grain alcohol or rubbing alcohol). Even though pure ethyl alcohol has antibacterial properties, it is rarely used in cosmetic skin care products because of its strong drying effect on the skin. Alcohol-free products are the ones that don't contain ethyl alcohol. However, they may still contain fatty alcohols like cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl, or lanolin alcohols. Fatty alcohols are produced from saturated fatty acids found in plants nuts and meats.

Cetyl Alcohol
Cetyl alcohol present in the modern skin care products is derived from coconut oil. It's a lubricant that is used to stabilize oil and water emulsifications. This is the reason it is used extensively in skin moisturizers and aftershave balms. It gives these skin formulations their flowy consistency. It is non-irritating and does not dry the skin.

Stearyl Alcohol
. Just like cetyl alcohol, Stery Alcohol is used as an emulsifier and a thickener. But it also a nonionic surfactant that contributes to soften the skin. It is used extensively in shampoos and conditioners to restore frizzy hair. It is non-irritating and does not complicate acne.

Cetearyl Alcohol

Cetearyl alcohol is a unique combination of cetyl and stearyl alcohols. It is a white, waxy solid that shows properties of both cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. It is a efficient thickener and helps form extremely stable emulsions in water-in-oil (full moisturizer) and oil-in-water (oil-free lotion) preparations.

Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol

Also known as the 'sheep alcohol', this non-drying alcohol is derived from the fat of wool shearing’s (lanolin) that has been reacted to acetic acid and a small amount of lye. It contains powerful anti-allergenic properties. It is used effectively as an emollient and also serves to soften the skin. However, it is highly comedogenic. Therefore, people prone to the development of whiteheads and blackheads might as well avoid it.

SD Alcohol

This is the denatured form of ethyl alcohol and is used extensively in skin care products in order to deliver ingredients to the skin surface. It evaporates almost instantly thus making it an ideal choice for toners and astringents. Even though you may feel a stinging sensation. It doesn't stay on the skin for too long and vanishes immediately.

All alcohols are not bad. It just depends on their intrinsic properties and the way they react with your skin. Pay attention to the labels of the skin care products. and consider the advantages of using the good alcohols.

Dr. Marilyn Syrett is a professional physician and skin care expert. She advises women on various nuances of skin care and offers them tips to buy skin care products online. She has written articles and reviews about a range of Obagi skin care products.