True or False? Avoid Using Alcohol in Skin Care Products

Updated 12/2/19. As consumers, you put great effort into educating yourself on proper skincare, which means looking at ingredients before purchasing skin products to make sure there are no harsh or harmful ingredients being used.

If you look at the ingredient list and you see the word, “alcohol,” most people would assume that the product is drying to the skin. But the truth is that all alcohols affect the skin differently, and many are not harmful. So the answer is FALSE. Do not avoid using all skincare products that contain alcohol.

In the world of cosmetic chemistry, “alcohol” is a molecule with an -OH (hydroxyl) group.

Did you know that Vitamins A and E are actually alcohols even though they don’t mention the word alcohol in their name? Alcohols can be humectants, solvents, emulsifiers, surfactants, and antioxidants.

Beneficial alcohols (those with a high molecular weight) commonly used in skincare products include:

Retinol (Vitamin A molecule to discourage wrinkles) Read: Are you Using Retinol-Based Products?

Tocopherol (Vitamin E, a free radical fighting antioxidant)

Cetyl Alcohol (product thickener)

Oleyl Alcohol (emollient)

Arachidyl Alcohol (emollient)

Stearyl Alcohol (emollient)

Propylene Glycol (a humectant that binds moisture into the skin)

“Bad,” or drying, alcohols (those with a high molecular weight) commonly used in skincare products include:

*SD Alcohol 40 (evaporative, solvent alcohol)

Denatured Alcohol


Isopropyl Alcohol

These are extremely drying to the skin and should be avoided.

*Note: In blemish products, solvent alcohols can be useful for drying out breakouts.

Bottom line: You should not avoid ALL alcohols in skincare products because not all alcohols are the same.

Want to learn the truth about more skincare ingredient myths? Read this post.


Disclaimer: Content found on and, including text, images, audio, or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.


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  1. Hi there-

    I’m using a toner that has grain alcohol. Is that damaging and something to avoid? Thanks!

    Posted By: Courtney  | 

    • Yes, without a doubt, that is not beneficial to use on the skin. It is very drying.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

  2. hi i was about to get the new lancomes teint idole 24 hr foundation but saw that they have alcohol denat. in the ingredients. Is this the same as Denatured alcohol?

    Posted By: Mischel  | 

    • Hi Mischel, yes, it is.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

    • Yes, it is the same and is an ingredient that will dehydrate the skin short and long term.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

  3. I’m so glad you posted this! I have passed up products due to cetyl and stearyl alcohol.

    Posted By: Teresa  | 


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