Submitted via private message on the FutureDerm.com Facebook page:
Hello, could you please give some information how denatured alcohol can be harmful for skin? From the beautypedia site, I gathered alcohol does more harm to skin than good. -B.S.
I have a lot of respect for Paula Begoun. Her consumer advocacy has opened doors for a lot of us bloggers – I know I personally would have had more reservations being frank and honest with my opinions on products had she not opened the door first.
With that said, one area I do disagree with Paula on is SD alcohol 40. On Paula Begoun’s website, The Cosmetics Cop, which states that ethanol and drying alcohols generate free radicals, or ROS (reactive oxidative species) and cause irritation of the skin. It also states that alcohol inhibits collagen production. However, the studies she cites refer to cases where alcohol is consumed, not where it is topically applied to the skin. We here at FutureDerm believe alcohol can be wonderful when used in conjunction with other skin care ingredients, but it is harmful to the skin when applied alone or when consumed. Here’s our full analysis:
Too Much Alcohol is a Nightmare for Skin When Consumed
As we said before, the studies that Paula mentions refer to damage done when alcohol is ingested, not when it is topically applied to the skin. When it is ingested, alcohol will dilate the blood vessels, potentially aggravating rosacea. Under increased pressure, the stretched vessels may break, appearing as broken capillaries on the face.
When ingested, alcohol interferes with the body’s processing of vitamin A (including retinoids). Alcohol reduces the absorption of vitamin A from the diet (American Journal of Epidemiology, 1986). Because vitamin A is a known antioxidant with anti-aging properties, decreasing its absorption may lead to advanced aging. In addition, retinoids may not be as effective following excessive alcohol consumption, as Leo and Lieber note there is competition between ethanol and retinoic acid precursors, leading to accelerated breakdown of retinol through the induction of degradative enzymes.
When Applied Topically, Ethanol Helps Skin Care Products (Really!)
When applied topically, there is no evidence we can find that states ethanol generates ROS species.
When used in conjunction with other skin care ingredients, alcohol compacts or shrinks the volume of the solution. So if you’re choosing between a serum with vitamin C and glycerin and one with vitamin C, glycerin, and alcohol, I’d choose the latter, because the solution is thinner, and there is less volume the vitamin C has to traverse to get to your skin. Other ingredients that function similarly, such as limonene and ethoxydiglycol.
Of course, if you are talking about using just SD alcohol 40 on your skin alone, that’s not a good idea, either. SD alcohol applied alone to skin will bind to water and the long hydrocarbon chains present in all lipids. It will fly away with the water and essentially dehydrate your skin – but that’s when it is used alone.
Contrary to popular belief, SD alcohol can be a benefit in skin care products. While drinking alcohol and topically applying it alone can be harmful, using alcohol in conjunction with other skin care ingredients compacts the volume of the solution, making it easier for key ingredients to interact with the skin.
Hope this helps!