There’s an internet rumor out there that perfume may age your neck. Those who claim this say that the musk may be irritating, while the alcohol and photosensitizing ingredients in the perfume may be accelerating the rate at which your skin cells age (!).
Here’s the truth about this rumor.
Alcohol doesn’t make your skin age faster
Ingesting alcohol and topically applying alcohol to the skin are two completely different things. If you don’t believe me, think about the different effects drinking water and bathing in it has on your body – drinking water over a prolonged period of time hydrates your system, while bathing in water for prolonged periods of time makes skin all crinkly!
Most of the studies that show alcohol is poor for your skin or causes the release of free radicals are following oral consumption of alcohol (see here) — not topical application of alcohol.
There is also a popular skin care article out there titled, “Ethanol signals for apoptosis (cellular death) in cultured skin cells.” This sounds like ethanol is killing your skin cells, which I’ll admit, is scary. But further inspection reveals one crucial thing: These skin cells were embedded in ethanol, without any supportive nutrients in the media. If you take skin cells embedded in water without any supportive media, they too will die. This doesn’t mean that it’s the ethanol or the water killing your skin cells — it’s the lack of supportive nutrients in the media.
Alcohol doesn’t dry out your skin
There is also a rumor out there that alcohol dries out your skin. Those who get into it claim alcohol harms your skin’s delicate acid mantle and lipid bilayer. However, this isn’t what it sounds like.
One of the reasons why certain skin care products don’t work is that the beneficial ingredients don’t penetrate the skin. Alcohol increases the penetration of ingredients into the skin by creating temporary microscopic openings in the lipid bilayer that later close, allowing beneficial ingredients to penetrate the skin, but still leaving skin intact and healthy (Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, Cosmetics and Toiletries).
I’m Not Alone in My Support of Alcohol
According to well-renowned DERMADoctor dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin, M.D.: “If I had to pick a single ingredient as the most misunderstood, it would be alcohol. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘I can’t use that product, it contains alcohol and will dry, irritate my skin.’ Is this true? Probably not.” (The DERMADoctor Skinstruction Manual)
Yes, alcohol can be drying – in 100% concentration, applied directly to the skin, absolutely. But in a properly-formulated skin care product, it can help increase penetration of key ingredients. Some alcohols also act as slip agents, emollients, and/or hydrators. In the case of perfume, alcohol is not drying out your skin.
Are There Cytotoxic Ingredients in Perfume?
Aside from alcohol, which many believe to be the ‘aging’ ingredient in perfume, there are also rumors perpetuating around the internet that other ingredients may be harmful as well. These include:
- Acetone – When used in typical concentrations, acetone is OK. Most of the studies that show acetone are harmful do not use acetone in realistic doses or frequencies, and are not applied to human systems.
- Benzaldehyde – It’s actually found in more food products than personal care products. Most of the studies that show benzaldehyde are harmful test it on animals in unrealistic concentrations. It has not been shown to be harmful for humans.
- Benzyl acetate – One scientist has this to say about Benzyl acetate: “This incredibly beautiful material is the result of a fractional distillation of ylang ylang flowers and it shows.” It’s not harmful in concentrations found in perfume.
- Camphor – This actually can be drying. If you use perfume and it is irritating your neck, and you find it contains camphor, start spritzing it on your clothing rather than your bare skin.
- Ethyl acetate – Again, not harmful in concentrations typical to human exposures.
- Limonene, linalool – Ever squirt lemon juice on your face or hair, and notice how dry it gets? That’s because limonene and linalool can be irritating and photosensitizing. For most people, the concentrations of limonene and linalool are low enough in perfumes that they don’t affect them. Still, some people do notice photosensitivity after using perfumes with these ingredients.
Concentration matters because it demonstrates there is a lot of fearmongering going on in the beauty industry. For instance, if you apply 10,000 times the typical concentration of vitamin C to a rat’s skin, it too will likely exhibit phototoxicity, photosensitivity, severe irritation, and cytotoxicity (cell death). But this doesn’t mean vitamin C is bad for the skin; rather, this means the dose is not appropriate for the skin. Similarly, I don’t know why people cite studies frequently that show 10,000 times the typical concentration of ingredient X to a rat’s skin means it’s cancer-promoting or otherwise harmful. It makes no sense to me, and I’m calling it out.
What is Really Aging Your Neck Then?
The truth of the matter is, most of us experience signs of aging on our necks faster than the rest of the face because the skin of the neck has fewer oil glands than does much of your face. After menopause, this is one of the first areas that slow oil production, and so women in their 50s and 60s often exhibit dramatic differences in their neck after going through this phase. We also don’t use moisturizer, sunscreen or moisturizer with sun protection on our necks as often as the rest of our faces.
Despite the fearmongering you’ll read elsewhere on the internet, most of the ingredients in perfume are not, as Train would say, “poison.” However, if you notice irritation from alcohol, limonene, linalool, or camphor, you may want to spray your clothes instead of your skin. Furthermore, make sure you use antioxidant serums and sunscreen on your neck daily, and moisturize often!