Plant Fueled / Science Based Skin Care

Alcohols in Skincare;

These are no party for your skin!

Alcohols are a super common ingredient in many personal care products and have tons of different uses; making skincare feel ‘light’ (non greasy formulas), killing bacteria, as a fragrance fixative. Some alcohols are naturally occurring in essential oils and are intrinsic to the smell of certain flowers. Some alcohols come from plants. In this post we are going to go over four skincare alcohols you’ve more than likely heard of: Ethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol, & Methanol .

Ethanol – aka Ethyl Alcohol / Alcohol / Methylcarbinol / Grain Alcohol

  • Ethanol is alcohol from carbohydrates like grain or fruit, the same kind that is found in alcoholic beverages.
  • Alcohol has a relatively low toxicity risk for dermal (skin) exposure; it is considered an irritant to eyes & skin with redness and dryness being the main symptoms of exposure
  • Ethanol does not carry a significant known environmental risk

*A small note should be made here that while ethanol is not a topical irritant to your skin habitual drinking can result in dry/oily skin, increased breakouts, redness, broken capillaries etc.

Benzyl Alcohol – aka Phenylmethanol / Benzenemethanol / 100-51-6 / Phenylcarbinol

  • Benzyl Alcohol is naturally occurring in some essential oils as well as key to the distinct scents of certain flowers; also a pediculicide – kills lice & other related parasitic insects. Benzyl Alcohol is synthetically manufactured through the hydrolysis of benzyl chloride or by a catalytic reduction of benzylaldehyde.
  • Benzyl Alcohol is used as an anesthetic for pain related to lidocaine injections, benzene compound manufacturing, perfumery and flavoring ( as a fixative )
  • Benzyl Alcohol is considered mildly toxic; it is readily absorbed through the skin (50% -80%) and also easily broken down and eliminated as hippuric acid in people with mature healthy livers*
  • Dermal exposure can result in numbness, irritation and dry skin. Benzyl Alcohol has been found to be mildly reactive (irritant) in the general population.

*Some neonatal deaths have been attributed to benzyl alcohol exposure. The cause is assumed to have been due to the inability of the infants immature liver to conjugate the benzoic acid metabolites that result from benzyl alcohol absorption, potentially due to a glycine deficiency. This inability to eliminate benzoic acid led to a toxic load that resulted in death. Neonatal & premature infants are indicated as an at risk population for exposure to benzyl alcohol.

Isopropyl Alcohol – aka Isopropanol / 2-propanol / Propan-2-ol / 67-63-0

  • Isopropyl Alcohol is commonly used as an antiseptic; though its exact mechanism is unknown it has been hypothesized that isopropyl alcohol works by denaturing cell proteins & DNA, interfering with cellular metabolism and dissolving lipo-protein membranes. Isopropyl alcohol is manufactured through a two step process involving a chemical reaction between propylene and sulfuric acid, the resulting esters are hydrolyzed to create Isopropanol.
  • ISO. Alcohol is considered relatively toxic; while skin absorption is minimal increased or prolonged exposure results in higher toxicity risks. Your kidneys excrete 40% – 60% of the absorbed ISO. unchanged; the remaining isopropyl alcohol is oxidized into acetone and then slowly eliminated by the lungs & kidneys.
  • Main symptoms of dermal exposure are dry skin.

Methanol- aka Methyl Alcohol / Wood Alcohol / Carbinol / 67-56-1

  • Methanol is considered to be highly toxic and is deadly if ingested; it is readily absorbed through the skin – there is no agreed upon standard for the safety of dermal exposure. All commercial methanol is produced using the same process – by catalytic conversion of synthesis gas according to the principles of the low-pressure (LP) methanol process (5-10 MPa)
  • Exposure symptoms include dry skin, redness, and irritation. People with pre existing skin conditions are at highest risk of irritation from exposure.
  • Methanol has been observed to be toxic to aquatic life.

Obviously some alcohols are more toxic than others. Some are more natural than others. Some, like benzyl alcohol, are naturally occuring and aren’t necessarily ones that need to be avoided at all costs. All alcohols in skin care do have one common quality; they are drying. They will make a product dry faster on your skin, they will also make sure your skin dries out faster… prompting you to reapply all. day. long. with no end in sight. Alcohols can serve a purpose for the stability of a formula and they definitely benefit a manufacturer but alcohol really isn’t doing your skin any favors. Inside or out!

Next Up ; Butylene & Propylene Glycol

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