Ingredient Review: Denatured alcohol

Denatured alcohol simply put is a drinkable alcohol that has been chemically altered or had another chemical added to it to make it unpallible. In skincare its most common to see alcohol that has had another chemical added to it forming SDA (specially denatured alcohol). You can find this a lot in skincare. Denatured alcohol, alcohol denat, or isopropyl alcohol is used for a variety of reasons: preservative, helps skincare products penetrate, viscosity, in creams it gives a lighter consistency, faster dry time, clean feeling on the skin. The biggest offenders I’ve seen are toners. {Coughs} Clinique’s ingredient list is shown below. There’s several offenders I don’t like in this toner, but that’s an entirely different post that will be coming shortly.

Not all alcohols are bad though. There are many alcohols in skincare and hair are products for that matter that are humectants. Humectants are water attractors, so water is pulled into an area and binds to that chemical. Cetearyl alcohol or cetyl alochol is a wonderful example of this and is found in both skin and hair care items. This group of alcohols are fatty alcohols and are really popular in leave in conditioners, cleansers, and essence/plumpers/softeners . It’s not uncommon to see it about half way down the ingredients list. Just like other moisturizers a little of this can go a long way.

Denatured alcohol on the other hand should never be in your ingredients list, especially if you have oily skin. People with oily skin commonly use products with denatured alcohol because they’re inexpensive chemical that can give an instant matte finish and you do leave your bathroom feeling clean. The problem is that it offers a 5 min fix to a 24/7 problem. When denatured alcohol is used on your face is peels away all the oils and some lipids (fats) on your skin, not just the excessive oils. It can destroy the moisture barrier (that’s where the lipids come in play) and cause skin irritation if used for too long. It over dries the top layer of skin causing your skin to go into repair mode, which means an increase in oil production to keep that top layer of skin healthy and moisturized while it repairs. In short, denatured alcohol increases oil production.

For dry skin, denatured alcohol will over dry your skin. And anyone with dry skin knows, keeping your skin at its optimal moisture content can be a challenge in and of itself. Using products with denatured alcohol just makes that so much worse by destroying that top layer of skin and breaking apart the moisture barrier.

For normal skin individuals, the gods blessed you with the ideal skin type but even denatured alcohol will move you to a different direction, oily or dry. Normal skin is able to maintain that optimal balance but continual destruction of the moisture barrier and triggering oil production in your skin can leave you falling off the edge into dry skin horrors or oily skin nightmares.

For sensitive skin…….. don’t even think about it. PERIOD. The fatty alcohols can works wonders if your skin allows it, but the denatured alcohols will simply murder your skin.

Words to avoid in the ingredients list: denatured alcohol, alcohol denat, isopropyl alcohol, SDA, SDA 40-B, denatonium, denaturate, ethyl acetate, tert-butyl alcohol.

In short, This isn’t a product anyone recommends people use on their face. Why Clinique continues to use their toners in the manner they do I’ll never know. Nearly every drug store toner is better. I use denatured alcohol in the lab to clean glass wear and keep my lab benches clean; that’s exactly where it’s staying.

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