What You Should Know About Ethanol in Skin Care Products


If you are a business that creates and sells skincare products, you may be curious about the pros and cons of adding ethanol to your formulations. And if you try to research it, you might end up a bit confused. On the one hand, there are several reasons you may wish to include ethanol in skincare formulations. Here are just a few of the ways ethanol can function in skincare products:

  • Preservative/antimicrobial agent


  • Solvent/solubilizing agent
  • Cleaning agent/ skin preparation (as for make-up/dirt removal, or astringent toners)
  • Improves application, texture, and skin penetration

And yet, despite all of these desirable functions, ethanol doesn’t have the best reputation as a skincare ingredient. It is often touted as being drying and irritating, damaging the stratum corneum, and compromising the skin barrier function.

Alcohol is, in fact, one of the most controversial ingredients in skin care.

So, what’s really going on? Is it ok to formulate skin care products with ethanol, or should it be completely avoided? Are there ways to optimize formulations that contain ethanol to protect the skin barrier function, and prevent over-drying the skin?

If you are working in the skincare industry, you’ll also want to consider consumer preference. Even if it turns out that ethanol is the best possible skincare ingredient, that won’t help you in a market where consumers have a widespread belief that ethanol is harmful. In other words, you’ll need to be armed with reliable, science-backed information to better educate your potential customers so they can understand that your products are optimally designed for skin health.

This is the article for you. We’ll explain whether or not you can use ethanol in your skincare formulations, including pros and cons, and how to formulate products to prevent irritation and over-drying.

Benefits of ethanol in skincare formulations


Ethanol is an excellent antimicrobial agent and preservative, which is why it’s the key ingredient in alcohol-based hand-sanitizers (although isopropyl alcohol is another option for hand-sanitizers).

Similarly, ethanol may be added to skincare formulations to prevent microbial growth and prolong shelf-life, thereby improving the long-term safety and efficacy of the product.

Solvent/solubilizing agent

Ethanol is an excellent solvent, meaning that it can easily dissolve some of the active ingredients in skin care products. This helps to improve the texture and homogeneity of the product.

As a solvent, ethanol is also used to extract active compounds from plants and other natural substances. For example, alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids (commonly known as AHAs and BHAs) are prized in skincare for their exfoliating properties. These active compounds are naturally occurring in many fruits. Consumers often express a preference for naturally-derived ingredients over synthetic ingredients.

Cleaning agent/ skin preparation

Again, because ethanol is such a good solvent, it can dissolve dirt and oil from the face to prepare the skin for subsequent skincare treatments. Therefore, it could be formulated into make-up removal products or astringent toners.

Improves application, texture, and skin penetration

As mentioned previously, ethanol can improve the texture and uniformity of skincare products, which allows for smoother and easier application – a better experience for the consumer.

Furthermore, alcohol may improve skin penetration of active ingredients, allowing them to penetrate past the skin barrier and have a deeper effect.

Risks to using ethanol in skincare formulations

Most of what we know about the effects of ethanol on skin must be inferred from studies on hand sanitizers. That’s because there isn’t much of a public health incentive to fund research on ethanol in skin care products.

From what we know about the use of ethanol in hand sanitizers, there is actually very little concern with using ethanol in skincare topicals.

Ethanol has a reputation for causing dryness and irritation on skin. However, studies on hand sanitizers containing 70% or 80% ethanol showed that there was no increase in redness or irritation among users.

Another common concern is that ethanol disrupts the skin barrier function. Studies on hand-sanitizers have investigated this concern by measuring the trans-epidermal water loss. If the skin barrier were disrupted, then more water would be allowed to escape. However, studies found that skin barrier function was not affected even when alcohol was applied up to 20 times a day.

Granted, facial skin is significantly more delicate than skin on the hands or forearms. But at the same time, ethanol concentrations found in facial products will be nowhere near the concentrations found in hand sanitizers. Sunscreens and moisturizers will contain at most 5-10% ethanol.

Given these data and caveats, it seems unlikely that ethanol is a problematic ingredient in skincare formulations.

However, it may still be useful to add moisturizing ingredients to products containing ethanol. For example, ingredients like glycerin may mitigate irritating effects for those with sensitive skin.

Lab Alley is pleased to provide you with the highest quality ethanol for your skincare formulations. We offer USP grade, FCC grade, Organic, Kosher, and Halal Ethanol, always meticulously and sustainably sourced. We cater to you so that you can cater to your skincare market.

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