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Alcohol in Skincare

Updated: June 21, 2023

We all love a good glass of wine or a pint of beer now and then. And we also love our skincare. Wine + skincare night, anybody?

You might have noticed some of your products contain alcohol as an ingredient. Before you toss it, read this guide! Alcohols come in different forms in skincare. Some alcohols help hydrate the skin, while others may damage your skin.

This article will go over everything you need to know about alcohol in skincare:

  • Different types of alcohol
  • Fatty alcohols vs solvent alcohols
  • Other alcohols to watch out for
  • Should you use alcohol in skincare?
  • How to find alcohol in a label

Types of Alcohol

There are two major types of alcohol in skincare.

1) Fatty alcohols are hydrating and sometimes used to enhance texture. 2) Solvent alcohols are astringents on the skin. These tend to dry out the skin and decrease the size of pores.

These two types of alcohol play significantly different roles in your skincare. Are they both bad for you? Keep reading to learn more.

Fatty Alcohols

These are “good alcohols” in skincare. They hydrate the skin and help thicken the texture of products.

Examples include cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and propylene glycol.

Fatty alcohols are usually emollients, which means they trap moisture in the skin. Some fatty alcohols, such as propylene glycol, attract water to the skin too.

Fatty alcohols are generally low-risk. They are best used for dry skin as they have hydrating properties.

Solvent Alcohols

Solvent alcohols are the ones that give alcohols a bad rep.

These are the “bad alcohols” in skincare due to their astringent nature. Astringents constrict the pores by drawing water out of tissues. This is why using ingredients such as Alcohol Denat. and ethanol leave your skin feeling dry.

These alcohols are antibacterial by nature (we use them in hand sanitizer). While this may be great at treating acne or mattify oily skin, it may cause irritation and skin damage.

The quantity of alcohol is important too. Studies show most alcohol evaporates when applied to our skin. The general rule of thumb is: if a solvent alcohol is near the end of an ingredients list, it will probably not affect your skin much.

Types of solvent alcohols:

Misc. Alcohols

Some popular ingredients are technically alcohols by structure. These include retinol, tocopherol, glycerin, and sucrose. This just means these ingredients will remain stable when reacted as an alcohol in certain conditions.

Should I use alcohol in skincare?

This depends on your skin type, your preferences, and the skincare product itself. While fatty alcohols may help hydrate the skin, they may not be great for sensitive skin. Solvent alcohols may help treat acne but can dry out your skin too.

Just remember: not all alcohols are created equally. Glycerin and Tocopherol (Vitamin E) are both technically alcohols and have many skin benefits.

We recommend speaking with a professional if you have questions about using alcohol in your routine.


Products containing solvent alcohols may be labeled as “alcohol-free”.

This is because the FDA only counts ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. Fatty alcohols and denatured alcohol may still be in a product labeled as “alcohol-free”.

You might notice some products on SkinSort labeled as having alcohol. This is because we count all solvent alcohols as alcohol, and not only ethanol.

Further Learning

Just like alcohol, oils are not created equally either. Click here to learn more about oils in skincare.

Is fragrance safe in skincare?

We also created a comprehensive guide to reading an ingredients list.