Whilst I am very interested in the new aromatic gin based cocktail you were sipping on this weekend, I am not referring to any of the booze you regretfully consumed on Friday night.
We are talking alcohols in skincare… specifically Isopropyl Alcohol.
Alcohols have been labelled as ‘controversial’ in skincare, with particular alcohols being called out for being ‘cleaner’ or ‘safer’ than others. In true ‘cancel culture’ form we have completely ruled out using specific ingredients in our skincare with no further consideration.
If you’re anything like me, you do your research when it comes to what you put on your face. What I found when doing my own research, is that the articles I was using to educate myself spoke about specific ingredients without considering the broader formulations as a whole - they never took into consideration how these ingredients had actually been applied in the end product.
There is a lot of science behind good skincare… and it certainly isn’t as black and white as assessing an individual ingredient in isolation to the formula it is used within.
When it comes to labelling certain ingredients such as ‘alcohols’ in skincare, what I discovered was that the broader context was critical to analysing the overall efficacy of the product.
So, we thought we would dish you all the tea you have been looking for.
We went to the experts (the scientists behind our acne hack cream) to get you the answers you are looking for… and we asked them all of your hard hitting questions. Here’s what they had to say.
PS. We’ve included brackets (with laments terms) so that you can actually understand what our genius chemists are saying…
Does Isopropyl Alcohol cause irritations and dryness?
Isopropyl Alcohol is an excellent solvent for non-polar materials (e.g. oil), which makes it great for dissolving oils on the skin (getting the skincare through the ‘gunk’ on the top layer of your skin). It can be drying on its own, but the effects of individual ingredients should not be focused on without considering the formulation as a whole. The acne hack cream is formulated to mitigate the drying effects of IPA, as it is water based and includes additional moisturisers and emollients. Studies have shown that emollients can significantly decrease irritation that occurs in hand sanitisers (which are made up of much higher levels of alcohol). As for breakouts, the antimicrobial properties of Isopropyl Alcohol help to kill acne causing microbes while also reducing the bioburden (total number of viable microorganisms/ingredients) inside the product.
Does Isopropyl Alcohol deteriorate your skin’s protective barrier and damage the skin’s ability to keep moisture in?
IPA permeates the skin’s stratum corneum by creating temporary small openings in the lipid bilayer that close almost immediately due to the evaporation of Isopropyl Alcohol. The stratum corneum also contains approximately 20 layers of skins cell “bricks” that are made stronger by keratin and the intercellular lipids acting as the “mortar”. The amount of Isopropyl Alcohol in a properly formulated product that is left on the skin after the initial evaporation would be at such a low percentage that deteriorating the barrier would be extremely difficult.
Does Isopropyl Alcohol stimulate oil production (and as a result trigger more breakouts)?
Products with high alcohol content (like toners) can trigger oil production in excess. Our product combines the antimicrobial efficacy and rapid evaporation characteristics of Isopropyl Alcohol, with our technology, to create a cosmetic moisturiser that balances the individual effects of all the ingredients to provide a collaborative anti-acne result.
Does Isopropyl Alcohol strip and dry your skin over time?
Most clinical studies that address skin exposure to alcohol are all based on healthcare applications, where high percentages of alcohol are used to sanitise hands. These are extreme conditions with repeated use (over 50 times a day) and studies show inconclusive results with regard to prolonged dehydration. In skincare, the percentages of alcohol are much lower, and the products are not applied with the same frequency. The acne hack cream contains a much lower percentage of alcohol and is formulated with a humectant and other emollients that decrease dryness.
Does Isopropyl Alcohol weaken the skin’s natural barrier, making it harder for your skin to retain moisture and elasticity? Does this makes the skin more vulnerable to environmental stressors like UV radiation? Does this mean your skin will age quicker if you are using products with Isopropyl Alcohol in it?!?!?!?!?!?!?
The in vitro studies (aka test tube studies) that showed apoptosis (cell death) do not reflect how alcohol is used in skincare. The cells are isolated and “naked” and these conditions do not mimic cosmetic application. The damage to the cells is also dependent of the percentage of alcohol and the length of exposure. Due to the volatility of Isopropyl Alcohol and the structure of the skin’s barrier, cell death is unlikely. Studies have also shown only minor changes in trans epidermal water loss (a measure of skin barrier function) even when alcohol was applied to the hands 20 times a day.
Aren’t there better alternatives to Isopropyl Alcohol? Fatty alcohols derived from natural ingredients are supposedly ‘healthier’ for the skin?
While fatty alcohols are “alcohols” in the sense that they are carbon-based molecules that contain a hydroxyl group, they do not function the same as simple alcohols like ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Simple alcohols are volatile solvents, with antimicrobial efficacy, and are often water soluble. Fatty alcohols cannot serve as replacements for simple alcohols, as they have different functions. The formula does contain fatty acids, and alcohols (in the emulsifying wax) that serve as emollients to mitigate the drying effects of Isopropyl Alcohol.
Brain hurts a little after digesting all that info? Us too. Retail therapy should help…shop our acne hack cream here 😉