alcohol in skincare for sensitive skin

Alcohol in skincare: Is it bad for sensitive skin?

Alcohol is a very common ingredient in skincare products but for those with sensitive skin it’s one that's best avoided.

Why is alcohol used in skincare?

Alcohol is often used as a ‘natural’ preservative in organic products, as well as a fixing agent for fragrances. However, it only works in high concentrations.

For alcohol to work as a preservative in products, it must be used in concentrations of up to 20%, which is why you see it high up the ingredients list.

 woman applying skincare

Can alcohol cause issues for sensitive skin?

The answer here is yes and no. It comes down to what type of alcohol is being used.

Drying or Ethyl alcohols, listed as ‘alcohol denat.’ (also known as denatured alcohol), ‘ethanol’ or ‘ethyl alcohol’, can be problematic.

They dry the skin, cause irritation and can trigger rosacea flare-ups. They also prevent the absorption of Vitamin A – the lack of which promotes premature ageing.

The benefits of fatty alcohols

woman with moisturiser coconut

However, not all alcohol used in skincare is necessarily bad for sensitive skin. Here at Pai we do use a form of alcohol in our products. This type of alcohol is called a ‘wax alcohol.’ They are also referred to as cetearyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol.

These are known as ‘fatty alcohols’ and are commonly used as an emulsifier or thickener in creams. They actually have a moisturising effect on the skin, rather than drying it out.

These alcohols are usually naturally derived from vegetable sources such as coconut, and are very well tolerated by those with sensitive skin.

When to avoid alcohol in skincare

Drying Ethyl alcohols have no place in skincare, but particularly not in products designed to hydrate.

That cooling effect you experience from your airport-bought aftersun? That’s the alcohol evaporating from your skin, and further drying it out in the process. Our British Summer Time After Sun gives a cooling sensation without the use of alcohol, because that’s the last thing sun-drenched skin needs.

We’ve also formulated our face mist without alcohol, because it’s designed to not only add moisture to the skin but to keep it there too, by reducing Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL). No stinging, no dryness - just a soothing tonic to layer between skincare steps and spritz liberally for soft, hydrated skin.

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