The debate of whether using skincare and beauty products containing alcohol is safe or not, is one that is constantly ongoing. However, there are some alcohols, which are safe for use in beauty and skincare products.

Some of the commonly used alcohols are cetearyl alcohol, coconut alcohol, benzyl alcohol, and alcohol denat (grain alcohol). However, all of them are safe to use and have beneficial properties for your skin.

The type of alcohol used in beauty skincare products can vary between Fatty Alcohols, Simple Alcohols or Aromatic Alcohols.


– Fatty Alcohols –

Fatty Alcohols are commonly used in beauty and skincare products. They are naturally derived from plants and are commonly used in cosmetic products as emulsifiers, thickeners and emollients. Fatty alcohols also help to slow down water loss from the skin, hence why they are commonly used in moisturisers.

Types of Fatty Alcohols:

  • Cetearyl Alcohol – An alcohol derived from coconut oil, which acts as an emollient, therefore retains moisture in the skin. It is also used an emulsion stabilizer to combine water and oil in products.
  • Cetyl Alcohol – Cetyl is obtained from other sources of fats, such as petroleum, palm, coconut or vegetable oil.
  • Stearyl Alcohol – is a white, waxy solid with a faint odour used to form emulsions. It also prevents an emulsion from separating into its oil and liquid components. It also reduces the tendency of finished products to generate foam when shaken. When used in the formulation of skin care products, Stearyl Alcohol act as a lubricant on the skin surface, which gives the skin a soft, smooth appearance.

When combined together, Cetyl and Stearyl alcohol form Cetearyl Alcohol (as above).

  • Behenyl Alcohol – Used as a thickener and stabiliser in products, Behenyl alcohol leaves the skin feeling soft and velvety.
  • Arachidyl Alcohol – In cosmetics and skincare, Arachidyl alcohol is a waxy substance, used as an emollient and as a thickener in products. It helps to retain moisture in the skin leaving it feeling supple.
  • Myrsityl Alcohol – Commonly derived from nutmeg, kernel and coconut oils, myrsityl alcohol acts as an emollient and stabiliser in cosmetics. It helps to retain moisture on the surface of the skin. It also prevents separation of ingredients within the products.


– Simple Alcohols –

Simple Alcohols are derived from sugars, starches and other carbohydrates, and are commonly used for antiseptic purposes in cosmetic items.

Types of Simple Alcohols:

  • Methanol – Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a by-product of the distillation of wood. It is often found in products like Antifreeze, Varnish and De-icing substances and is one of the harmful types of simple alcohols.
  • Ethanol – More commonly just known as alcohol, ethanol is an ingredient found in beers, wines and liquor. It is derived from fermented sugars, yeast and starches.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol – This type of alcohol is most commonly found in cleaning products and otherwise known as rubbing alcohol. It is used in anti-bacterial substances such as hand sanitisers therefore has a strong odour.
  • Alcohol Denat (Denatured Alcohol) – Functioning as an anti-foaming agent and solvent and viscosity decreasing agents, when a denaturant is added to alcohol to becomes denatured alcohol.

Alcohol denat (*grain alcohol), which is commonly used in organic skincare, is perfectly safe for the skin, when combined with other ingredients.

*Grain alcohol is pure alcohol that has been made from fermented grains.


– Aromatic Alcohols –

The final type of alcohol commonly found in cosmetic products is aromatic alcohol, which can either be used as a preservative, or as a natural fragrant.

  • Benzyl Alcohol is an aromatic alcohol, which you will find in most organic skincare.

Fragrances from aromatic alcohols come from the oils they are derived from. Aromatic alcohol, has been approved by the FDA and Cosmetic Ingredients Review (CIR) Expert Panel, to be safe for use in cosmetic and skincare products.

The ingredient ‘alcohol’ does not have to mean that the skincare or beauty product is unsafe to use. Alcohols are used in cosmetics to act as preservatives, emulsifiers, and moisturisers; or to add fragrance to the product.


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