- Alcohol denat is short for denatured alcohol which is an antifoaming and antimicrobial agent
- This agent is used in skin care products to aid in product stability and preservation, and to emulsify ingredients
- Skin care products containing this alcohol should be avoided as it is harsh on skin and can be especially irritating for dry and sensitive skin
Alcohol denat serves a variety of functions, including common use in skin care and other beauty products. Alcohol denat is ethanol which has been rendered unsuitable for consumption with the addition of chemicals. This is to discourage people from drinking it recreationally; ethanol contains 60%–90% alcohol and is toxic.
Because alcohol denat cannot be ingested, companies can use it in their products for a lower cost than common government-regulated alcohol.
What Is Alcohol Denat?
Alcohol denat, also called denatured alcohol or specially denatured alcohol is any form of alcohol (but most commonly ethanol) that has had a denaturant added to it. Denaturants are a combination of various volatile and nonvolatile chemicals.
Volatile alcohols are alcohols that have been formulated not only to make them bad-tasting and foul-smelling, but to make them toxic as well, which discourages consumption. It is specially formulated to be used in fuels and certain products such as cleaning agents and cosmetics.
Alcohol denat vs. other types of alcohols
Other alcohols commonly used in skin care are called fatty alcohols and include stearyl, cetyl, oleyl and lanolin. They can be found in a variety of skin care products, including creams, lotions and cleansers.
These fatty alcohols are beneficial emollients and occlusives that can soothe and moisturize dry, cracked, irritated or sensitive skin. In one study, researchers found a cleanser formulated with cetyl alcohol improved skin barrier function and increased hydration.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed products containing these alcohols to be labeled as alcohol free. While these are also formulated so that they cannot be ingested, fatty alcohols are not labeled either as alcohol denat or specially denatured alcohol as fatty acids are understood to affect the skin quite differently.
Alcohol Denat Uses in Skin Care
Specially denatured alcohols in skin care products include denatured isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol. Alcohol denat has a low molecular weight, which makes it evaporate quickly and enables other ingredients to absorb more rapidly.
Because products with alcohol denat evaporate easily, they can make heavier skin care products feel more lightweight and smoother, creating a matte feeling on the skin.
Cosmetic products with alcohol denat
Alcohol denat is used in a wide range of cosmetics and personal care products such as shampoos, deodorants, perfumes and colognes; serums and toners; lotions and creams. Disinfectants such as hand sanitizers contain high concentrations as well.
The addition of alcohol denat to products is primarily for its effectiveness as a solvent, stabilizer, astringent, penetration enhancer and for the pleasant texture it creates.
Skin Care Benefits of Alcohol Denat
Alcohol denat acts as an astringent and antibacterial, which may make it appealing to those with acne-prone or oily skin. However this agent is very harsh and can strip skin of much-need oils. This in turn can prompt sebaceous glands to overproduce oils as compensation.
Hand sanitizers containing alcohol have also been found to be effective in killing bacteria on the skin’s surface. However, regular use can disrupt the natural balance of the skin barrier, ultimately leading to red, dry, irritated skin as has been demonstrated in the hospital setting.
The optimal concentration of alcohol for hand sanitizers has been calculated as being between 60%–95%. It is therefore unlikely that this benefit will apply in the case of skin care products as they typically contain much lower concentrations.
Lastly, due to alcohol denat’s antiseptic qualities, it is very effective at removing oils from the skin’s surface. While research is limited, this agent is thought to help other ingredients, such as vitamin C or retinol, better absorb into the skin due to the absence of these oils.
Safety and Side Effects of Alcohol Denat
Alcohol can be denatured using a variety of combinations of chemical formulas and these determine its safety for topical use.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel has found that denatured alcohol types 3-A, 30 and 39-B, among others, are safe to use in cosmetics.
However, while considered safe, side effects are associated with use and include skin dryness, redness and itching. In the case of long term and consistent use, denatured alcohol, particularly isopropyl alcohol, has been found to disrupt the skin’s natural barrier and cause moisture loss.
Removing these oils damages the skin barrier because it alters natural protective elements including lipids and enzymes.
Should You Avoid Products with Alcohol Denat?
In short, yes and especially when considering a product for long-term use. The potential of alcohol denat to promote water loss in the skin and disturb the skin’s natural barrier means that it should be avoided, especially for those with dry or sensitive skin.
For those with oily skin, you can address oiliness by purchasing a gentle product that is specifically formulated to treat this specific concern and one that will protect the barrier function.
Alcohol denat is included in many skin cosmetic products, notably creams, lotions, serums and toners. It functions as a solvent, dries quickly, neutralizes oil and leaves skin with an appealing matte texture.
While alcohol denat is certified as safe to use in cosmetics by the FDA, they are best to be avoided. All skin types are at risk of irritation—especially sensitive or dry skin—and long-term use can lead to skin damage.
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