- Alcohol is used in many commercial toners for its ability to dissolve oil and provide a matte finish.
- Simple alcohols can damage the skin due to their intense drying properties.
- Alcohol-free toners may be a good alternative for those with dry or sensitive skin.
Alcohol plays an important role in many commercial toners, but some types of alcohol can be too harsh for people with dry or sensitive skin. Fortunately there are many alcohol-free alternatives available to help keep your skin fresh and oil-free.
Why Is Alcohol Used in Toners?
Toners with alcohol provide a matt finish to the skin by stripping it of any oils and is particularly desirable for those with oily or acne-prone skin.
Toners with alcohol also remove makeup, stop bacterial growth and help other ingredients work more effectively. One type of alcohol, topical ethanol, has been found to protect the skin from moisture loss after cleansing.
There are three main types of alcohol used in toners:
Typically derived from sugars or other carbohydrates, simple alcohols are used in toners as a preservative and to help other ingredients better penetrate the skin. These types of alcohols are fast drying and help dissolve surface oil, but tend to be overly drying on the skin.
Simple alcohols include ethanol, methanol, denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol.
Sometimes referred to as wax alcohols, fatty alcohols are commonly used in toners and moisturizers. These alcohols function as emulsifiers, which means they help hold the product’s ingredients together so that the oil and water do not separate. Fatty alcohols also act as emollients, which help keep the skin soft and retain moisture.
Fatty alcohols include cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol and lauryl alcohol.
The most commonly used aromatic alcohol is benzyl alcohol, which functions both as a fragrance ingredient as well as a preservative.
Are Alcohol-Based Toners Harmful?
Most dermatologists agree that you should avoid toning regularly with any product that contains simple alcohols. While simple alcohols can help remove excess oil and leave your skin feeling tight and refreshed, they can also strip away your skin’s natural oils and damage the skin’s protective outer layer.
Nevertheless, toners based on simple alcohols still have some benefits. For instance, toners containing simple alcohols can be effective when used as a spot treatment on a new pimple to quickly dry and help heal the blemish.
Fatty alcohols are generally considered to be much safer than simple alcohols, and most people are able to use these alcohol toners without issue.
Can alcohol-based toner damage skin?
Despite alcohol’s frequent use in cosmetic products such as toners, in some circumstances it can have serious adverse effects on skin. Some alcohols, such as isopropyl, lanolin and cetearyl can cause allergic reactions that result in red and irritated patches of skin.
These allergic reactions, especially to isopropyl alcohol, are more common in people with sensitive skin and those with eczema.
It is important to note that not all alcohols will damage skin. Simple alcohols can be irritating for people with dry and sensitive skin, but may be well tolerated by those with oily skin.
Fatty alcohols are generally beneficial for most skin types. Fatty alcohols such as cetyl, stearyl and cetearyl act as emulsifiers and work effectively to keep skin healthy and moisturized. Toners that are based on these “good” alcohols can help dry skin types retain more moisture and improve skin texture.
Should You Use an Alcohol-Free Toner?
Whether or not an alcohol-free toner is the best toner for you depends primarily on your skin type.
Those with dry and sensitive skin tend to be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol and should choose a hydrating, alcohol-free toner.
People with normal to oily skin can better tolerate alcohol-based toners. However, they should still monitor how alcohol affects their skin and consider other options if they notice any adverse effects.
Alcohol-Free Toner Benefits
One of the key benefits of alcohol-free face toners is that they contain fewer irritants than alcohol-based toners.
Alcohol-free toners are considered to be gentler on the skin than their alcohol-containing counterparts, which helps reduce the risk of redness and inflammation. This is particularly beneficial for people with acne-prone or sensitive skin.
Alcohol-based toners act as facial cleansers and are designed to combat the excess oil that can lead to a breakout. However, when the drying effect are too harsh, your skin will respond to the lack of oil by overproducing oil in compensation.
A good alcohol-free toner will gently remove oil from your skin without disrupting your skin’s natural oil production. This allows oily skin types to achieve a more matte complexion while reducing the risk of clogged pores.
Combination skin requires a toner that helps reduce oiliness without exacerbating dryness. Most toners are made to cleanse, and will therefore strip away excess oils; this is particularly true of toners with a high alcohol content. However, these can aggravate the dry patches often found in combination skin.
Alcohol-free toners, specifically those that include anti-inflammatory or moisturizing products such as propylene glycol and other humectants, are a better choice for combination skin. These products will help keep skin hydrated and healthy while effectively removing dirt and excess oil.
Acne is usually associated with oily skin, but dry skin is also a common cause of breakouts. Alcohol-free toners are generally more hydrating than traditional toners, and can help keep skin clean without over drying.
What Does Alcohol-Free Really Mean?
Cosmetic manufacturers often label products as alcohol-free, but this does not always mean that the product is actually free of all alcohols. This label usually indicates that the product does not contain ethanol, but may still contain fatty alcohols such as cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl or lanolin alcohol.
Be sure to read the ingredients list of any new toner before you use it, even if labeled alcohol- free.
Alternatives to Alcohol for DIY Toners
If you are concerned about the effects of alcohol on your skin, there are many natural, alcohol-free formulas you can make at home.
Alcohol-free witch hazel
Witch hazel is a plant that is native to North America. The tannins found in witch hazel have a natural astringent effect and strong anti-inflammatory properties, which can help improve skin tone and reduce the risk of a breakout.
Traditionally used in cooking, fennel is steadily becoming a popular toner ingredient. Not only can fennel help reduce inflammation, it is also a powerful natural antiseptic and contains vitamins A, C and E, which help support healthy skin.
Green tea contains high levels of polyphenols, which are packed with antioxidants and help reduce inflammation. Research shows that green tea is also an effective antibacterial agent and may have a role in preventing acne.
DIY Alcohol-Free Toner Recipes
If you want more control over ingredients, you can consider making your own DIY alcohol-free toner. Many report positive results with the following recipes.
Rose water and witch hazel toner
Fibroblast cells, which make up a significant portion of the skin’s connective tissue and help maintain the structural integrity of skin, can be damaged by the hydrogen peroxide or H2O2 found in various skin care products.
Rose water and witch hazel have been found to protect fibroblast cells in the skin against damage caused by or H2O2. Using rose water and witch hazel to protect these cells will help maintain healthy skin.
Additionally, witch hazel and lemon juice both possess anti-inflammatory properties which, in a toner, could help alleviate redness. Lemon juice also functions as a lightening agent that can help reduce dark spots, however, it is an unstable compound and should be used sparingly.
- 1/2 cup of rose water
- 1/2 cup of witch hazel
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Combine ingredients and stir well
- Transfer to a glass container
- Shake well before use
This toner has a shelf life of about three weeks.
Honey and chamomile toner
When used in cosmetics such as toners, honey provides a wide variety of benefits without requiring the use of alcohols. It slows skin aging by reducing wrinkle formation, and hydrates and soothes irritated skin.
Chamomile is also an ideal ingredient for its anti-aging and hydrating properties, while apple cider vinegar (an acidic substance), in combination with water and other ingredients, helps to maintain the skin’s pH value. This DIY should be particularly useful for dry or wrinkled skin.
- 1 cup of water
- 1 tsp of honey
- 1 tbsp chamomile flowers
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- Pour boiling water over chamomile flowers; steep 10 minutes
- Remove the flowers using a strainer
- Add the honey and apple cider vinegar; stir well
- Transfer the mixture to a clean bottle and allow to cool before using.
This toner has a shelf life of about six months.
Alcohol is widely used as an ingredient in commercial toners. While fatty alcohols are generally considered to be safe and beneficial, simple alcohols can be irritating for people with dry or acne-prone skin.
For those with normal to oily skin seeking a more astringent toner, an alcohol-based toner can be used, but with caution. Incorporating an alcohol-free facial toner into your skin care routine can help tone sensitive skin while avoiding the risks associated with alcohol-based toners.
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