Drinking too much booze won’t do your skin any favors. But did you know that the alcohol in our cosmetics also sucks the life out of us? The ubiquitous ingredient disrupts the natural balance of our skin. It incites dryness and damages the skin’s surface, making it harder for it to replenish itself. Even if your skin is oily, alcohol-based products can derail your ability to naturally control oil.
Alcohol in cosmetics can incite dryness and damage the skin’s surface.
Athena Ellen has worked as an esthetician for nearly 20 years and she doesn’t use alcohol in any of the products sold in her Monastery line. Instead, she uses oils and botanicals, calling on creative ways to preserve and emulsify. The result: less toxic and more effective products that help you streamline your skincare regime.
To learn more about why and how you should avoid alcohol in your skincare products, read my conversation with Athena.
Q: Why is it important to avoid alcohol in beauty products?
A: “Alcohols are irritants and whenever they are added to a product they are put there to do something unnatural. Alcohol acts as a solvent, preservative, emulsifier, foaming agent. A solvent thins ingredients making them less viscous. A preservative is required whenever you mix anything other than oil with oil. An emulsifier allows two things that wouldn’t normally mix, to mix.
Even products that say alcohol free on the label usually contain alcohol as the first or second ingredient. The difference is that they contain fatty alcohols derived from plants, but these are still irritants.”
Q: How does alcohol typically show up on an ingredient label?
A: “An easy way to spot them is to look for the words that end in yl or ol. There are alcohols that end in other suffixes, but this is helpful if you need to take a quick glance. For example, ethyl, isopropyl, methanol, benzyl, ethanol, cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl are all alcohols, but so is sorbitan olivate.”
Q: What skincare products typically include alcohol?
A: “More than 99 percent of products. Products made entirely out of oil are the only products that don’t. Yet I see products that say 100 percent oil and do contain alcohol all the time. Oils are naturally stable and don’t need to be preserved like water based products. Some other products can be preserved by their own fermentation and products that require water to be added at home before application often do not contain alcohol.”
Q: Which of your products are alcohol-free, and thus provide consumers a better option?
A: “All of them are technically. Our oils are 100 percent alcohol free. For our water based products like the Aloe, XX glycolic and Hydra Hydrosol we introduce radish that we have fermented. This ferment naturally stabilizes water based products that have added ingredients.”
Q: What’s your take on sheet masks?
A: “They should be called alcohol masks. I don’t like them. These sheet masks are a trend literally because of Instagram and the sheet mask selfie. My client sent me a picture of herself with a tiger sheet mask on the other day and said quote ‘I know you don’t approve, but my friend made me for insta.’ What could I say? “
Q: Anything else to add about alcohol in beauty products?
A: “Definitely stay away from anything with the word ethyl, isopropyl, methanol, benzyl, and ethanol in the word. These are the most toxic to the skin. They are common irritants and dehydrators. Also make sure to be aware of detergents, like sodium lauryl sulphate (sls) and sodium laureth sulphate (sles). These are high irritants.”