Of all the aftercare questions that come up on our forum, those regarding application of products containing alcohol is by far the most common, and causes the most confusion. So let's clear things up...
The Attraction Of Alcohol
Here at HIS HQ we take a slightly different view on the presence of alcohol in skincare products to the rest of the market. We understand exactly why it is there, why manufacturers the world over choose alcohol as a vital ingredient... we just think it shouldn't be used, ever.
There are two principal reasons for the presence of alcohol. The first is that added to a thick, viscous cream it can make it feel pleasant, easy to apply, and the speed with which it evaporates means it is also very quick drying. Manufacturers understood this long before there was any appreciation for the ability of alcohol in their creams to circumvent the skin's natural defences - an ability that is now used to deliver desired nutrients like vitamin C directly into the skin.
The Devil Is In The Detail
Your skin is coated in layers of protection, lipids enzymes and antioxidants, which form a vital barrier to guard against would be invaders but also keep the skin in good condition. Throwing alcohol into the mix has a devastating effect on these protective layers. Despite the fact that the alcohol evaporates quickly the damage has already been done - Indeed, a study published in 2003 by the Journal Of Hospital Infection concluded that regular cleansing with alcohol was a damaging process which broke down the skins natural defences, allowing water and other agents to penetrate causing long-term damage.
Even if the immediate sensation is one of having been cleansed, which is why alcohol appears in pretty much all acne creams, that is a false impression. We already mentioned the long-term damage alcohol can cause to the skins protective barrier but it also provokes greater oil production at the base of the pore... the combined effect of the two actions is to significantly increase oil production in the skin and reduce the ability of the skin to deal with the problems arising.
I Use An Alcohol Based Matte Cream And Swear By It!
If I had a dollar for every time I have read this on the forums
I would be a wealthy man. It goes back to the reasons given earlier, alcohol can make a thick tar feel like a fluffy mousse on the skin and its fast evaporation gives a lovely cooling sensation.
The fact is that laboratory studies showed alcohol added to skin cells is incredibly damaging. Using a concentration of just 3% (bear in mind that creams might contain anything up to 60%) was enough to increase cell death by over a quarter. They also discovered that exposure for two days was exponentially more damaging than one day - with the clear implication that using it on a daily basis has a profoundly negative effect on the health of your skin.
An Important Exception
It would be all too easy to simply throw a blanket ban on anyone using alcohol in skincare products as part of an aftercare routine for their SMP. Life is rarely that straightforward though. In fact there are a family of alcohols, so called fatty alcohols, which are nothing whatsoever to do with anything we have been discussing so far. Cetyl and Stearyl alcohol are common examples of the type of alcohol used by manufacturers as thickeners in skincare products. They come with no ill-effects and are actually beneficial for people with dry skin.
To be clear, which is difficult when the key word alcohol is there for both, when comparing these fatty alcohols to the bad guys... isopropyl, ethanol, denatured, methanol etc, they are chalk and cheese.
HIS Hair Clinic
So the conclusion has to be what on earth is alcohol being used for at all! It is so damaging to skin that it seems outrageous these companies get away with it... but they will continue to do so. At least until they find a non-harmful alternative that can do everything the alcohol does, don't hold your breath. It turns out alcohol is punching way over its weight when it comes to being useful... remember all those cowboy films where whisky was poured onto an open wound "to disinfect it". It turns out that while a little is good for disinfecting skin (why the nurse swabs the site before an injection is administered) it is damaging when poured onto an open wound - and the organic material will deactivate any antiseptic properties anyway.
The unavoidable conclusion must be that alcohol is to be avoided when you are looking to moisturise or add UV protection to your skin. The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives on the shelves these days.
If you want to discuss your SMP aftercare with one of our experts, get in touch for a quick chat. You can find your nearest clinic by clicking here