The end of alcohol in toners
Is alcohol in skin-care products bad for the skin?
We're giving it to you straight up:
If alcohol is listed in the first 6 ingredients of a skincare product, RUN. AWAY. Forget everything that you thought you knew or loved about it. The focus of modern skincare is optimal skin health, and alcohol based products do not contribute to healthy skin. Instead, they cause a range of issues: major damage to your protective skin barrier, increased sensitivity & reactivity, and even more damage if your skin is exposed to the sun. Alcohol in skin care can even cause helpful ingredients to act in a harmful way.
Yes, there are SOME instances where certain alcohols are useful. Not all alcohols are created equal. But we'll get to that.
Thankfully, there are more advanced and responsible options available that every skin type can use. These alternatives far outperform alcohol, so alcohol in skincare is just not necessary (or advised!) anymore.
So let's start from the beginning, and get you up to date with the new generation of toners. It's time.
What was the original purpose of having alcohol in toners
Alcohol is used in toners for 2 reasons: to enhance the formulation of the product, and to enhance the benefits and results of the toner.
First and foremost, alcohol is a solvent and emulsifier, meaning it helps to hold ingredients together. It also lowers the viscosity of a product, making it feel lightweight (and cooling!). This helps it to absorb quicker.
Alcohol is also used as a preservative and for its antibacterial properties, especially for acne prone skin.
In the past, simple alcohol was used to dissolve excess oils for skincare users with oily skin types. This helped other skincare ingredients penetrate the skin, rather than being blocked by the natural oils. Acne prone skin was also thought to benefit from the drying effects.
Why shouldn’t my toner have alcohol?
The short answer: Because we know that alcohol is not the right choice anymore. Let me elaborate.
The harm of an alcohol based toner outweighs any benefits that we once believed it to have. There are gentler ingredients!
And the right choices are easier to find. There are more diverse ingredients being sourced that give increasingly better results in cosmetic formulas. And thank goodness for this thing called the Internet, guiding us to beautiful, new and safe options for our skincare routine.
Let's educate and elevate you!
What are the negative effects?
The negative effects of alcohol in toners starts at the skin's moisture barrier and works into the deeper areas of the dermis. High concentrations of volatile alcohols have damaging effects like irritation and dryness. It can cause skin to over produce oil. This can enlarge & clog pores and cause break outs.
Irritates the skin
Alcohol will irritate and affect the skin in a number of ways:
Alcohol in toners cause other products to penetrate quicker into the skin, which isn't beneficial when using active ingredients like vitamin C or retinol. These ingredients are to be used strategically and sparingly, and alcohol will make them too strong for skin to handle. This leads to even more sensitive skin - more redness, irritation and sensitivity.
This is especially important to consider when exposing skin to the sun without proper sun protection. Applying alcohol onto the skin increases skins vulnerability to UV rays and will create more problems in the future, such as hyperpigmentation or even skin cancer.
Inflamed skin should avoid any toners that have alcohol on their ingredients list. Alcohol can destroy skin cells, so you can imagine how damaging it will be on open skin. It will also dissolve ingredients from previous skin care steps that are beneficial and should remain on the skin.
In fact, medical professionals no longer use alcohol to clean wounds. Instead, they use products that are gentle and will promote healing, such as saline water.
Dries out the skin
Alcohol strips the outer layer of skin of its natural lipid barrier. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for skin to maintain any moisture.
While this may seem beneficial when using result-driven products, your skin may not be able to handle the higher penetration of active ingredients like vitamin C.
There's also the risk that alcohol will cause exfoliation products to penetrate the skin quicker and deeper.
Even worse: dry skin means hardened pores that trap debris and blackheads inside. But it gets worse...
Increases excess sebum production
And now! Acne sufferers, beware!!
Your skin regulates its natural oil/sebum production based on how dry your skin is. When alcohol dissolves the moisture barrier, your skin receives the signal that it is dry. This causes an excess of oils and sebum production to address the dehydration, which in turn cause more breakouts, enlarged pores and blackheads. Definitely the opposite of skin goals.
Leaves a burning sensation after application
We all know the saying that "beauty is pain", but can we really accept that this feeling indicates a great result?
Well. No. Not anymore!
If you feel a burning sensation after applying a toner, immediately rinse it off.
A burning sensation is never a good thing. It means that a product is too strong, whether because of its own strength, or in combination with other active products.
It could also mean that your skin is already compromised and the alcohol in your toner is causing further damage.
Why, yes! Yes there are!
But it really depends on the type of alcohol. Not all alcohols are created equal and while there are harmful alcohols, there are also beneficial alcohols.
These are called Fatty Alcohols. They are a high molecular weight, meaning they don't penetrate the skin as quickly. These alcohols are used to emulsify, or unite ingredients. They're also used as emollients, which soothes and smoothes skin.
These are the alcohol "heroes" to look for and celebrate in your skin care products:
- cetearyl alcohol
- glycolic acid (a safe exfoliant to use in small doses)
- hyaluronic acid (your collagen will thank you!)
- stearyl alcohol
Empyri uses cetyl alcohol derived from coconuts in our hemp moisturizers. It’s used as a thickening agent and ensures that the oils and water don’t separate. Since it's a combination of organic alcohols and fatty acids, it's non-drying and non-irritating. And our favourite thing about it? No trace of the terrible smell of simple alcohols.
What are some names of alcohol in toners?
So let's really lay it out. Here are some of the various harmful alcohols that you would find on an ingredients label of a toner. Know these well, and stay away, especially if they're featured in the top 6 ingredients of a product:
- isopropyl alcohol
- ethanol alcohol (yes, like the type that's used in gasoline!)
- ethyl alcohol
- denatured alcohol (this is alcohol with ingredients added to make it unappealing for humans to consume!)
- SD alcohol (Specially Denatured)
- benzyl alcohol
What are the alternatives?
Witch Hazel is a fantastic alternative to using alcohol in skin care.
We have a LOT to say about Witch Hazel (hint: we really love it). but for now, we'll tell you this:
Witch Hazel is a centuries old, natural remedy. It relieves inflammation, so it's beneficial for skin irritation (like eczema and psoriasis), and various other ailments and injuries. It also gently works as a natural astringent to kill bacteria, dry out breakouts and reduce the appearance of pores by tightening the skin. We promise. There are even more incredible uses for Witch Hazel, and we're ready to talk about them here. (link to other blog post).
Are alcohol-free toners any good?
Why yes, because we make one! We only use skin loving ingredients in our products, and witch hazel is our hero! But we really didn't stop there.
Our toner has 4 keystone benefits:
- It hydrates the skin with the power of aloe vera
- It prepares the skin for the application of other ingredients by balancing its PH
- It's packed with active ingredients like vitamin C, which treats fine lines, wrinkles, dull skin, acne and pigmentation.
- it protects the skin from oxidative stressors like UV radiation
This toner is part of the our 3-step ritual: cleanser, toner, moisturizer. The toner is the perfect balancer after the cleanser, and prepares the skin for the moisturizer. It's the perfect power trio.
So, it's really true. Simple alcohols are no longer necessary in skin care. They simply don't fit the needs of modern skincare products and their users. They cause inflammation, dryness, UV sensitivity, and they damage skin cells. And even more importantly, these alcohols are not the best acne treatment out there.
Yes, we still love fatty alcohols. They're gentle yet impactful, and are a true win when found in a skin care product.
Instead, it's time to reach for an alcohol free toner for your beauty regimen. It delivers active ingredients that benefit all skin types, including sensitive and acne prone skin. And it doesn't harm the skin in order to help it, the way simple alcohols do.
You Are Loved.
Author Bio: Jennifer is the president and founder of empyri. Jennifer’s passion for formulation and product development was set ablaze in 2019, when she incorporated the healing power of cannabis roots into her long-standing three-step skin care system. Armed with scientific evidence on the actives in cannabis roots and seeds, a clean and conscious brand was born. Using her masters degree in bio-chemical engineering, Jennifer is forging a path to ...READ FULL BIO