why do most lotions contain alcohol when alcohol is very drying for skin?

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why do most lotions contain alcohol when alcohol is very drying for skin?

In: Chemistry
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Alcohol is a big word that contains a lot of different types of chemicals. Some of them are dry but others are called “emollients” and they partially consist of fatty substances which help hold in moisture.

Putting them on your skin has a moisturizing and protective effect, and they also help in making the lotion because they hold some of the other chemicals together when their normal behavior would be to separate.

Note for adults: the FDA considers the common types of these emollients to be very safe.

As someone else said, some formulas will have other alcohols that don’t have the drying effect. Glycerin/glycerol is an alcohol for example, but it helps retain moisture in the skin because glycerin has an affinity for water and “holds onto it”. Long chain alcohols like cetyl or stearyl alcohol are water insoluble and act sort of like a thin grease layer on the skin. This makes a barrier to keep moisture in.

The formula may also contain ethanol as a stabilizer to help different things blend together (mixing oils and water can be tricky). In concentrated form, ethanol and other alcohols with low boiling points such as rubbing alcohol (isopropanol) will definitely dry skin. However, the amount of ethanol is probably too low for it to have a noticable effect, or at least the drying effect will be nowhere near as large as the moisturizing effect from everything else. If the other ingredients are able to slow down the ethanol’s evaporation, that should diminish the drying effect even further.

I suggest looking up Lab Muffin Science blog or YouTube channel for more in-depth analysis (she has a PhD in chemistry!) on alcohols in skincare, but essentially it comes down to what kind of alcohol it is AND how it’s reacting with other ingredients. An ingredient in itself can be drying, but depending on the concentration levels and other ingredients in the lotion, it may end up not be drying at all.

For most people’s skin it works great but if you have eczema it’s best to stay away from those creams in my experience

Firstly you’re confusing the word alcohol in common use with alcohol in professional use. In common use, it tends to be referring to ethanol 90% of the time. In professional use, it is just the name of a wide group of chemicals. Their properties and effects on skin vary with each individual chemical.

Secondly, the core of the very question itself (alcohol ie ethanol is very drying for skin) is a disputed claim with no clear answer. Studies often report no changes in dryness or no differences in comparison to an equivalent exposure to water.

Thirdly, your lotion is likely a cosmetic, not a drug. It’s under a completely different level of scrutiny from regulatory bodies. Under US law, they can basically print any claim they want as long as they don’t claim to be for therapeutic use, such as treating or preventing disease, or to be able to affect the structure or function of the body (because they would be scrutinised and regulated as a drug at that point). The “dermatologist approved/tested” label means nothing, companies are not required to back up that claim.

Alcohol, by itself, is indeed very drying for skin. However, many moisturizing chemicals are dissolved in the alcohol. The alcohol helps deliver the moisturizers into the skin before evaporating, leaving your skin more hydrated than before.

The only ones to worry about are ‘denatured’ ‘sd alcohol 40’ and ‘isopropyl’. All the others are emollients or softeners and are fine.

because the other stuff makes it feel temporarily soft and moisturized, but the alcohol ultimately dries it out more so that you have to buy more of their lotion. capitalism baby

Similarly, is salt in shampoo used as a preservative? Almost all of them have NaCl in it and my hair doesn’t like seawater.

Glycerin, part of fat and a moisturizer, is an alcohol too. Really, almost anything that has a hydroxyl group (HO) on a hydrocarbon is an alcohol, including sorbitol(hexanhexol). Its just that ethanol i the more well known one due to being fun

Like almost everything else sold today, the solution is meant to secretly enhance the need.

I always use an aftershave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your skin out, and makes you look older.