For many of us, 2020 has involved a lot of drinking. And while sipping a white claw before your 2 o’clock Zoom meeting may be the new norm, alcohol in skincare seems to be more taboo than ever. Everyday one of my favorite makeup artists or estheticians is telling me to avoid alcohol in any and all skincare products.
But the more product labels I scrutinize, the more I realize that alcohol is in… like.. everything.
After a little bit of digging I have concluded that… alcohol in skincare is actually more complicated than beauty gurus let on. But don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through it.
The most commonly used alcohols in cosmetic products can be separated into two categories: low molecular weight and high molecular weight.
So Let's talk low molecular weight alcohols and why they are commonly used in skincare products.
Low molecular weight alcohols are volatile alcohols (meaning they evaporate quickly) such as Isopropyl, Ethanol, SD, and Denatured alcohol.
Low molecular weight alcohols are primarily used to dissolve ingredients that are not soluble in water as well as to lighten the texture of product formulations.
Pros of Low Molecular Weight Alcohols in products:
- Low molecular weight alcohols are great at disturbing the waxy outer layer of our skin, allowing the active ingredients of a skincare product to penetrate efficiently
- Low molecular weight alcohols help products to feel lightweight, and non-greasy on skin
- These alcohols can preserve the ingredients in our skincare products
- Disruption of the outer layer of skin means the increased penetration of irritating ingredients like fragrance - this can also increase your skin’s sensitivity over time
- In SOME cases this disturbed outer layer of skin can lead to transepidermal water loss (especially if you are not using hydrating products within your skin care routine)
So... What's the big deal??? Well, believe it or not these are the types of alcohols that beauty gurus are telling you to avoid! And while yes, certain skin types will find low molecular weight alcohols to be slightly drying, it's important to remember that they also play an important role in the penetration of active ingredients (which is why they are so commonly seen in Vitamin C serums and Retinols).
So let's move on to High Molecular Weight Alcohols (also known as Fatty Alcohols). These are alcohols typically derived from plants and will appear on product labels as Cetyl, Stearyl, or Cetearyl alcohol.
Fatty alcohols are typically used to thicken products and emulsify oil based ingredients with water
Pros of Fatty Alcohols in products:
- These are emollients! Meaning they help products (and our skin) feel smooth and luxurious
- Fatty alcohols can fight transepidermal water loss by trapping water in our skin
- Certain skin types will find plant derived ingredients like fatty alcohols irritating
So... these are the types of alcohols that we should be looking for in our skincare products right? Well... sort of. The truth is, that too much of either alcohol (low or high molecular weight) can be irritating to certain skin types.
Skin care is incredibly personal, meaning that no single ingredient is guaranteed to perform a certain way. It is all too easy, and frankly kind of trendy, to let influencers and beauty gurus demonize certain ingredients! But the truth of the matter is, a lot of times these ingredients, like alcohol, are playing an important role in the product formulation and their "negative side effects" are often blown out of proportion by the internet. Remember to do you own research, take your entire skin care routine into account when considering a new product, and don't let trends influence how you treat your skin.
In conclusion, I really think alcohol within skincare products is one less thing we need to worry about.
With the staggering amount of skincare companies and products that are new to the market this year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when searching for a regimen that will be right for your skin. For many of us, it comes down to the price point, and I’ll admit it… the packaging.
We’ve all heard the phrase “sex sells” and for skincare junkies like me, sleek packaging and seductive colors are all it takes for me to NEED that sexy new serum I’ve been eyeing from across the the aisle. However, it’s important that we don’t let sex appeal get in the way of what really matters in our skincare! The ingredients of a happy relationship are - just that - good ingredients. Below, I’ve listed some of my absolute favorite skincare products that make up for what they lack in glamourous packaging, with their results!
Cerave Healing Ointment - $9.99
I know, I know… Ointment? Really? YES, really. Despite the… unappealing name, and lackluster packaging, Cerave Healing Ointment can seriously save your skincare routine!
Cerave Healing Ointment is what is known as an occlusive moisturizer. Occlusives are products in your skincare routine that create a physical barrier on your skin to prevent water loss and protect your skin from irritation. If, in the winter months, you’re waking up still feeling dry despite using your favorite serum and moisturizer combination at night, try adding a dab of Cerave Healing Ointment on top of these to combat moisture loss and seal in the benefits of your routine. (I also like to use this product to soothe irritated skin for when I go a bit overboard exfoliating…heh..)
Triple Antibiotic Ointment - $3.99
Yep, another ointment!!! It has always seemed odd to me that we don’t treat the boo-boos on our face the same way we treat boo-boos on our body. If you’re like me, and just can’t seem to keep from picking at pesky zits, then it’s high time you invested in some Neosporin or the likes. Think of the zit you just squeezed into a bloody mess like any other boo-boo. You want it to heal nicely, without scarring, and you want to avoid infection. The same logic applies to your face! So if you’re going to pick, at least follow up with a triple antibiotic ointment to keep the area moisturized (easier to cover with makeup than a dry scab), and to keep it from filling back up with the bacteria that will leave you with another white-head. Gross, I know, but for real, this one’s a life saver
If you are unfamiliar with the makeup and skincare brand, Glossier, well then, honestly, it's time to wake up. The “your skin, but better” brand was founded in 2014 and immediately gained an almost cult-like following for it's “no makeup-makeup products” and sleek aesthetic. And while yes, I am admittedly a member of the "Glossier gang," there are a few Glossier products that just aren’t worth the hype. This list begins with Glossier Lash Slick Mascara.
Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely not the worst mascara I have tried, nor the priciest. BUT I just don’t think Glossier’s Lash Slick mascara (which retails for $16) is worth the purchase. The silicone wand does a decent job of separating lashes, but the bristles are too long! I stab myself in the eye almost every time I use it! The stick straight wand doesn’t add any curl or lift to your lashes and the dry formula does little to add length. (I think Glossier’s logic for the dry formula was to keep you from applying too much product and ending up looking like you’re actually wearing mascara, which wouldn’t flow with their “no makeup" aesthetic). But for those of us not blessed with naturally long, curly lashes, Glossier Lash Slick leaves a lot to be desired.
If you're on the hunt for a natural looking mascara at an affordable price point, try these:
L’Oreal Telescopic Mascara ($8.69)
This mascara was my go-to for YEARS. The thin wand allows you to get to the root of your lashes. The silicone bristles help to separate lashes and the watery formula fully coats your lashes without clumping. I like this mascara because it's versatile. You can apply a thin layer and get the “your lashes but better” look that Glossier was aiming for, OR you can add a few more coats and get a super dramatic look. That’s right. She has range honey. Plus, you can find L’Oreal Telescopic at your local CVS or Target!
Essence I Love Extreme: Crazy Volume Mascara ($4.99)
I’m sorry, but you just can’t beat Essence mascaras! They retail for five bucks and the formula is bomb! I'm currently loving the Crazy Volume mascara from Essence's extensive mascara line. This product has a light formula and silicone wand that coats lashes without clumping. I have found that this particular Essence mascara is great if you're looking to add both length and volume to your lashes.