Alcohol (INCI: Alcohol) in cosmetic products is the name for ethanol. Denatured alcohol (INCI: Alcohol Denat.) is the name for denatured ethanol. Both at higher concentrations dry out the skin. With denatured alcohol, denaturants are added to ethanol. Those denaturants convert ethanol into alcohol not suitable for human consumption. The added denaturants can cause skin sensitization and irritation. The problem is also, that denaturants are not specifically listed among the INCI ingredients on the product. Among the denaturants, there are various more or less harmful solvents, acids, and also plant extracts.
In the cosmetic product, alcohol plays the role of solvent. Furthermore, it acts as an antimicrobial and adstringent agent and also prevents foaming. There is no limit on the maximum concentration of alcohol or denatured alcohol in the product in cosmetics.
Ethanol, without added denaturants, can (in rare cases) cause skin sensitivity, irritation, and contact dermatitis. Both, alcohol and denatured alcohol are especially not appropriate in the cosmetic formulations for the eye area and in baby and kids cosmetics. In sunscreens, alcohol is generally not as problematic as it rapidly evaporates in the sun. In sunscreen formulations, it also reduces the need for other preservatives. Preservatives added to SPF formulations pose a greater risk of phototoxic reactions in the sun.
Both, alcohol and denatured alcohol are especially not appropriate in the cosmetic formulations for the eye area and in baby and kids cosmetics
For products that are certified as natural or organic cosmetics, only denaturants that are safer for health can be added to the denatured alcohol. Alcohol and denatured alcohol are allowed to be used in all certified natural/organic cosmetics. Even more, they are usually more present in natural/organic cosmetics since many other preservatives are prohibited to be used in certified products.
If alcohol cannot be avoided in a cosmetic product, it is definitely better to choose the ones with alcohol instead of denatured alcohol. Recently, cosmetic ingredients manufacturers offer more and more plant extracts in forms that do not contain alcohol. In exceptional cases, it could be difficult to avoid alcohol. But nevertheless, in high-quality cosmetics and products that are suitable for sensitive skin, there shouldn’t be any alcohol or denatured alcohol listed high on the INCI ingredients list.