Alkohole in der Kosmetik - böses Übel oder guter Helfer?

Alcohols in cosmetics - bad evil or good helper?

Of course we know it from the beverage industry, but it is also often used in cosmetics: alcohol. In particular, the advertising slogan “alcohol-free” can be found again and again on cosmetics packaging, which has led to the widespread opinion that “alcohol is bad for the skin”.

In general, articles on ingredients are a difficult topic. We don't want to do anything bad, we just want to enlighten and bring some light into the darkness.

We find it important to show both the advantages and disadvantages. And to explain which substances we think are recommended and which we avoid. But everyone should form their own opinion and ultimately decide for themselves what they want to look out for and what is right for their own skin.

Many may know the saying “the dose makes the poison” and this hits the nail on the head with alcohol. But this is not only true for alcohol. In general, it actually applies to most ingredients, even those classified as “good” or “recommended”. Because even an overdose of ingredients that are actually great, such as natural oils or the like, can simply be too much for the skin. Care should always be tailored to individual needs and formulated in a balanced way.

Therefore we would like to go into more detail here:

  • Chemically, what is alcohol?
  • What is alcohol used for in cosmetics and especially at PureBee
  • What alcohols to watch out for
  • What alcohols do to the skin
  • What alcohols are even more good for the skin
  • And which alcohols we use at PureBee


Alcohol is not just the well-known ethanol that we find in our beer or wine. In general, all substances that have a hydroxy group can be assigned to the alcohol group. This means that a group consisting of an oxygen (O) and a hydrogen atom (H) is attached to a carbon chain that is sometimes more or less long. An “-OH” group, in other words. This is why alcohols can also be mixed well with water.


Alcohols in cosmetics can have several functions. The just mentioned ability of good miscibility is one of the first areas of application. Alcohol is a super solvent and therefore essential for us at PureBee. Propolis, which we use in almost all of our products, is neither water nor oil soluble. We therefore have to dissolve it in alcohol in order to process it in our products. One can therefore remember: “No propolis without alcohol!”. Alcohols are also often used for preservation. With PureBee, the preservation effect plays a subordinate role, since we only use it as a solvent for the propolis in our products in low concentrations. But since there are different types of alcohol, it goes without saying that alcohol is not just alcohol. Because you can't lump all alcohols together and say "All alcohols are bad!".

That's why we're taking a closer look at different members of the alcohol group and giving you some INCIs that you can use to identify them on the packaging.


These alcohols are generally of the type that can dry out. We deliberately say can here, because concentration is always important. Since the compatibility of our products is very important to us at PureBee, you will not find these alcohols in our products. Some would now say that “ethanol/alcohol” should be added to this list. We also use this in our propolis extraction products. However, we deliberately excluded it from the list because we don't want to call it "bad". It is in a very low concentration in our products and is additionally compensated by other ingredients. It therefore does not dry out the skin, at least in our PureBee products, and it is also a natural product of plant origin that is actually recommended. In any case, we have had many years of very good experience with ethanol in connection with propolis.

The alcohols on the list are mainly short-chain alcohols. The shorter the chain, the more liquid and water-soluble the alcohol.

You often find them in

  • disinfectants
  • preservatives (from approx. 10% alcohol content)
  • Solvents (carriers for odorous substances, e.g. from medicinal plants)
  • detergents

Isopropanol/isopropyl is often found in disinfectants and preservatives. Often in concentrations of 50-70%. Of course, these concentrations in the disinfectants are also necessary to offer reliable protection against bacteria and viruses, but in the long run they are far too much for our skin. It is generally said that it becomes critical for our skin from a concentration of 20%. Ditto for the ethanol we use - the amount makes the poison!

Because short-chain alcohols are such good solvents, they do just that on the skin. They dissolve the protective barrier and the skin becomes permeable.

This tactic is often used in some facial tonics containing alcohol to make the skin more receptive to subsequent care. This may work, but this barrier does not close again, but usually remains fragile. Uninvited guests such as bacteria and germs are then free to enter and deteriorate the skin.


This cycle can lead to even more problems, especially with impure skin. Anyone who cleans their greasy and impure skin with the wrong cleaning agent containing alcohol will have a pleasant effect on the skin for a short time, but the skin will continue to deteriorate after a short time. Due to the high concentration of alcohol, which dries out the skin, the greasy film is first removed. However, the skin barrier is attacked and can no longer protect itself in the long run, leading to more pimples and inflammation. In addition, the skin counteracts extreme dehydration and produces even more sebum.


In addition to the drying alcohols just mentioned, there are also “good” alcohols, the so-called fatty alcohols. These alcohols do not dry out, they even moisturize. That's why you have to know the INCIs very well: just because it says "alcohol" on it doesn't mean it's a drying or irritating one.

The fatty alcohols from our list have longer carbon chains and are therefore also firmer in consistency. They have an amphiphilic effect in cosmetics, i.e. they love fat and water at the same time. They are therefore often used as emulsifiers in creams or lotions, in which they combine the water and fat phases. Most of them are derived from vegetable or animal oils and fats, although some on the list are also of synthetic origin. You will therefore not find them in PureBee products, but of course they belong on the list for the sake of completeness.

Because of their chemical properties, they have a completely different function in cosmetics than short-chain alcohols. They mostly serve as:

  • cream bases
  • Emulsifiers in water-oil mixtures
  • moisturizer
  • Nonionic and anionic surfactants
  • texture enhancer

In addition to the fatty alcohols, there are also the sugar alcohols, which can also be counted among the “good” ones. Surely you have heard of glycerin or maybe sorbitol. These two moisturizers bind water, both in the product and in the skin, and attract the ambient moisture!

Glycerin is also very well tolerated in cosmetic products because it is an endogenous substance. But here, too, the concentration plays a major role: from about 30% it can also have a drying effect. Because too much of a good thing is too much!

It is therefore important that you make sure that you either avoid the drying alcohols completely or that they are at least very far down the list of ingredients. If the product is declared as "alcohol-free" in a striking way, then this only means that there are no short-chain alcohols in it, but fatty or sugar alcohols can still be contained. Therefore, chemically speaking, the term is not entirely correct.


Many alcohols can be easily recognized by the suffix “-ol” or the addition “-alcohol”. Their number is almost infinite and a complete list can therefore hardly be given in a clearly arranged blog post. Hopefully we have given you a good starting point with the most common alcohols in the two lists.


As already mentioned, all our products with propolis also contain ethanol. However, in our formulations and in the low concentration, this does not have a drying effect. However, we generally avoid the drying alcohols from our list because it is important to us that our products are particularly well tolerated. In order to be able to use these as preservatives, the concentrations would have to be so high that it would not be very good for the skin. We are currently planning to expand our product range and will certainly use fatty alcohols and especially the sugar alcohol glycerin as a moisture retainer. You can stay curious!

As we have shown you here, the main thing is that you know your way around. Not all alcohol is created equal and the dose makes the poison. Ingredients should always be questioned.

I hope we were able to give you a small overview of the world of alcohols in this article and what is important when choosing your cosmetic products. If you have any further questions on this or any other topic, please write to us at

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