I recently received an email asking me about why a company would include alcohol (denatured) in their skin care formulas. They were under the impression that alcohol caused skin irritation. They are not the only ones as the folks at Paula’s Choice list alcohol as a skin irritant. I had heard this same claim over the years but I’ve also heard the opposite, alcohol does not cause irritation. So I looked into it further.
Alcohol less irritating than surfactants
In 2007, there was research published in the British Journal of Dermatology which looked at the questions “How irritant is alcohol?” In the study they did patch testing with anywhere from 60-100% alcohol and compared it to both a positive control (SLS) and a negative control (water).
Their conclusion – Alcohol did not cause skin irritation.
Alcohol-based hand rubs cause less skin irritation than hand washing and are therefore preferred for hand hygiene from the dermatological point of view. An alcohol-based hand rub may even decrease rather than increase skin irritation after a hand wash due to a mechanical partial elimination of the detergent.
This was a small study (only 15 people) but if there was a positive result you could have much more confidence that alcohol was an irritant.
Then I found this chapter in the book Infection Control Updates entitled “Skin Irritation Caused by Alcohol Based Hand Rubs.” This is really an excellent reference resource as it goes through the biology of skin and the causes of irritation. But when they looked at alcohol specifically couldn’t find any support for the notion that alcohol caused skin irritation.
The Lancet even recommends using alcohol hand sanitizers.
So, based on the evidence that I could find you should have no problem including denatured alcohol in your topical skin care formulation (at least in regards to skin irritation).