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Alcohol denat in skincare: Is it safe?

Spoiler: It may not be the best choice for dry skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 27, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 27, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

It’s a good idea to be mindful of the ingredients in your skincare routine when you want to achieve a healthy, radiant complexion. Alcohol denat, a widely used component in various skincare products, is one ingredient you may have come across—and it warrants a closer look.

Allow our experts to break down what, exactly, you need to know about alcohol denat, examining its role in skin care formulations, its potential benefits, and the concerns surrounding its safety. 

What is alcohol denat? 

When ethanol (regular drinking alcohol) is mixed with additives or denaturants—becoming unsuitable for human consumption—it’s referred to as denatured alcohol, or alcohol denat.¹  Denatured alcohol is widely used in various industries, including personal care and cosmetics.

However, alcohol denat has been a subject of debate among skincare enthusiasts due to concerns about its potential negative effects on the skin. Some argue that it can be drying, irritating, or even harmful to your skin barrier, especially if you have sensitive or dry skin. 

It's essential you understand the role of alcohol denat in the specific skincare formulation you’re considering and you take into account your individual skin needs when selecting products containing this ingredient.

How is alcohol denat used in skincare? 

In skincare, alcohol denat serves multiple purposes due to its versatile properties. 

It functions as:² 

  • An antifoaming agent.

  • Cosmetic astringent.

  • Solvent.

  • Viscosity-decreasing agent.

Aside from improving the texture and effectiveness of your skincare product, it also has certain effects on your skin.

How does alcohol denat affect your skin? 

Alcohol denat interacts with your skin in two primary ways: it has the ability to dry your skin and—since it’s essentially just ethanol with denaturing additives—it also has bacteria-fighting properties.

Alcohol denat as a drying agent

Alcohol denat may strip the natural oils from your skin. Therefore, if you have dry skin you may want to refrain from using products containing such alcohols.³ However, it can provide certain benefits; it can be particularly advantageous in toners, astringents, and oil-control products for which oil reduction is a primary goal.

This drying effect of alcohol denat can also contribute to a lighter, less greasy texture in your product, resulting in a more comfortable, weightless feel on your skin.

If you have dry, sensitive, or easily irritated skin, you may experience more dryness or irritation when using products containing alcohol denat. In such cases, it's better to use alcohol-free alternatives, or products formulated with milder, non-drying alcohols.

Alcohol denat to kill bacteria

Aside from drying your skin, alcohol denat may also be able to keep your pores clean by killing bacteria. One study showed that an ethanol-based hand gel quickly killed a wide range of bacteria on the skin in just 15 seconds.⁴

However, excessive use may lead to skin irritation

Just like with any ingredient, it's important you consider your individual skin needs, the product formulation, and the concentration of alcohol denat when selecting your skincare products. Moderation can help you harness the benefits of this multi-functional ingredient while minimizing any potential adverse effects on your skin.

Is alcohol denat safe? 

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel has determined that the following types of denatured alcohols are safe for use in skincare and cosmetics at concentrations between 0.05% and 12%.⁵

  • Alcohol Denat 

  • SD Alcohol 3-A.

  • SD Alcohol 30.

  • SD Alcohol 39-B.

  • SD Alcohol 39-C.

  • SD Alcohol 40-B.

  • SD Alcohol 40-C denatured with t-Butyl Alcohol, Denatonium Benzoate, Diethyl Phthalate, or Methyl Alcohol. 

The CIR Expert Panel also concluded that there isn’t enough data to support the safety of the following types of alcohols when denatured with Quassin, Brucine, and Brucine Sulfate:

  • Alcohol Denat.

  • SD Alcohol 39.

  • SD Alcohol 40.

If you’re worried about using alcohol denat on your skin, speak with a dermatology provider for advice. 

The different names of alcohol denat 

If you’re looking to identify denatured ethyl alcohol, it can appear under various names in ingredient lists, such as:⁶

  • SD Alcohol, followed by a number or number-letter combination (like SD Alcohol 23-A, SD Alcohol 40, and SD Alcohol 40-B).

  • Alcohol, denatured.

  • Denatured Alcohol.

  • Alcohol denatured.

  • ALCOHOL DENAT.

  • ALCOHOL,DENATURED.

  • ALCOHOL, SDA.

  • DENATURED ALCOHOL, (SOLIDIFIED).

  • NSC-85228.

  • SD ALCOHOL.

Alcohols that have skin benefits 

Some plant and fruit-derived alcohols (such as cetearyl alcohol and cetyl alcohol) are known as fatty alcohols and are typically gentle on your skin and generally considered safe for use as cosmetic ingredients.⁷ 

While certain fatty alcohols may cause breakouts in some individuals, most people can tolerate them well. When applying any product containing fatty alcohols, always pay attention to your skin's reactions. If you suspect that fatty alcohols are exacerbating your acne, it's best to avoid them.

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FAQs

Is alcohol denat bad for your skin?

Alcohol denat is generally considered safe to use in small concentrations. However, too much alcohol denat on your skin can cause dryness and may disrupt your skin barrier. 

It's essential to choose products with appropriate alcohol denat concentrations and consider your individual skin needs to maintain a healthy complexion. Always consult with a dermatology provider if you have concerns regarding your skin.

A small 2005 study involving 35 participants indicated that adding emollients to alcohol-based hand rubs could potentially reduce skin irritation. So, if you're concerned about denatured alcohol in skincare products, you may want to opt for formulations that also contain water, glycerin, or fatty alcohols to potentially minimize irritation.⁸

What are the side effects of alcohol denat?

Aside from drying out your skin, a study concluded that there wasn’t sufficient data to support the safety of certain types of alcohol denat–hence, the safety of this ingredient remains a bit controversial.⁹ Research has shown that the negative consequences of applying ethanol to your skin may include skin irritations or allergic contact dermatitis.¹⁰

Is alcohol denat in a moisturizer?

Alcohol denat may be present in moisturizers, as it serves various purposes: acting as a solvent, astringent, or quick-drying agent. However, its inclusion in a moisturizer depends on the specific product formulation. Always check the ingredient list to confirm if alcohol denat is part of a moisturizer's composition.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. PubChem. Denatured Alcohol. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d.).

  2. Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. Final report of the safety assessment of Alcohol Denat., including SD Alcohol 3-A, SD Alcohol 30, SD Alcohol 39, SD Alcohol 39-B, SD Alcohol 39-C, SD Alcohol 40, SD Alcohol 40-B, and SD Alcohol 40-C, and the denaturants, Quassin, Brucine Sulfate/Brucine, and Denatonium Benzoate. Int J Toxicol. (2008, n.d.).

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Dermatologists’ Top Tips for Relieving Dry Skin. (n.d.).

  4. Kampf, G. and Hollingsworth, A. Comprehensive bactericidal activity of an ethanol-based hand gel in 15 secondsAnn Clin Microbiol Antimicrob. (2008, January 22).

  5. Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. Final report of the safety assessment of Alcohol Denat., including SD Alcohol 3-A, SD Alcohol 30, SD Alcohol 39, SD Alcohol 39-B, SD Alcohol 39-C, SD Alcohol 40, SD Alcohol 40-B, and SD Alcohol 40-C, and the denaturants, Quassin, Brucine Sulfate/Brucine, and Denatonium Benzoate. Int J Toxicol. Ibid.

  6. PubChem. Denatured Alcohol. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Ibid.

  7. European Chemicals Agency. Health surveillance data - Alcohols, C16-18. (n.d.). 

  8. Kampf, G., et al. Emollients in a Propanol-Based Hand Rub Can Significantly Decrease Irritant Contact Dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis. (2005, December 8).

  9. Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. Final report of the safety assessment of Alcohol Denat., including SD Alcohol 3-A, SD Alcohol 30, SD Alcohol 39, SD Alcohol 39-B, SD Alcohol 39-C, SD Alcohol 40, SD Alcohol 40-B, and SD Alcohol 40-C, and the denaturants, Quassin, Brucine Sulfate/Brucine, and Denatonium Benzoate. Int J Toxicol. Ibid.

  10. Lachenmeier, D.W. Safety evaluation of topical applications of ethanol on the skin and inside the oral cavity. J Occup Med Toxicol. (2008, November 13).

Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Image of Laura Phelan Nurse Practitioner

Laura Phelan, NP-C

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