Alcohol Ingredients in Haircare: Good or Bad?

Published on Apr 16, 2015 in Facts


I’m quite sure that we’ve all come across alcohol in it’s ‘natural’ form at some point or another in our lives – some are more fond of it than others. The truth is that alcohol in moderation can be quite good for, so long as it’s in small doses and not too often. However the problem that we face today as modern consumers is that this liquid and chemical derivatives based on alcohols (or solutions), can be found in such a wide variety of skin, hair, cosmetics and even food/drink-related products, that it’s easy for our systems to become overloaded with harmful chemicals and ultimately fall ill as a result.

Many personal care products which claim to be natural, safe and healthy can confuse the uneducated with ingredient lists that contain words which primarily have negative associations. A common example would be ingredients which contain the word ‘alcohol’ – many people associate this word with Ethyl Alcohol, and draw an unfounded conclusion that any ingredient with the word alcohol must be unnatural, unsafe, or unhealthy.

Alcohol in Haircare Products Explained

Alcohol: not just for drinking

Alcohol: not just for drinking

The answer is dependent on which “alcoholic” ingredient is being used. There are natural (plant-derived), safe (non-toxic) and healthy (promoting positive health effects) ingredients, and there are also ingredients which should be avoided at all costs.

In general, most fatty alcohols (such as Cetearyl) are naturally plant derived and have positive effects, and act as emulsifiers, opacifiers, and contribute to the viscosity of creams and lotions.

Cetyl alcohol, which is found in John Frieda purple shampoo, is produced from either petroleum or palm oil. This ingredient helps thicken the formula and prevents the oils and water from separating. Unlike rubbing alcohol, cetyl alcohol will not dry out skin or hair. It is also listed as non toxic and is used many cosmetics and foods.

However, many short chain alcohols (such as Propanol), are synthetically derived and can have drying effects.When contemplating whether or not to purchase a product that contains an ingredient with the word ‘alcohol’ in it, consider the authenticity of the brand offering the product, and cross-reference from a reputable online database (such as to see whether or not the alcohol ingredient used is safe or harmful.

Is Alcohol Denat Bad for Hair?

The first thing we should try and understand when it comes to the subject of alcohol denat, is trying to understand exactly what it is and in turn, how it could be harmful to certain skin types. Firstly, it’s important to understand that alcohol denat is not a natural form of alcohol and is rather that product of industrial filtering in order to create a mixture that is purposefully toxic. Why would someone do this?

It’s largely a safety mechanism to stop alcoholics from drinking the products on our shelves (as most of them contain ethanol to some degree or another), which might make sense in some ways – but is altogether an entirely backwards approach to the issue at hand.

So it’s a lot easier to see why something containing denatured alcohol would be bad for you – because it’s supposed to be bad for you. Just because you don’t directly ingest or consume the products for the alcohol, applying them to your skin, scalp and hair means you still get a dosage of the alcohol and all the nasty chemicals that come with it in your system at some point or another.

By using products that contain denatured alcohol, you actively speed up the process of stripping your hair of the oils that keep them soft, hydrated and moisturized which can lead to dry, frizzy and damaged hair in a short space of time. So if you’re struggling with this issue in particular, it may be worthwhile chucking out any hair sprays, gels or products that contain alcohol denat (or isopropyl alcohol, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, and denatonium) as they are the most likely cause and source of the problem.

Is Benzyl Alcohol Bad For Hair?

Strangely enough, benzyl alcohol is actually a natural product that occurs in most plants and is commonly found in fruits and teas. In it’s natural form, it’s generally considered a lot safer as it’s already in it’s required dosage and is much less potent. The problem is that most cosmetics, hair and skincare product manufacturers opt to use a synthetic version of the alcohol which is made out of a combination of both benzyl chloride and sodium hydroxide.

These chemicals are particularly harmful to sensitive skin types and are especially unsafe for use on young children. Studies have shown that benzyl alcohol affects the immune system and can ultimately lead to severe allergic reactions or skin sensitivities in users with naturally sensitive skin or those who are prone to allergies.

Because a young child’s immune system is somewhat less developed than an adults, they are more at risk of developing a negative reaction on their skin and in some cases – it can even lead to death if the dosage is too high. So it’s best avoided on children under the age of 8, but avoiding this ingredient in general is probably a better idea.

That being said, benzyl alcohol is considered safe for use in the right dosage and should never be higher than the 6th ingredient on the list (as a rule of thumb). The ingredient is commonly used in bath products, soaps and detergents, eye makeup, blushes, cleansing products, shaving products, makeup, and blush, as well as in hair, nail, and other skin care products.

This is due to the fact that it is a mild anesthetic and can help to relieve itching as well as a preservative that helps to prolong the shelf-life of these types of products.

Ultimately, I would say that this ingredient should be safe when used within the recommended dosage, however those with more sensitive or drier skin and hair types may find that it causes dry, frizzy and flaky hair and in turn leading to damaged hair. To those with allergies the alcohol has been linked to the formation of contact dermatitis and should definitely be avoided if you suffer from eczema or psoriasis.


To conclude, the best thing we can do to avoid these harmful chemical solutions and unnatural alcohols is to be mindful of the ingredients that are included in the products we buy and to simply stay away from the ones that we don’t feel are safe to use on a regular basis.

However, that doesn’t mean that every product that contains a small amount of benzyl alcohol or even denatured alcohol are definitely bad for you, it just means that you should use them sparingly and be sure to limit the amount of products that you use which contain these types of ingredients.

Ultimately I would opt for a more natural solution anytime of day. A simple Google search will give you a long list of DIY recipes that are all natural, healthy, cheap and effective and this applies to skin, hair and even cosmetics products.

The more you free yourself from a dependence on chemical-based products, the healthier you’ll be in general and the more money you can save at the same time. Natural products are safe, effective and can be made in the comfort of your home – so you’ll always know exactly what’s in them and that they’re safe.