Are Alcohol-Based Toners Bad For Your Skin?

By Ching Dee for Belo Medical Group on February 16, 2021

For years, we’ve been told that a good skincare routine should be alcohol-free. But as more studies are conducted and more products are developed, a brighter light is now being shed on alcohol as a not-always-bad—and sometimes, necessary—part of our daily skincare regimen.

First off, alcohols are usually added in skincare products (especially on toners) because, according to Byrdie, it “acts as a vehicle to help dissolve ingredients that aren’t water-soluble, as well as drive ingredients deeper into the skin”. These are usually simple alcohols like denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol, which are mainly characterized by their low molecular weight. It’s the thing that gives our skin that cool and tight feeling after swiping on the toner. It leaves our skin practically oil-free to the touch, but it’s actually these kinds of effects that we should avoid.

According to Dr. Maryam Zamani, “In the long run, they can enlarge pores and increase greasiness, so avoid products containing any type of alcohol if you have an oily skin type or acne-prone skin… Ethanol in toners can also be quite drying for sensitive skin types, so watch out for that, too. The higher the alcohol is on the ingredients list, the higher the concentration and the stronger it will be on the skin.”

Most of the time, it’s best to leave these ingredients out of your skincare routine. Although some experts say simple alcohols do wonders as a spot treatment because it dries out pimples effectively and quickly.

Toners, when used properly with the correct ingredients based on your skin’s needs, are an important part of your regimen by providing additional cleansing, infusing nutrients to the skin, and maintaining the skin’s ideal pH level. But according to Essence, a lifestyle website dedicated to African-American readers, alcohol-based toners can be counterproductive especially for “melanin-rich” people, like us Filipinos. Marla Rene, founder and owner of Marla Reńe Skincare, explains that “these days there are so many wonderfully formulated facial sprays that are loaded with botanicals, moisture-drawing type of ingredients that don’t really need the alcohol… So forget alcohol-based toners.”

Aside from simple alcohols, there are also types of alcohols that can be beneficial to your skin and often referred to as “fatty alcohols” because they’re usually derived from natural oils like coconut and palm. Even vitamin A (or retinol) and vitamin E, which are technically alcohols with high molecular weight, are two of the best ingredients you should look for when choosing any product for your skin. Fatty alcohols help seal in the moisture within your skin with their waxy properties. According to Condé Nast-run health and beauty website SELF, fatty alcohols “can also act like a moisturizer: They help to protect the skin, draw in a little bit of moisture, and enhance the natural lipid barrier.” But since it’s basically derived from oil, it could make your face even oilier, which could clog pores and then lead to acne. So make sure to use these products with fatty alcohols sparingly.

In choosing your skincare products, make sure to pay attention to the ingredients and choose the product that suits your skin type. Pro-tip: Ingredients are listed from the largest amount to the least, so if alcohols are first on the list, you should definitely double-check if it’s the right stuff for you.

Here are some tips in choosing the right toner based on your skin type, according to Allure

  • If you have sensitive skin, look for a toner with skin-calming botanicals; 
  • for oily or acne-prone skin, look for a toner with salicylic acid or witch hazel; 
  • for dry skin, look for a toner infused with amino acids; 
  • if you have visibly large pores, look for a toner with alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) like glycolic acid; and 
  • if you have more mature skin, look for “hydrating ingredients include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, rose water, Sodium PCA, Lecithin”.

Want to find the right toner for you? For more expert-recommended skincare products, check out the Belo Shop.

Most Popular

Belo uses cookies to allow to ensure you get the best experience. By continuing to use this site, you consent to this policy. Learn more