Alcohol is one of the most misunderstood ingredients in skincare.
Simple alcohols on an ingredients list are listed as: ethanol, alcohol, alcohol denat, isopropyl alcohol etc. Often times, we're told these are "bad" alcohols, even though there really isn't anything "bad" about them. Products contain simple alcohols for important reasons. They help lighten the texture of a product and help penetration of other ingredients into the skin. However, when used in high concentrations in skincare deteriorate your skin’s protective barrier which means your skin is no longer effective at keeping moisture in. It also stimulates oil production which could lead to breakouts if your skin makes too much oil.
Fatty alcohols are derived from vegetables and look completely different to those “bad” alcohols. They are absolutely non-irritating and can be exceptionally beneficial for skin. Examples you’ll see on ingredient labels include cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl alcohol. All of these are good ingredients for dry skin, and in small amounts fine for any skin type as they give a pleasing texture and help keep ingredients stable in products.
When using simple alcohol remember it really comes down to the percentage of said ingredient, skin type/condition and purpose the alcohol is trying to tackle. There is an exception to high percentage of alcohol use on skin in the case of hand sanitizers. Such products require at least 60% alcohol (ethanol) in order to most effectively kill illness-causing viruses and germs. Soap and water are preferred for hand hygiene throughout the day, but in the absence of convenient access to this method, using a hand sanitizer is the next best thing.