Given the antiseptic properties of isopropyl alcohol, some people with acne reach for it in an effort to help cleanse their faces. However, this article gives a clearer view of isopropyl alcohol for acne.
Isopropyl Alcohol is most commonly used as an antiseptic that rids a wound of bacteria that can cause infections. Cuts, scrapes, and other wounds are usually treated with alcohol to prevent deadly illnesses.
Some people also believe that the anti-bacterial properties of alcohol can help rid the skin of acne.
What is Isopropyl Alcohol?
Isopropyl alcohol (also known as Rubbing alcohol) is the most commonly used antiseptic. It’s a clear, colorless, bitter aromatic liquid that can be mixed with other common solvents.
Isopropyl alcohol is in many products like perfumes, cosmetic products, inks, antiseptics, window cleaners, nail polish remover, and more. Rubbing alcohol is made up of 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water to create a strong antiseptic for wounds.
In America, sulfuric acid is mix in to accelerate the process of manufacturing, and small amounts of this ingredient will remain in the finished product.
The process of making isopropyl alcohol forms a kind of mixture known as an azeotrope. There will always be some water that does not combine with propene, so there is some water in isopropyl alcohol that can’t be boiled off or distilled away.
It is possible to dilute isopropyl alcohol with more water, but it not possible to make it purer than it is at the end of the manufacturing process (except by use of vacuum treatments or extreme pressure).
How Isopropyl Alcohol Can Cause Acne
Acne forms when a pore is infested with dead skin cells, dirt, and debris. The debris mixes with the oils produced by the sebaceous glands, resulting in a clogged pore. The acne becomes red and inflamed because of the bacterial infection.
Your skin has a natural barrier that seals in moisture to keep skin hydrated and protect it from debris in the environment. This barrier is made up of lipids (healthy fats) that preserve the skin.
Without it, skin becomes cracked, dry, infected, and acne-prone. Rubbing alcohol disrupts this barrier.
This alcohol also increases the risk of a skin condition called follicular hyperkeratosis. This skin condition stimulates the overproduction of skin cells of a pore lying over the oil-producing sebaceous gland.
The skin inside the pore then sheds cells faster than the pore can expel them, which traps the oil beneath the clumps of dead skin. This causes more bacteria and debris to gather under the cells, resulting in a breakout.
Skin Products that Contain Isopropyl Alcohol
Next time you browse the aisles of your local drug store, be wary of products that contain rubbing alcohol. Some of your favorite skin-care products may have harmful levels of alcohol that may be the source of your irritation and breakouts.
Here are just a few of those products:
- Astringents and toners that include alcohol or menthol. They will just leave your skin redder, dryer, and more blemish-prone.
- “Witch hazel distillate,” which is mostly alcohol. A water-based extract of witch hazel can tone your skin and stop oozing, but an alcohol-based extract of witch hazel can dry out and irritate your skin.
- Purifying mud masks that contain either alcohol or witch hazel extract. The mud soothes your skin and the alcohol irritates it—leaving you wanting more and more of the product.
- Spray-on sunscreens that contain alcohol. These products may stop sunburn, but they won’t stop flaking and peeling.
When You Can Use Isopropyl Alcohol
The products you use in acne care should be alcohol-free, but there are times it makes sense to use rubbing alcohol as a skin treatment.
- If you give yourself injections, rubbing alcohol will kill all potentially infectious bacteria on your skin. (Most people who have to give themselves daily injections, however, do not use alcohol at all.)
- Rubbing alcohol is better for preventing infections on cuts and scrapes than iodine or a combination of iodine and rubbing alcohol.
- Rubbing alcohol is used to sterilize the skin before acupuncture. In an increasing number of acupuncture clinics in both China and the United States, however, strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more and more frequently report in acupuncture patients.
- Make sure that your acupuncturist changes sheets on the treatment table and keeps other surfaces clean.
Alternatives to Isopropyl Alcohol
Leave the rubbing alcohol for a skinned knee or paper cut. For acne, you’re much better off using a gentle facial wash or cleansing bar to clean the skin. For toning, opt for an astringent, which can help remove the excess dirt and oil.
These products are designed especially for facial skin, have a much lower (or no) alcohol content, and don’t interfere with the skin’s pH or moisture levels.
Furthermore, many such products include additional ingredients to hydrate and soothe, especially if they are designed for those with sensitive skin. Some commercial products even contain acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid.
Witch hazel, derived from flowering plants in the Hamamelidaceae family, is a great natural alternative to rubbing alcohol.
It is an effective astringent, can prevent dehydration, and even reduce the swelling and irritation of inflamed skin. Bonus: It is relatively inexpensive, costing just a few dollars for a large bottle.
Acne can be stubborn and persistent. If you’ve already discovered that, you may find yourself willing to try anything and everything to clear things up. Rubbing alcohol an option that simply is best to avoid.
If you’ve tried treatments specifically designed to address acne without success, consider seeing a dermatologist.
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