Does Your Makeup Contain Alcohol? Here’s How To Know


Hands up if you’ve ever bought a makeup product without looking at the ingredients label?

If we had to guess, we’d say almost everyone is reaching for the sky right now. 

Because while many of us have become savvier when it comes to checking what’s in our skin care, makeup products often don’t undergo the same scrutiny. 

And considering they probably spend equal amounts of time on our face, there’s no better time than the present to start paying attention; starting with alcohol.

Yep, alcohol is sometimes found in makeup products. Here’s how to know what to look for and what it means for your skin.

The effects alcohol can have on the skin

We love a glass of wine as much as the next person, and hey, the grape even has its benefits, but the alcohol that’s used in makeup is different. 

It’s commonly known as ethyl alcohol (ethanol) and if your instincts are telling you that word sounds drying, you’re not wrong. 

Most dermatologists consider alcohol an irritant that has a drying effect on the skin. Its use can interrupt the skin’s barrier function, which can lead to skin irritations and worsen existing acne conditions.

So why is it sometimes found in makeup?

It’s this same drying effect of alcohol that causes it to make its way into formulas; it’s used to reduce the tacky after feel of products, keep things lightweight on the skin and speed up the setting process – which is why makeup setting sprays often contain the ingredient.

How to tell if your makeup has alcohol in it

Luckily, the ingredient isn’t hidden by too many code words and a quick check of the back of your product will let you know whether it contains alcohol.

The types of alcohol that can irritate the skin are typically listed on labels as alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat/denatured alcohol and SD (specially denatured) alcohol.

These shouldn’t be confused with fatty alcohols, however, which can be found in creams and lotions and simply act as a stabiliser. These are listed as cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, behenyl alcohol, arachidyl alcohol, and cetearyl alcohol, and are known to be moisturising rather than drying.

Making the switch to alcohol-free

The good news is that avoiding the irritant-kind of alcohol is getting easier – even when it comes to the categories that find it hard to avoid, like makeup setting sprays.

Nude by Nature’s Natural Setting Spray is not only alcohol-free, but it’s made with 100 per cent natural ingredients. Its formula is still lightweight and will help to extend the wear of your makeup, but it provides moisturising benefits rather than drying ones.

It contains Australian Kakadu plum, which is known for its abundant vitamin C content, as well as quandong and wattleseed to nourish the skin and help fight visible signs of ageing.

And when it comes to post-mask wear (the sweat is all too real sometimes), it’s really great for refreshing and resetting makeup. A very welcome bonus. 

Main image credit: Getty

Did you know alcohol was found in some makeup? Are there any ingredients you prefer to steer clear of?

Share your thoughts

Comments 48

  1. Loving the non alcoholic NBN Setting Spray! Thanks for clearing up the difference between the alcohol used as a stabilizer or preservative and the ‘bad’ drying irritating ones. I’m bookmarking this one!

  2. Great read! I have lately been more aware of alcohols in skincare and makeup good to know not all bad too I didn’t know there was such thing as fatty alcohol. I can’t think of anything else I try and avoid.

  3. This setting spray is fantastic! I had the opportunity to trial via BH Natural Beauty Month and love it! I used this in conjunction with the illuminating primer (also on trial) and my own NBN mineral foundation. Fantastic natural trio! My skin is loving it so much 🙂

  4. I have often turned a blind eye to alcohol as an ingredient in skin products – and it’s good to know I need not worry about it if it’s one of the good alcohols that actually help moisturise and don’t effect skin badly. Thanks for clearing this one up bh!

  5. I do not avoid alcohol as in good formulations, it never bothered my skin. Atm using products that have alcohol in them: body lotion, toner and sunscreen. Only avoiding mineral oil, petrolatum as these dehydrate my skin. Also have issues with propylene glycol. Dehydrates badly.

  6. I am not overly concerned about ethanol (alcohol) in makeup. It does kill my skin in skincare, esp if listed as one of the top ingredients. My skin changed so much as I age. 15 years ago, I was still using Clinique Clarifying Lotion 3 (which is predominantly alcohol). My skin loved it.

  7. They only thing I check is the Country of Origin because not only is the list of ingredients meaningless to me but it’s usually in the smallest font that I’d need a magnifying glass to read it.
    Some products say Peel Label to find ingredient behind. I am sure the retailer wouldn’t like me damaging their packaging,

  8. I must admit, I don’t tend to look at the ingredient list when it comes to makeup, and whilst I’m trying to understand all the chemical names I still get very confused.

  9. Luckily I’m not sensitive to anything so I don’t have to avoid any particular ingredients. I do notice when things have a high alcohol content eg toner but the benefit is they dry quickly.

  10. Me too Okatko. I’ve only ever looked at the ingredients list when it comes to deodorant to see if it contains aluminium, and even then I’m not too fussed as long as the product works.

  11. I don’t drink alcohol because it is too toxic for the liver, and I figure it’s not good for skin either because we absorb so much through out skin. But I wonder what else is used for preservatives, what is worse?

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