What Are Alcohols?
Alcohols are organic compounds that contain one or more hydroxyl (OH) groups (an oxygen and hydrogen atom) bound to carbon atoms. On ingredient labels, an alcohol usually ends with "ol" (ethanol, methanol, panthenol). Alcohols are characterized by their solubility in both water and oil, which is determined by the length of the molecule's carbon chain. With a short carbon chain, an alcohol has greater solubility in water, which means it will evaporate quickly, taking water with it, while an alcohol with a long carbon chain will hinder evaporation and hold water down. Under a few specialized circumstances, such as unique chemical configuration, some short carbon chains alcohols actually display moisturizing properties instead of the drying characteristic common to small alcohols.
How Do They Function?
In our day-to-day lives, alcohols are found in products with a variety of functions ranging from lipstick to hairsprays. There are hundreds of different alcohols that can function as antioxidants, humectants, emulsifiers, surfactants, and solvents.
Many misperceptions exist about the use of alcohol in personal care products. People think of the drying effects and harshness of rubbing alcohol or they think of the dehydrating effects of alcohol found in liquor and wine. In fact, these alcohols are only one type in a very large group of chemicals that have many qualities and functions. To understand the variety within a group of alcohols, compare it to a group of insects. Within the insect kingdom butterflies pollinate flowers and provide colorful beauty in the world, while other insects like mosquitoes sting and possibly carry disease. Similarly, there are many alcohols that are good for the skin by helping deliver the benefits of moisturizing skin care products, while some alcohols can be irritating or drying to the skin and hair.
Fatty Alcohols vs. Harsh Alcohols
Most alcohols that deliver benefits to the skin are known as fatty alcohols and range in function as well. Some alcohols, like panthenol and propylene glycol, enhance a product's moisturizing qualities because they are humectants, binding water to the skin. Stearyl alcohol acts as an emollient and an emulsifier. Tocopherol (also known as vitamin E) is well known for its antioxidant and moisturizing properties. Actually, several vitamins, including vitamin A and vitamin B5, are alcohols.
Some alcohols are not beneficial for daily skin care. Harsh alcohols, including rubbing alcohol or ethanol, are extremely drying, but serve an antibacterial function. SD-alcohol 40 is a blend of ethyl alcohol (drinking alcohol), specially denatured to make it unfit to drink. When used in skin care products, these alcohols can dry and irritate the skin because of their high evaporation rate.
You may read on a label that a product is "alcohol-free." According to industry standards and regulations, this means that the product does not contain ethyl alcohol, which is known for its harsh, drying effects. But that same product may contain fatty alcohols, which have much different effects on skin.
Alcohols Used in Nu Skin® Products
Nu Skin employs fatty alcohols such as panthenol, propylene glycol, cetyl alcohol, butylene glycol, and cetearyl alcohol that have proven beneficial moisturizing properties. Although Nu Skin does use ethanol in a few product formulations, such as Epoch Hand Sanitizer because it serves as an FDA-required active ingredient to instantly kill germs and bacteria, there are other hydrating and conditioning ingredients in the formulations that counteract the drying effects. Nutriol HFT also contains undenatured ethyl alcohol, an ingredient that improves the delivery of the beneficial powders in the product. Nu Skin consistently holds to its founding philosophy of "all of the good, none of the bad" and, therefore, only uses alcohols that benefit your skin and make products effective.