New European cosmetic legislation attaches great importance to consumer safety. The toxicological profiles of many raw materials, including ethyl alcohol, have been thoroughly studied. Would cosmetics be possible if alcohol were banned?
Ethyl alcohol (or ethanol) is listed on the labels of cosmetic products as Alcohol Denat, the official International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) denomination for “denatured alcohol”. Alcohol has been used for macerations, extractions and solutions since cosmetics were invented. Pure alcohol is no longer used in the cosmetics sector nowadays, but is mixed with bitter-tasting denaturing agents to prevent it being consumed as an alcoholic beverage.
A classic ingredient
In most cosmetics, alcohol is used as a solvent for the active and other ingredients in the formula that are not soluble in water because of their chemical characteristics. In other products, alcohol is used for its astringent properties (as a treatment for oily skin) and, more sporadically, to modify the viscosity of a formulation and to enhance the absorption of creams. Alcohol is also widely used as a preservative given its biocidal properties.
Apart from perfumes and colognes the cosmetics that usually include alcohol in their formulas are hair products such as sprays, gels and foams. Alcohol is also typical in aftershave, acne, dandruff and hair loss products. Many deodorants and also, although less frequently, certain emulsions, include alcohol denat in their formulas.
What’s the problem?
Alcohol is a raw material widely used and permitted in cosmetics. Today, in the corresponding European regulation it is merely classified as flammable material. But lately it has come under the scrutiny of European experts and legislators.
As a consequence of various studies on the subject, there is now the possibility that toxicologists will reclassify alcohol as a carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) substance. If this happens, given that the existing European cosmetics regulation directly prohibits the use of CMR substances, it is possible that alcohol will be banned in cosmetics. This would certainly affect many products that consumers use regularly.
What would we use for perfume?
What future is there for fragrances and perfumes if alcohol were banned? No doubt the social impact would be great. It seems unthinkable that new legislation along these lines could possibly be adopted.
But many alcohol-based cosmetic products, other than colognes and perfumes, would also be affected. For example, a hair spray would need to have an aqueous base so it would “wet” the hair. Using another kind of apparently safer solvent would make the product more expensive. In addition, certain active ingredients in original formulas would have to be replaced by other ingredients due to solubility problems, which would also mean an increase in sale price.
Diluted ethanol used as yet another component in a mix of ingredients in a formula that ssuccessfullypasses dermatological tests: why should it not be used as a cosmetic ingredient?
Alcohol, a key ingredient in perfumery and an essential active solvent in many cosmetics, should undoubtedly be subject to regulation, but for topical application and in specific concentrations that are safe for each use and end user. Let’s see what the future holds …
By Susana Andújar, chemist
Sources:Official Journal of the European Union