Breaking Down the Alcohols Most Commonly Found in Hair Products—Are They Safe?

Written by Dahvi Shira

15% off with code: MANESTREAM15


When you hear the word alcohol, we can take a guess what comes to mind! We’ll go on a hunch and say it’s not silky, soft hair. But if you study even two labels at random, you’ll quickly see that alcohol in hair products is extremely common.

But what gets confusing is our association with the versatile colorless liquid. There’s the obvious alcohol found in 21+ beverages. Then there’s rubbing alcohol (which we can’t imagine is any better for our strands!). So, why is so much alcohol found in hair products? What does it do, and are the various types good or bad?

To break down everything you need to know, we reached out to KEVIN.MURPHY STYLE.MASTER Sarah Lund. Keep reading for the facts!

(Image Source: Getty)

Alcohol in Hair Products as a Whole

Generally speaking, alcohol in haircare isn’t a cause for concern. While variations of sodium and sulfates have some consumers up in arms, alcohol—on the other hand—shouldn’t raise obvious red flags. This is not to be confused with skincare, however, where alcohol is a far more divisive ingredient.

“When used in haircare, combined with other ingredients, most alcohols have little to no effect when it comes to drying out or roughing-up the hair cuticle,” Lund explains. “For example, a small amount of Isopropyl Alcohol in a shampoo will be virtually untraceable, especially when used with other moisturizing ingredients. Conversely, using Isopropyl as a single ingredient can easily remove natural hair oils making the hair feel dry.”

Breakdown of Alcohol in Hair Products

Primary Alcohols: Ethanol and Alcohol Denatured

These alcohols are used as solvents (they break down excess oil) to deliver ingredients and allow the product to dry quickly. They typically evaporate completely from the hair. This leaves little to none behind, making them safe and without drying-out properties.

Secondary Alcohols: Isopropyl

Isopropyl Alcohol can be used as a solvent to remove oils or to denature other alcohols (making them unfit to drink). It’s also used for its antiseptic properties. In low amounts and when combined with other moisturizing ingredients, it should have little to no effect on drying out hair strands.

Aromatic Alcohols: Benzyl

These can be used as a preservative and also as a fragrance ingredient. This ingredient is typically used in small doses and has no effect on the hair.

Fatty Alcohols: Cetearyl and Cetyl

These are waxy emollients and work really well to soften and condition the hair.

For more on alcohol in hair products, HERE‘s an expert’s thoughts on using alcohol in shampoo.