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Why do perfumes contain alcohol?

Posted On: 2/18/2022

This is yet another interesting topic that has been very talked about lately.


In this post, we will give it our best to share as much information about the pros and cons of the presence of alcohol in perfumes. Because the story is not one-sided, as things usually are not in real life.


What kind of alcohol is usually found in perfumes?

There is a thing called perfumers alcohol, and it is basically ethanol alcohol with the addition of a few additives. These additives are there to enhance the performance of perfumes.


But first, what is ethanol alcohol, and is it bad for you?

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is not bad in most cases. It is a natural byproduct of plant fermentation, you know, that same process that we use to create different kinds of brandies, vodkas, and other alcoholic drinks.


So, if you think about it, if it is good for you to drink it, it must be good when applied to our skin. And the answer is not that simple.


Alcohol is very known for its evaporation capabilities. It starts to evaporate much easier when compared to water. And this evaporation process tends to remove naturally necessary hydrating features of our top layer of skin. That way, making our skin dry and easily irritable. Of course, there are also different kinds of irritations that are not that common. Some people tend to get a very aggressive response from their skin after getting in touch with alcohol.


But you also have to be aware that every beauty product is very rigorously tested and examined before it gets approved for distribution and use by people. This means that alcohol used in perfumes is not bad for us in most cases. The only situation when it can pose a problem is if you are one of those few people who have an allergic reaction to alcohol that we mentioned above.


But what is ethanol alcohol's purpose in perfumes?

The main purpose of ethanol alcohol in perfumes is to enable the oils that are supposed to provide the scent to linger in the air around us.

Fragrance oils that are used in the process of creating perfumes (they are responsible for our perfume's scent) actually cannot go far away from the top layer of our skin. That way, making them almost imposible to smell by anyone except yourself.


That is the main reason why brands rarely release perfumes that contain more than 20% or 30% of fragrance oils in their ingredients list.



If perfume was constructed only of oils, it would be "smellable" only when you bring your nose right next to the skin area where you have applied the perfume. Also, the scent would be too heavy and even unpleasant in most cases. That is because our noses can handle only so much stimulus at a time, and extract of fragrance oils would bring our noses to the state of sensation overload.


So, perfumers alcohol has more than a single purpose in the perfume creation process. It enables the perfume to be spread into the air and dilutes the mixture to become more enjoyable for our noses.


How does alcohol enable perfume to linger around us?

This question was already partially answered when we talked about the features of alcohol in general. The fact that alcohol evaporates easily makes it an amazing ally in reaching our goal to create projection and sillage for our perfume.


One more essential fact here is that alcohol is amazing at being mixed in with oils.


When you think about it, you can't mix water with oils because all oils would just float above the water. That is why it would not be possible to have a single, homogeneous mixture when using water in perfumes. That is where alcohol shines. It can easily mix with oils and provide us with a uniform mixture of diluted oils and is ready to be enjoyed by you and the people around you.


So when we have this perfect mix of oils and alcohol, we can get the desired effect with ease. When applied, this mixture will evaporate from the surface of our skin due to the fact that our skin releases heat, and that way spread the fragrance oils into the air along with the alcohol.


Now you might be wondering about the interference of alcohol in the desired aroma of oils that its creator wanted to create. Of course, people were smart enough to pick alcohol as one of the ingredients due to the fact that it does not have a very dominant scent. It sure can be smelled as soon as you apply the fragrance, but that alcohol smell tends to be completely gone in a minute or two after the application. Leaving us only with the smell of oils that we desire and the capability of alcohol to spread those heavenly aromas into the air around us.



Yet another benefit of alcohol in perfumes

We did not address every benefit that is provided by alcohol in perfumes yet. Alcohol also works as stabilization for fragrance oils. That is somewhat the same thing as our talk when we stated that oils on their own would feel overwhelming and too strong to be enjoyed.


Some notes are heavier than others. For example, top perfume notes are really light. If you are not familiar with this terminology, please feel free to read our post about perfume notes called "What are perfume notes? Complete guide". This post will teach you everything related to perfume notes and their different types.


The fact that some notes are light means that they can't stick to our skin for long but tend to wander off into the air easily. That means that light notes do not have to be mixed with alcohol per-say. But their short lifespan means that you should not expect them to stay on your skin for more than a couple of hours.


On the other hand, heavy notes, usually used as base notes of a perfume, are the complete opposite. They will not be leaving your skin at all, but they will last you for hours, even days. That is why these notes desperately need alcohol or other dilutants if we wish to be able to smell them in the air.


And now, when we combine these two extreme types of notes. We can conclude that perfumes would not be interesting at all if containing only a single type of note in their fragrance pyramids. We want to provide diversity and make the perfume more complex by giving it a sharp and zesty opening with light notes and a strong, sturdy base that will add depth to the perfume. But that mix will need alcohol to enable both types of notes to be available for us to enjoy them.


And we are done with our basic talk about alcohol. We can now elaborate a bit more on additives.


Are alcohol additives bad for me?

Great, now that we know that alcohol is not bad for most of us, we can keep talking about other ingredients that are a part of the perfumer's alcohol.


There usually are three main ingredients in the perfumer's alcohol, and they are:

  1. Ethanol alcohol - this one we already discussed and have concluded what it is for. It works as the main carrier for fragrance oils.
  2. Isopropyl Myristate - is an ingredient that aims to make our skin absorb oils easier. Why is this important? Well, because we wish to enable our skin to absorb oils, but not completely. Oils absorbed will not evaporate into the air but will last a lot longer on the surface of our skin. That is why perfumers are playing with this additive to find a sweet spot for the amount they will add into the mix, thus deciding how easily the skin will absorb the perfume.
  3. Monopropylene Glycol - this ingredient is added to slow down the natural evaporation capabilities of ethanol alcohol. If we applied only alcohol without this additive, it would evaporate quickly within minutes. And we do not want our perfume to be gone for good after only a few minutes.

Of course, all of these ingredients have passed very in-depth testing and are proven to be safe for people's use. So you can feel safe when applying your favorite scent and enjoying its magic.



What are the alternatives to alcohol?

People are becoming worried about alcohol in beauty products nowadays, so you can find more new perfume brands going alcohol-free with their perfumes.


Is this good or bad for perfumes?

As usual, it can be both good and bad. It is amazing for people who have allergic reactions to alcohol from the perfume or any of its ingredients because they can enjoy perfumes without issues that would come with wearing them.


Oil-based dilutants tend to be natural and very mild for our skin, even providing moisturizing for our skin, so that is another great thing about them.

Also, the lifespan of the perfume can often be extended because alcohol tends to evaporate relatively quickly. After that, you are left with that small amount of aroma on your skin. But oils are evaporating much slower and will usually last a lot longer on our skin.


But the main downside to oil-based perfume dilutants is the fact that projection and sillage of the perfume will be dramatically lowered by excluding alcohol from the equation. If you are not sure what sillage and projection are, check out our post called "Commonly used perfume terminology", there you can find these terms explained in great detail.


Conclusion

Alcohol in perfumes represents an amazing thing for us. People have been using it for almost a millennium, since the beginning of the 13th century, to be more exact. So it would not be a poor choice for most people for sure.


If you are one of the people whose skin tends not to enjoy the presence of alcohol very much, you can always find natural, oil-based alternatives.


Now that you know the pros and cons of both options, everything is in your hands.

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