SD Alcohol – Cosmetics ‘Alcohol-Free’ Marketing Scam Part 2

Part 2: How the Cosmetic Industry took advantage of SD Alcohol

SD alcohol was a harmless and effective solution until the cosmetics industry recognized that SD alcohol could be labeled as ‘alcohol-free’. This labeling could make a difference between a sale and no sale. Ethanol is very useful when it comes to designing cosmetic products – it can be used as emollients , surfactant/detergent cleansing agents, absorbents and much more, and there are little other compounds that can achieve such effects, especially at such a low price. Every cosmetic formulation specialist would readily use it if it were not for the adverse effect that ethanol might cause – irritation and drying of skin. Sure, you can add ethanol, make a great cream but not as many people will buy it because you cannot label it ‘alcohol-free’; and if your end goal is to sell as much as possible, the solution of not including ethanol in the cream formulation is quite obvious.

This is where the cosmetics marketing scam comes in the mix. The cosmetic industry has figured out a way to include ethanol in the making of creams and other products, and still claim the ‘alcohol-free’ label – from their point of view, it is a perfect solution. It is as simple as adding the SD alcohol; which is basically just ethanol + poison. FDA and other regulatory services regard only ethanol by itself as ‘alcohol’. Well, this is not ethanol by itself anymore; it is ethanol + poison, or specially denatured alcohol (SD alcohol for short).

There are many varieties of SD alcohol which differ by the type of poison that is added to ethanol. The most basic toxin added is methanol which causes blindness if consumed too heavily – that was a good trick to keep everybody from drinking the laboratory ethanol, but would reap havoc to the skin if used in a skin product. In some cases of SD alcohol, the equivalent of rat poison is added as toxin. Now that is a problem to be concerned about if you’re using such a cosmetic product on your face.

A little help: FDA has issued a list of acceptable SD alcohols that are safe for humans and can be used in cosmetics products:

  • SD Alcohol 23-A
  • SD Alcohol 40
  • SD Alcohol 40-B

If the label on the cream you’re thinking about buying includes any other SD alcohol, you are recommended to stay far away from it.

Bottom line: SD alcohol is a nice example of a marketing trick mainstream cosmetic industry are playing on the consumers. They are more than willing to consciously add poison to a cosmetic product if it means it will sell more, and, unfortunately, with deceptive ‘alcohol-free’ marketing this is exactly what is currently happening. If you are experiencing any kind of unusual irritation on your skin, please do check if it includes SD alcohol first. You know where the trash is if it does!

The case of SD alcohol is exactly why consumers need to be informed about what actually goes into cosmetics products. Cosmetic companies will do everything to divert our attention to labels such as ‘alcohol-free’, ‘organic’, natural’, and will try really hard to nail down the smallest font possible for the only things that actually matter on a label – the ingredients; what the product is actually made of.

SD Alcohol – Cosmetics ‘Alcohol-Free’ Marketing Scam Part 1

Part 1: How SD Alcohol Came To Be

There might be poison in your ‘alcohol-free’ night cream. It’s not meant to kill you, mind you, it’s meant to persuade you to buy the night cream.

Lets talk alcohol. Alcohols are actually quite a diverse group of chemicals but in cosmetic labeling, alcohol by itself means only one substance – ethanol or ethyl alcohol (source: FDA). For the plot of this story, it is very important to understand that the label ‘alcohol-free’ means exclusively that the cosmetic product does not include ethanol by itself.

In many cases, you will see that a cream contains ingredients such as lanolin alcohol, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol and so on, and the label will still read ‘alcohol-free’. Such alcohols are very useful when formulating a cream; they are also known as fatty alcohols and are of much benefit to the consumer. However, the lesson to be learned here is cream does contain alcohols, and sometimes lots of alcohols,  but it can still be labelled as ‘alcohol-free’.

We have covered the good alcohols; how about the bad ones? In cosmetics, there really are no bad alcohols, there are only the ‘good alcohols’ and the ‘worst alcohols’.

This is the plot: alcohol for drinking and alcohol for lets say laboratory and sterilization purposes were once the same thing. However, the government tax on ethanol is quite substantial to reduce socially-disruptive drinking – and laboratories found themselves paying huge taxes on buying ethanol not meant for drinking. They eventually negotiated with the government that ethanol, which is not meant for drinking, should not be taxed as heavily. However, the government wanted to make sure these laboratories and other industries were not buying the low-taxed alcohol that is not meant for drinking, only to turn around and sell it as a beverage – back in the days of alcohol prohibition (1920 to 1933 in the US) something like this was quite common.

This is why the government decided to literally poison the low-taxed alcohol by adding toxin to ethanol – and the SD alcohol was born.

It was a good solution. Nobody ever drank the SD alcohol for fear of getting poisoned and the laboratories and other industries could finally operate free of accusations that they are selling the ethanol they buy for creating alcoholic beverages.

But they didn’t count on what cosmetic industry will do when it discovered a very specific loophole. Read More in Part 2