Topical Alcohols

You may consider yourself an expert on alcohol and experiment with it daily. But did you know that TOPICAL alcohol must always be poisoned before it is bottled and used?

Recreational drinking alcohol or ethanol is a huge source of tax income for Federal and State Governments and is taxed accordingly. But when alcohol is for EXTERNAL use only, it is taxed at a substantially lower rate. External use ethanol is usually sold as Rubbing Alcohol.

In order to make sure that the alcohol cannot be used internally it must be poisoned first. This is called denaturing the alcohol, and the poison itself is called a denaturant.

“The main additive has traditionally been 10% methanol giving rise to the term “methylated spirit.” Other typical additives include isopropyl alcohol, acetone, methyl ketones, and denatonium (aka Bitrex) (1) The idea here is to make the stuff taste so bad and so bitter that no one will try to ingest it.

But putting poison on your skin is never a good idea. Only fifty years ago people still believed that it was fine to put petrochemical and solvent chemicals on our skin. It was believed that our skin was an impenetrable barrier that protected our blood from the outside world. People would wash their hands using gasoline. We now know this idea to be completely false. Our skin is a highly penetrateable membrane. Think of nicotine patches if you have any doubt.

Methanol, which can cause permanent optic nerve and liver damage, penetrates easily through skin application, breathing the fumes, or from drinking it. In my book it is one of the “ubiquitous baddies” we can be exposed to in our day to day lives. Methanol is the main ingredient in Windshield Washing Fluid.

When alcohol penetrates our skin, we absorb not only the alcohol and the denaturant, but also any other water or oil based ingredients in the formula. Alcohol is an emulsifier, which means it can “hold hands” with both water and oil based ingredients like the toluene, the unnamed (trade secret protected) toxic solvent found in most fake scents. If you cannot tolerate a variety of artificial scents but are OK with most pure essential oils, toluene may well be the common molecule to explain your “scentsitivities”.

Overexposure to methanol and to other chemicals commonly found with the methanol may be one way that broad based chemical sensitivities arise through over exposure.

In other words, the alcohols themselves can carry into your blood molecules such as scent or foaming agents that otherwise readily might not penetrate your skin. It is entirely possible that this is one mechanism for the creation of chemically intolerant states in otherwise healthy individuals. As your liver attempts to filter out the chemical soup you throw at it each day, it “remembers” molecules that have caused it harm and it “tells” your body to stay away from them through a variety of reactions including and especially through skin reactions and sensitivities.

Other solvents, especially petrochemical based solvents, may well be trigger or even create the mechanism for this reaction too. I am not claiming methanol is the only culprit. Regular readers will quickly recognize a common theme in these missives. I am constantly reminding thinking people that it is best take a Precautionary Principal when mixing chemistry (new technology building blocks) with biology (all living things).

If it is not found in nature, and we have not had endless generations to adapt to it, it is probably going to have long term negative effects on you and on the local biology (aka our Ecosystem and your body).

This is not anarchist ranting. This is common sense. If you (the biology) ain’t adapted to it (the chemistry), it is probably going to hurt or eventually kill you. Radical thinking? Maybe not. Perhaps it is the fouling of our planet with noxious chemical wastes that in fact is the radical notion.

Organic alcohol can be denatured with strong essential oils instead of the poisons listed above. Only a certified organic product is guaranteed to be petrochemical free.

This is the Soapman reminding you that natural is a process – not a result; and urging ya’ll to Keep it Clean!


1 Comment

  1. Danielle on December 15, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Great information. Thanks for this. I do avoid alcohol in most personal care products. What do you think about alcohol that is not denatured for topical use? For example some skin products are made with alcohols such as vodka or sake. I would assume that these would have a drying effect. But do you think there are major consequences in using such alcohols on the skin?

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