Is Rubbing Alcohol Good for Acne?

Should You Be Cleaning Your Face with Rubbing Alcohol to Clear Pimples?

Some people swear by cleaning their face with rubbing alcohol, thinking rubbing alcohol is good for acne. It certainly smells antiseptic and medicinal. And after all, it's used to clean wounds and sanitize the skin before injections.

So it would seem it would seem that rubbing alcohol could get the skin really clean, and help to clear up pimples. But is that really healthy for your skin?

Is Rubbing Alcohol Good for Acne?

Rubbing alcohol isn’t an acne treatment. It will not clear up acne.

Also called isopropyl alcohol, this ubiquitous clear liquid can be bought for just a buck or two at every drug store, and has long been a staple in every first aid kit. Yes, rubbing alcohol can kill bacteria. But acne isn’t caused by bacteria alone.

In fact, there are many factors that need to be present for acne to develop. Good acne treatments target all these factors; rubbing alcohol doesn’t.

(And if you’re looking for a way to heal a popped a pimple fast, put down that bottle of alcohol. Rubbing alcohol stings and will dry out the area. There are better ways to deal with a picked-at blemish: How To Heal a Popped Pimple.)

Should You Be Cleaning Your Face with Rubbing Alcohol?

Wiping your face down with rubbing alcohol feels super cool and refreshing, so it may seem like you're getting your skin really clean. But rubbing alcohol doesn’t cleanse or tone the skin, it strips it.

You're much better off using a facial wash or cleansing bar to clean the skin, and an astringent for toning. These products are designed especially for the skin. They will do a much better job, and in a way that is gentler and healthier for your skin.

Rubbing Alcohol Breaks Down the Skin's Natural Barrier

According to Center for Disease Control, repeated exposure isopropyl alcohol “defats the skin.”  Which means, in simple terms, it removes the skin’s sebum (or oil).

You're probably thinking "Great!"  Because you’d like your skin to be less greasy.

But your skin needs sebum to be healthy. Sebum acts as a natural barrier for the skin, and keeps the skin moisturized. Strip it all away and you’re skin is left in an unbalanced, unhealthy state.

Rubbing Alcohol will Over-Dry Your Skin

Isopropyl alcohol is extremely drying. Habitually rubbing your face down with it can leave your skin tight, flaky, and irritated.

And if you’re using acne medications, watch out. Adding rubbing alcohol to your skin care routine will dry your skin out even faster.

This is one time you definitely don’t want to “feel the burn.” If your skin is burning or stinging, it’s already feeling the damage from rubbing alcohol.

To Combat Oiliness, Try an Astringent

There are gentler ways to combat oily skin besides giving your face an alcohol bath. If your skin is still feeling too oily for your liking, you can use an astringent to help reduce excess oil in a gentle way.

Astringents are skin care products that are designed to remove excess oil from the skin. Some astringents even contain acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid.

If you've been regularly using rubbing alcohol on the skin and loathe to give it up, witch hazel is a great alternative. Witch hazel extract is an astringent, and will give your skin that nicely cleansed feeling you're looking for without the harsh stripping of rubbing alcohol.

It's also super inexpensive, at just a couple of dollars for a 16 ounce bottle. You can find it at any drug store next to, ironically, the rubbing alcohol.

But remember that simply removing excess oil isn't enough to clear up pimples. To do that, you'll need an acne treatment product.

To Clear Acne, Try a Proven Acne Treatment

For healing existing pimples, ditch the rubbing alcohol. You'll get much more impressive results, more quickly, with proven acne treatment medications.

Over-the-counter acne products are a good first step for mild acne. For more stubborn or severe cases of acne, prescription acne medications will be the best choice. Whichever treatment you start on, make sure you use it consistently for two to three months before expecting results.

A Word from Verywell

Rubbing alcohol isn't an effective acne treatment, and it's definitely not good for your skin. Astringents are a gentler, healthier option for your face. 

Wanting to dry out those pustules? Instead of rubbing alcohol, use a blemish spot treatment instead. And don't forget that regular use of an acne treatment medication will stop pimples before they ever develop.

With the right treatment, you can expect really good clearing of your skin. If you need guidance in treating your acne, put in a call to a dermatologist.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • "International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSC) - Isopropyl Alcohol." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 1 July 2014. Web.
  • "Occupational Safety and Health Guideline for Isopropyl Alcohol." Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 05 Aug 2008. U.S. Department of Labor.
  • "Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Jan 2006. National Institutes of Health.
  • Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5): 945-73.