Rubbing alcohol is a type of chemical disinfectant. Its mild antimicrobial effect makes it suitable for cleaning and disinfecting minor wounds.
However, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that rubbing alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol, helps treat acne.
Experts warn that applying rubbing alcohol to acne may make the acne worse.
This article provides information on how rubbing alcohol may affect acne. We also outline the potential risks of using rubbing alcohol to treat acne and offer some alternative treatment options.
Rubbing alcohol is a type of chemical disinfectant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the antimicrobial effects of rubbing alcohol are likely due to its ability to break down the proteins in bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
The CDC state that rubbing alcohol shows the most significant antimicrobial activity at concentrations of between 60–90%. Its antimicrobial activity reduces when diluted to concentrations below 50%.
The antimicrobial activity of rubbing alcohol makes it a good choice for treating minor skin wounds.
In theory, rubbing alcohol may help kill the bacteria responsible for inflammatory acne. This type of acne occurs when bacteria become trapped inside a hair follicle, causing inflammation. Inflammatory acne may present as red, swollen pustules, nodules, or cysts.
Anecdotal reports also suggest that rubbing alcohol may help to treat the causes of inflammatory acne. However, no studies are investigating rubbing alcohol as a treatment for acne.
A person who frequently applies rubbing alcohol onto the skin may experience adverse side effects, such as:
To benefit from the antimicrobial effects of rubbing alcohol, a person would need to use it in concentrations above 60%. Higher concentrations might irritate and dry the skin, which can increase the severity and frequency of acne breakouts.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommend that people who have acne avoid using rubbing alcohol on their skin.
Some medications can help treat acne. These include:
- birth control pills
- topical and oral antibiotics
- ointments and creams containing benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid
If a person’s acne is severe, a doctor may recommend one of the following medical procedures:
- laser or light therapies
- chemical peels
- corticosteroid injections
If medical options do not work, a person should talk to their doctor or dermatologist about trying natural remedies. Healthcare providers can offer suggestions based on an individual’s skin type and the type of acne they have.
The AAD provide the following tips for managing existing acne and reducing the risk of future outbreaks:
- avoiding picking or popping pimples
- avoiding touching the acne, except when cleaning
- washing twice a day, especially after sweating
- using clean fingertips to wash areas of acne gently
- avoiding scrubbing the skin, or using abrasive cleansers
- using cosmetics sparingly, and removing them from the skin before going to sleep
- shampooing oily hair daily
- avoiding excessive sun exposure
A person should follow the instructions on the label all acne products carefully. For the product to work, a person will need to apply it consistently. However, if skin irritation develops, or acne worsens, a person should stop using the product, and make an appointment with their doctor.
Rubbing alcohol is a type of disinfectant that people sometimes use to treat minor skin wounds.
In theory, rubbing alcohol may help to kill acne-causing bacteria. However, no studies are investigating the efficacy of rubbing alcohol as a treatment for acne.
People should be aware that rubbing alcohol can increase skin dryness and irritation. This, in turn, can increase the severity and frequency of acne breakouts. As such, the AAD do not recommend rubbing alcohol as a treatment for acne.
There are some steps a person can take to manage their acne. If these steps do not work, a person can ask their doctor or dermatologist about other treatment options.