Does Rubbing Alcohol Clear Acne?

Rubbing alcohol, that ubiquitous clear liquid at every drug store that can be bought for just a buck or two, has long been a staple in every first aid kit.  It smells antiseptic and medicinal.

So, it would seem that rubbing alcohol (also called isopropyl alcohol) would get the skin really clean. After all, it's been used to clean wounds and sanitize the skin before injections.

Some people even use rubbing alcohol as a facial toner, hoping it will deep clean and clear up pimples.

  But is that healthy for your skin?

Not by a long shot.

Rubbing alcohol does not clear acne.

First, rubbing alcohol isn’t an acne treatment.  It’s just not going to clear up acne.    

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!  There are better ways to deal with those buggers here: How To Heal a Popped Pimple.)

Rubbing alcohol doesn’t cleanse or tone the skin.

Back in my twenties, I spent some time in Phoenix.  During the blazing hot and sweaty summertime I got into the habit of wiping my face down with rubbing alcohol every night, because I thought it was getting my skin really clean. 

I now realize that was a pretty dumb idea, especially because acne isn’t caused by a dirty face.


I’ll concede that alcohol does feel super cool and refreshing.  It’s reasonable to think that it would clean the skin.  

But rubbing alcohol doesn’t cleanse or tone the skin, it strips it. 

Rubbing alcohol breaks down the skin’s natural barrier.

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


I know you’re thinking great!  Because you’d like your skin to be less greasy.

But your skin needs sebum to be healthy.  It 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.

Alcohol is majorly 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.  

Want to combat oiliness?  Try this instead.

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 a toner (alcohol-free please!) to help reduce excess oil in a gentle way. 

For a super inexpensive alternative, try witch hazel instead.

Witch hazel is an astringent, cleansing to the skin, and costs about a dollar a bottle. You can find it at any drug store next to, ironically, the rubbing alcohol. 

Need to clear acne?  Try these treatments.

For healing existing pimples, ditch the rubbing alcohol.  You'll get much better results with proven acne treatments.  Because with the right treatment, you can get really good clearing of your skin.

Ready to kiss acne goodbye for good?  Here's where to start:

Over-the-Counter Acne Treatments

Prescription Topical Acne Medications

Oral Acne Medications

How To Find the Acne Treatment That will Work for You


Ceilley RI.  “Advances in topical delivery systems in acne: new solutions to address concentration dependent irritation and dryness.”  Skinmed.  2001 Jan-Feb; 9(1):15-21.

"Occupational Safety and Health Guideline for Isopropyl Alcohol." Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 05 Aug 2008. U.S. Department of Labor. 13 Mar 2009.

"International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSC) - Isopropyl Alcohol." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 July 2014. Web. Accessed 20 June 2015.

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