Not all alcohols are created equal in skincare!
Some alcohols are derivatives of ethyl alcohol, which is simple alcohol which can be very drying. (Think of alcohol you’d find in your drink). This alcohol is bad for skin because it destroys the skin’s lipid barrier if used in excess. Simpler forms of alcohol, such as alcohol denat, SD alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol, can be irritating to the skin and even strain your skin's normal functions— especially if listed within the first five or six ingredients of a product (meaning there is a large portion of that ingredient in the product).
However, commonly used fatty alcohols - are non-drying & have emollient and occlusive properties. These are derived from oils and fats, giving your skin moisture. For example:
Cetyl alcohol is extracted from coconut oil and acts as an emollient that is included in skin care products to stabilize the formulations or to alter their consistencies.
Cetearyl alcohol is an emulsifying wax that is used to soften thick formulas like skin ointments. Derived from natural oils and fats, it is very efficient in stabilizing skin care formulations.
Oleyl alcohol is derived from from olive oil, beef fat or fish.
Stearyl alcohol is made from stearic acid, a naturally occurring fatty acid, coconut oil or vegetable fatty acids which is used as both an emollient and emulsifier.
Most importantly, it is important to find your "trigger" because everyone reacts to different ingredients and products differently. Use what works for you and skip products that make your skin dry.