Uses & Benefits
Personal Care Products
Ethanol is a common ingredient in many cosmetics and beauty products.(1) It acts as an astringent to help clean skin, as a preservative in lotions and to help ensure that lotion ingredients do not separate, and it helps hairspray adhere to hair.
Because ethanol is effective in killing microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and viruses, it is a common ingredient in many hand sanitizers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of hand sanitizers in situations where soap and water are not available.(2) Practicing hand hygiene is also an important part of helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. Using hand sanitizers or alcohol-based hand rubs (ABHR) can help to inactivate SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Ethanol mixes easily with water and many organic compounds and makes an effective solvent for use in paints, lacquers and varnish, as well as personal care and household cleaning products. As an additive to cleaning products, ethanol is also used as a preservative because it is effective in knocking out organisms that could pose a danger to consumers.(3)
As a food additive, ethanol can help evenly distribute food coloring, as well as enhance the flavor of food extracts. For example, vanilla extract, a common food flavoring, is made by curing and processing vanilla beans in a solution of ethanol and water. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only allows vanilla to be called “extract” when it has an alcohol or ethanol base.(4)
More than 98 percent of U.S. gasoline contains ethanol, typically in a mixture called E10, made up of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, to oxygenate the fuel and reduce air pollution.(5) Ethanol has a higher octane number than gasoline, providing premium blending properties, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.(5) Minimum octane number requirements prevent engine knocking and maintain drivability.