Alcohol is a natural preservative that is generally derived from natural means, such as through fermented sugar, cereals and yeast. Yet the effects of these preservatives, whether ingested, inhaled or applied topically, are not wholly beneficial. Ethyl alcohol is the most widely used form used in the preservation of scientific specimens and is found in alcoholic drinks. Isopropyl alcohol is a preservative and natural disinfectant, commonly used in mouthwashes, lotions and rubbing alcohol. It can also be used as a substitute for ethanol, or ethyl alcohol. Methyl alcohol is used primarily in solvents, like paint remover, as well as in lacquers, nail polish remover and windshield-washing fluid. Methyl alcohol is toxic if ingested, and can be dangerous when inhaled for a prolonged period.
Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol)
Ethanol alcohol is absorbed through the lining of the stomach and through the small intestines. It is metabolised into acetaldehyde, which is then attacked by a nontoxic acetate created by the body's production of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione. The body ultimately breaks down ethanol to carbon dioxide and water. Once the liver's reserves of glutathione are depleted, acetaldehyde builds up, causing alcohol toxicity. A hangover is a result of the body's attempt to restore the depleted glutathione, causing fatigue, headaches and queasiness.
Isopropyl Alcohol (Isopropanol)
Isopropanol is found in mouthwashes, lotions and rubbing alcohol, and is used as a substitute for ethanol in beverages. When ingested, it is absorbed through the stomach lining and metabolised into acetone.
Alcohol is used in many beauty products as a preservative, but it kills both the bad and good bacteria on the skin. Prolonged use of products with alcohol preservatives has been known to dry the skin and exacerbate psoriasis and eczema, as well as cause a disruption of the mitochondrial membrane, which results in cell death.
Methyl Alcohol (Methanol)
Methanol can be fatal if ingested. It's used primarily in industrial products, and can be dangerous if inhaled for a prolonged period. Methanol can be absorbed through the lungs, skin and stomach lining. It is metabolised into formaldehyde, and then into formic acid, folic acid, folinic acid and finally, into carbon dioxide and water.
Effects of Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol may be a preservative that is derived from natural sources, but its effects on the body are dangerous. Excessive use can cause irreversible damage by depressing the central nervous system, and can be fatal. Symptoms of excessive consumption can include lethargy, ataxia, coma, hemorrhagic gastritis, vomiting and abdominal pain.
In 2007, the U.S. Poison Control Center reported that 36 of 7,447 patients were repeatedly treated for excessive consumption of isopropanol; one patient died. During the same time period, there were 2,252 cases of methanol toxicity. Twenty-six patients experienced major damage and 11 died.
- Gaia Research Institute; The Cytotoxicity of Alcohol-Preserved So-Called 'Organic' Skin Care Products; Stuart Thompson
- Medscape Reference; Alcohol Toxicity; Michael D Levine, MD, et al.; November 2009
- National Park Service; Safe Storage and Handling of Natural History Specimens Preserved in Fluid; September 2001