Sanitizing With Alcohol And Why Percentages Matter

by | Cosmetic Fact or Fiction

There’s a constant debate among beauty professionals over the correct concentration/percentage of alcohol required to sanitize work surfaces and tools. Some were taught (incorrectly) in Cosmetology/Esthetics programs and perpetuate the misinformation.

I’d like to put this debate to rest, once and for all – with FACTS.

What The Experts Say

The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommend alcohol at a concentration of 50%-70% for use as a disinfectant and antimicrobial. Alcohol at this dilution efficiently penetrates the bacterial cell wall, disrupts the molecular confirmation, then destroys (denatures) the proteins and enzymes inside of the cell.

What That Means:

Alcohol’s antimicrobial properties are most effective when the alcohol can make contact with key physiological enzymes and protein structures INSIDE a bacterial cell, fungal cell or virus.

Use of the more concentrated solutions (90% or 99%) will result in almost immediate coagulation (freezing) of the proteins on the surface cell wall and prevent passage of the alcohol into the cell. The bacteria inside remains stable (and alive) until the cell wall “defrosts.”

It’s pretty simple to understand – 90%-99% alcohol DOES NOT enter the bacterial or fungal cell because it never get’s past the exterior cell wall – which means it cannot sterilize.

FACTS (not opinions):

A 90%-99% dilution of absolute alcohol to water DOES NOT make it past the bacterial or fungal cell wall to sanitize.

A 50%-70% dilution of absolute alcohol to water increases the potency of its antimicrobial properties. It coagulates surface proteins at a slower pace, allowing alcohol to enters the cell and denature (destroy) both enzymatic and structural proteins.

WHICH MEANS – We should use 50%-70% Alcohol (not 90%-99%) to sanitize our workspace and tools:

Click below for in-depth information from the Centers For Disease Control.

Extra Credit - DIY

Have a lot of 90%-99% alcohol at home? You can DIY it to the proper concentration to disinfect effectively.

Mix two (2) parts 90%-99% alcohol with one (1) part distilled water. This will dilute the alcohol to approximately a 70% concentration.


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