Cinnamyl alcohol could be one of those ingredients you see on the label and say "huh"? But before you start scratching your head, the name should give you a clue as to what it is and what it does. "Cinnamyl alcohol is a fragrance that contains cinnamon and balsam extracts," explains Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, "It's used to fragrance cosmetics and skin care products."
Cinnamyl alcohol is often used as a fragrance or flavoring ingredient. "This ingredient is typically found in perfumes, shower and bath products, anti-aging skincare, deodorants and other toiletries," explains Engelman. We asked Engelman and board-certified dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, MD, to tell us more about the ingredient.
Meet the expert
- Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Shafer Clinic in New York.
- Rebecca Marcus, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Dallas. She is the founder of Maei MD.
Read on to discover the benefits of cinnamyl alcohol for the skin.
Cinnamyl alcohol for skin
TYPE OF INGREDIENT : Fragrance
MAIN ADVANTAGES : Fragrance, stimulates scalp cells
WHO SHOULD USE IT: It is found in many personal care products.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT : Depends on the product formulated.
DO NOT USE WITH : It can trigger skin sensitivity and irritation, so should be used in moderation.
What is cinnamyl alcohol?
"Cinnamyl alcohol is an organic compound (when we talk about chemicals, this simply means it's derived from carbon) that is frequently used as a fragrance ingredient in cosmetics," explains Marcus. "Although it is natural, it is in high demand as a fragrance ingredient and is therefore most often produced synthetically."
It can be found in anything with fragrance. "The main purpose of cinnamyl alcohol is to scent beauty products such as perfumes, shower and bath products, anti-aging skincare and deodorants," explains Engelman. "Containing cinnamon and balsamic extracts, it produces a hyacinth-like aroma, with sweet and spicy floral notes. When added to products, it is known to provide a strong and generally pleasant fragrance.
Benefits of cinnamyl alcohol for the skin
Keep in mind that all the benefits of cinnamyl alcohol come with a caveat. "Unfortunately, cinnamyl alcohol poses a risk of skin irritation and allergy," says Marcus. "Honestly, I don't know of any benefits of this ingredient, other than its pleasant aroma. It may be 'safer' than some other common fragrance ingredients, as it has been shown in some clinical studies to be non-toxic and non-irritating. However, conflicting studies have shown it to be a skin sensitizer. As a dermatologist, I advise patients to avoid fragranced skincare products whenever possible, as this category of ingredients is one of the most common causes of irritant contact dermatitis.
Here are the benefits of cinnamyl alcohol for the skin:
- Diffuses fragrance: "The main benefit of cinnamyl alcohol for the skin is its hyacinth flower fragrance," says Engelman.
- Revives scalp cells: "Cinnamyl alcohol is known to stimulate scalp cells and remove impurities without stripping strands of their natural, healthy oils when used in hair care products," says Engelman.
Side effects of cinnamyl alcohol
Similar to other skincare ingredients used in fragrance, cinnamyl alcohol has the potential to severely irritate the skin, especially for sensitive skin. "Like many other synthetic fragrances, cinnamyl alcohol is classified as a skin irritant and is known to have the potential to cause adverse skin reactions such as redness, bumps and itching," says Engelman. "That's why I recommend using as many fragrance-free products as possible in your skincare routine, especially if you have sensitive skin."
How to use it
"The best way to use cinnamyl alcohol is as an ingredient in toiletries," says Engelman. "Because of its irritant capabilities, it's best paired with soothing ingredients that can counteract or reverse any skin irritation that may occur." Some of these types of ingredients include ceramides, niacinamide and aloe vera.
When using cinnamyl alcohol in skin care, Engelman recommends avoiding the use of other skin irritants to avoid overloading your skin and causing various skin reactions. "Some potential irritants I would avoid include, but are not limited to, other fragrances, sulfates and glycolic acid," she says.
For those with sensitive skin, it's best to avoid cinnamyl alcohol altogether. "I don't recommend seeking out this ingredient as it has no proven benefits for the skin," says Marcus. "Although it has been shown not to be toxic, it can still act as a skin irritant."
"Anything with fragrance," says Marcus. "Cinnamyl alcohol can be found in moisturizers, cleansers, perfumes, deodorants, hair care products, makeup and toothpaste."
"As a fragrance, cinnamyl alcohol presents a risk of skin irritation, just like other fragrance ingredients," explains Marcus. "Some scientific studies report that cinnamyl alcohol presents a low risk of irritation, while others have shown it to be a skin sensitizer, meaning that a particular chemical is capable of modifying epidermal proteins and inducing a contact allergy."
"Cinnamyl alcohol is classified as a fragrance ingredient," explains Engelman.