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Alcohol-free claims

"Alcohol-free" is commonly understood as meaning "free from ethanol".

"Alcohol-free" is commonly understood as meaning "free from ethanol".

In common language, alcohol is commonly understood to be ethanol or ethyl alcohol, often used as a solvent in cosmetics or carrier for perfume oils. Ethanol is also the alcohol in alcoholic drinks such as beers, wines and spirits and this is the common or popular understanding of the term.

However, if we look at the term 'alcohol' in scientific terms, this means any substance that contains a specific chemical group called a 'hydroxyl group' (sometimes written as an -OH group). A hydroxyl group is made up of oxygen and hydrogen. These chemicals will very often have the term 'alcohol' somewhere in their names. This can be confusing if these are present in cosmetic products that claim to be "Alcohol free".

Alcohol-free claims are taken to mean "free from ethanol". Ethanol is an excellent solvent, meaning it dissolves things easily. Because of this, it will dissolve oils and fats from the skin and remove water; so it is termed as having a drying effect. Some consumers may find it mildly irritating.

Consumers looking for "alcohol free" products will be looking to avoid these effects of ethanol or because of other personal or cultural reasons.

All claims should be true and not misleading according to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

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