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Rubbing alcohol is a liquid used topically for disinfection or to soothe, cool, or warm the skin. It is made from 70 to 95% ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, along with water, acetone, methyl isobutyl ketone, and additives to give it a bitter taste. Some products include perfumes or artificial coloring.
A type of denatured alcohol, it has been rendered unfit for human consumption by the addition of poisons and bitter-tasting ingredients. Denaturing allows an alcohol product to be sold without the taxes placed on drinking alcohol, so that it can be used for its other benefits. Alcohol in this form can cause permanent injury or death if consumed.
Rubbing alcohol is most often used to disinfect medical instruments and human skin, especially in the case of minor injury or to prepare the skin for an injection. If left on the skin for two minutes, 70% ethyl alcohol will reduce the bacterial count by 5%. As an antiseptic, it is ineffective against spores and fair against viruses and fungi, though it does well against vegetative bacteria.
This type of alcohol is also a mild rubifacient or counterirritant, which means that it creates inflammation in one area in order to reduce inflammation in another. It can have a cooling effect is left to evaporate off the skin, but it has a warming effect when rubbed in. People should be careful when applying rubbing alcohol to the skin, as it can be toxic if used over large parts of the body. It can be poisonous if inhaled, so people should only use it in well ventilated areas.
In addition to the standard version, isopropyl rubbing alcohol, which consists mainly of isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol, is also available. the two should not be confused, however, as isopropyl alcohol is mainly used as a solvent or cleaner, rather than for therapeutic uses.