Pharmaceutical Uses of Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol, more commonly known as rubbing alcohol, has a number of applications in the health industry and is a familiar staple in most home medicine cabinets 1. According to Medical Dictionary, the name "rubbing alcohol" stems from its use in the past as a medicinal rubdown, although this is not as common of an application now.

Surface Disinfectant

Isopropyl alcohol is one of the active ingredients in many of the products used to disinfect hospital surfaces. It is on the Environmental Protection Agency's "List of Antimicrobial Products Effective Against Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, Human HIV-1 and Hepatitis B Virus." Generally the isopropyl alcohol in these products is combined with another chemical that helps it to stay on the surface longer and not evaporate as quickly 1. It is a helpful addition to any surface cleaner at home, and can kill bacteria, spores and viruses on those surfaces as well.


Isopropyl alcohol is often employed as an antiseptic, and you have likely had a doctor use it to swab your skin before injections to kill surface bacteria 1. It is used to clean minor cuts and abrasions, and to kill any bacteria that might be in the area in order to prevent bacterial growth. It is also approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, as a surgical scrub and clinical hand sanitizer.


Astringents are substances that can shrink or tighten your body tissues, like the pores in your skin, when they are applied topically. Isopropyl alcohol acts as an astringent and is often used in skin toners and tightening formulas along with other astringents like witch hazel 1. It helps to give your skin a smoother look and make pores less visible. Astringents also help to stop bleeding in minor cuts and scrapes by tightening up the capillaries that are losing blood.

Liniment for Muscle Aches

A liniment is a liquid that can be rubbed over the surface of aching muscles or painful joints to help reduce pain and swelling. According to the Columbia Online Encyclopedia, alcohol is an effective liniment because it acts as a minor irritant to the skin increasing circulation and blood flow to the area 2. This increased circulation helps to ease pain and inflammation.