Indie Lee’s Banish Stick sounds like a slam dunk for spot treating acne – but it is most definitely not, for numerous reasons detailed below.
Packaged in an opaque tube, this isn’t actually a stick – instead, it’s a liquid-gel that you apply with a doe-foot wand applicator. The applicator lets you precisely spot-treat acne breakouts, but other than a couple of antioxidant plant extracts, this product doesn’t have much going for it.
The smell is potent, and for good reason: this contains numerous fragrant, irritating ingredients. Front and center is drying denatured alcohol. While this type of alcohol can seem to “dry up” acne spots, this drying effect causes skin to produce more oil, leading to increased breakouts and a compromised barrier.
Compounding the problem is that this has witch hazel water – another source of alcohol – as well as wintergreen extract, a sensitizing mint extract that causes skin irritation. Indie Lee says wintergreen is a natural source of salicylic acid, but it’s not the same as true beta hydroxy acid (or BHA, which is what salicylic acid is), and the potential for irritation far outweighs any benefit.
As for the purported alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), this is referring to sugar-derived AHAs; however, they are not as effective as other research-backed AHAs such as glycolic, lactic, or malic acids.
This also contains fragrant tangerine extract and jasmine extract, both of which can also irritate skin (see More Info below for the problems these ingredients can cause skin).
We say banish this poorly-thought-out formula from your list of acne-fighting products, and opt instead for one of the far better options you’ll find on our list of best acne treatments.
- Includes a high amount of drying denatured alcohol, which can increase oil production in skin.
- Contains witch hazel water, which also includes alcohol.
- Fragrant wintergreen and jasmine extracts pose a risk of skin irritation.
- Includes irritating tangerine extract.
Alcohol-Based Skin Care Products: Research makes it clear that alcohol, as a main ingredient in any skincare product, especially one you use frequently and repeatedly, is a problem.
When we express concern about the presence of alcohol in skin care or makeup products, we’re referring to denatured ethanol, which most often is listed as SD alcohol, alcohol denat., denatured alcohol, or (less often) isopropyl alcohol.
When you see these types of alcohol listed among the first six ingredients on an ingredient label, the product is highly likely to irritate and cause other problems for skin; it doesn’t take much of this type of alcohol to trigger skin stress. There’s no way around it—these volatile alcohols are simply bad for all skin types.
The reason they’re included in products is because they provide a quick-drying finish, immediately degrease skin, and feel weightless, so it’s easy to see their appeal, especially for those with oily skin. If only those short-term benefits didn’t lead to negative long-term outcomes.
Using products that contain these alcohols will cause dryness, erode skin’s protective barrier, and a strain on how skin replenishes, renews, and rejuvenates itself. Alcohol just weakens everything about skin.
The irony of using alcohol-based products to control oily skin is that the damage from the alcohol can actually lead to an increase in breakouts and enlarged pores. As we said, the alcohol does have an immediate de-greasing effect on skin, but it causes irritation, which eventually will counteract the de-greasing effect and make your oily skin look even more shiny.
There are people who challenge us on the information we’ve presented about alcohol’s effects. They often base their argument on a study in the British Journal of Dermatology (July 2007, pages 74–81) that concluded “alcohol-based hand rubs cause less irritation than hand washing….” But, the only thing this study showed was that alcohol was not as irritating as an even more irritating hand wash, which contained sodium lauryl sulfate. So, the study is actually just telling you that one irritant, sodium lauryl sulfate, is worse than another irritant, alcohol.
Not all alcohols are bad. For example, there are fatty alcohols, which are absolutely non-irritating and can be beneficial for skin. Examples that you’ll see on ingredient labels include cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and cetearyl alcohol, all of which are good ingredients for skin. It’s important to differentiate between these skin-friendly alcohols and the problematic alcohols.
What about very low levels of denatured alcohol? These sometimes show up in products because the alcohol may be part of the preservative system or may have been used to make certain ingredients more soluble in the formula. In these instances the amount of alcohol is typically below 0.1%, so is unlikely to pose a risk to skin.
References for this information:
Journal of Hospital Infection, August 2019, pages 419-424
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, April 2017, pages 188-196
Drug Design, Development and Therapy, November 2015, pages 6,225-6,233
Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, November 2014, pages 109-117
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in Practice, March 2013, pages 195-196
Chemical Immunology and Allergy, March 2012, pages 77–80
Aging, March 2012, pages 166–175
Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, November 2008, pages 1–16
Dermato-Endocrinology, January 2011, pages 41–49
Experimental Dermatology, June 2008, pages 542–551
Clinical Dermatology, September-October 2004, pages 360–366
Alcohol Journal, April 2002, pages 179–190
Not being gentle to skin can increase oily skin & breakouts: Using harsh, irritating ingredients or cleansing brushes with stiff bristles is a serious problem for all skin types, especially for those with oily, combination, and acne-prone skin.
Research has clearly established that when skin is irritated, the oil gland at the base of each pore is stimulated to make more oil, creating a perfect environment for breakouts, white bumps, and clogged pores to get worse.
Using a product that is gentle and completely non-irritating is without question the only approach to taking the best care of your skin; doing otherwise hurts your skin—this is true even if you cannot see or feel the damage taking place.
It is also vitally important to use products that research has shown are beneficial for oily skin, clogged pores, and breakouts. The gold standard over-the-counter ingredients for these concerns are salicylic acid (BHA) and benzoyl peroxide.
References for this information:
Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology, January 2016, pages 25–30
Journal of European Dermatology and Venerology, May 2014, pages 527–532
Journal of Dermatology, May 2012, pages 433–438
Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, April 2011, pages 41–53
Dermato-Endocrinology, January-March 2011, pages 41–49
Experimental Dermatology, October 2009, pages 821–832
Journal of the American Medical Association, August 2004, page 764
Dermatology, January 2003, pages 17–23
European Journal of Dermatology, September-October 2002, pages 422–427
Who says powerful things can't come in small packages? Banish imperfections on the go with this fast-acting formula. Wintergreen-derived Salicylic Acid and Caviar Lime extract dissolve excess sebum while Sophora Japonica Flower and Burdock Root extract nourish the skin. We've added new ingredients - like AHAs and Tasmanian Pepper Fruit - to improve product performance and help with the appearance of dryness around imperfections.
Indie Lee positions itself as brand focused on clean and natural skin care products. “Clean” is an unregulated term (there is no standardized definition), so how it’s defined varies from brand to brand, and is completely at their discretion. In this case, they choose to formulate their products to be free from ingredients “that have been questioned over recent years.” As they put it, “we at Indie Lee believe in taking a more cautious approach.”
Some of the ingredients they avoid align with published research attesting to the problems they can cause for skin, but regrettably, others are mislabeled as bad despite current scientific literature proving them to be safe as used in cosmetics. We can agree to disagree on that point—what really matters is whether Indie’s products are effective and non-irritating for skin. Unfortunately, the formulas turn out to be hit-or-miss.
While many of the products feature beneficial ingredients, they are often paired with potently fragrant extracts and essential oils proven to sensitize skin. Even though these ingredients are plant-based, this is a classic example of why natural ingredients aren’t always better for your skin, and how many brands touting “clean beauty” keep missing the research showing that some natural ingredients are actually problematic for skin. Other irritants, such as high amounts of skin-drying alcohol, appear in select Indie products. We’re all for safe, effective products that contain natural ingredients (there are tons of good ones) but to our way of thinking, clean beauty shouldn’t mean risking irritated skin.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Indie Lee has some good products too—you’ll just have to sort through the skin-irritating ones to find them. Luckily, we’ve done the detective work for you. Learn more about this brand at www.indielee.com.
About the Experts
The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.
Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.