Skincare Ingredients 101: Glycerin

Written by simplistic — October 26, 2021

Skincare Ingredients 101: Glycerin

When it comes to anti-aging ingredients, brightening and exfoliating additives such as vitamin C and retinol receive a lot of attention. While there’s no arguing that these two anti-aging powerhouses can work wonders on the skin, as we get older, it’s essential to address dryness, too. Fewer natural oils, decreased cell renewal, and sun damage can all cause drier, rougher skin. Additionally, as menopause creeps up, estrogen production diminishes, resulting in dry, itchy skin. Though you may be aware that hyaluronic acid typically tops the list as an ultimate hydrator and skin plumper, allow us to introduce another popular and deeply moisturizing ingredient that doesn’t get as much attention: glycerin.

What Is Glycerin?

Glycerin is a natural constituent derived from animal fats or vegetable oils. It’s also referred to as glycerol or glycerine, the former being the term most often seen in studies about this ingredient. Glycerin is prevalent in seaweed, vascular plants, and animals. In humans, glycerin is accumulated subcutaneously or in muscle tissue in the form of lipids. Not related to the human body, glycerin is clear, colorless, and odorless. While it has a sweet taste, that’s not something to be concerned with when discussing glycerin in skincare.

Like hyaluronic acid, glycerin is a humectant, a type of moisturizing agent that draws water into the outer layer of your skin from deeper levels of your skin and the air. Additionally, it’s an emollient, which means it can soften the skin. Non-cosmetic uses include a sweetening or thickening agent, a catalyst for various pharmaceutical drugs, a preservative, and a hyperosmotic laxative.

Types of Glycerin

There are two types of glycerin: natural glycerin derived from oils and fats from sources such as coconuts and oil palms, and synthetic glycerin which comes from petroleum. When natural glycerin is manufactured, typically crude glycerin is produced by refining and condensing an aqueous solution such as sweet water, which is obtained from the hydrolysis of fats and oils. Next, the solution is furter distilled and refined until the finished product is achieved. Synthetic glycerin is produced through chemical processes involving petroleum, chlorine, and propylene. Natural glycerin is the predominant form manufactured worldwide and it’s favored in skincare products as well.

Glycerin For Skin

Is glycerin good for your skin? Fun fact: It’s the third most frequently reported ingredient in cosmetics, only behind water and fragrance. It’s commonly used in conjunction with occlusives, a type of moisturizing agent that works by forming a protective coating on the surface of your skin. Studies suggest that glycerin is the most effective humectant — even more than other popular and effective ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, urea, and sorbitol.

    Skin Benefits of Glycerin

    When it comes to glycerin skin benefits, let’s start with the fact that it’s non-comedogenic (meaning it won't clog your pores), so it’s suitable for all skin types — it’s even considered non-allergenic and suitable for breakout-prone skin. While glycerine’s primary role is to deeply hydrate and soften the skin and retain moisture, other notable benefits include:

    • Strengthens and fortifies the skin’s moisture barrier.
    • Improves the skin’s resilience and youthful appearance. 
    • Enhances the penetration of other ingredients. 
    • Aids in the delivery and activity of aquaporins (aka water channels)  in our skin’s surface. Aquaporins are proteins that channel the flow of vital hydrating substances to skin’s uppermost layers. 
    • Guards against environmental aggressors

    When To Use Glycerin In Skincare

    Here’s the thing about glycerin. It’s an effective ingredient when incorporated in any cosmetic formula, but serums and moisturizers are more effective in locking water into the skin. However, glycerin is great in cleansers because it maintains moisture in the skin and prevents any skin irritation or dryness during the cleansing process. In short, you can incorporate glycerin into any part of your skincare routine.

    Glycerin: The Bottom Line

    Glycerin is one of the best humectants in the skincare market — it even trumps hyaluronic acid. Furthermore, it’s one of the most popular skincare ingredients used in general, falling in third place next only to water and fragrance. What is glycerin used for? When it comes to the skin, it’s incorporated into various products to deeply hydrate, soften, guard against environmental stressors, enhance the penetration of other ingredients, and more. Even better, it’s suitable for all skin types, so you don’t need to think twice about giving it a try.