You’ve probably seen glycerin listed on the ingredients label of many skin care products, and there’s a good reason. It is a well-known moisturizing ingredient that can help both hair and skin in a number of different ways. But what makes glycerin so good, and why does it seem to be in every moisturizer on the market? To get a full breakdown of the hero ingredient, Bustle tapped Dr. Dendy EngelmanMD, FACMS, FAAD, Board Certified Cosmetic Dermatologist and Surgeon at Mohs Shafer Clinic, and Dr. Jeannette Grafboard-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, to answer all of your questions.
What is glycerin?
According to Graf, glycerin is a type of humectant found in our bodies that draws moisture from the top layer of skin. at the deepest levels to hydrate and keep the complexion moisturized throughout the day. While it’s best known as an ingredient in skin and hair care, you can find it elsewhere as well. Engelman lists fermented foods like honey and vinegar as common places to find glycerin naturally, and says it can also be added to dried fruit and other foods.
Specifically in skin care, glycerin is derived from plants, animal products, or petroleum, for the sole purpose of helping the skin retain water. She explains that the glycerin creates an occlusive barrier to prevent water loss and keep dryness at bay. An added bonus, she says, is that it is used to dress wounds as a way to prevent bacteria from entering and causing infection.
How is glycerin different from hyaluronic acid and other moisturizers?
Both glycerin and hyaluronic acid are humectants, which are moisturizing agents that retain moisture. The biggest difference between the two is their size. Graf explains that glycerin is a smaller molecule that can penetrate the skin more deeply, while hyaluronic acid is a larger molecule that primarily hydrates the top layer of skin. He adds that glycerin is recognized by water channels in the skin (aquaporins), making it uniquely equipped to absorb more water.
Other moisturizers known as lactic acid and the amino acid urea also have exfoliating properties, which Engelman says makes them more likely to cause sensitivity compared to the non-sensitizing glycerin.
Why is glycerin so good for the skin?
As mentioned above, its main superpower is keeping skin hydrated by minimizing water loss, but it does even more.
Graf says that glycerin can protect skin from environmental irritants and has anti-aging benefits; Because it keeps skin hydrated, it reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Engelman previously referred to its ability to create a protective barrier over wounds, adding that it can also heal dry, cracked skin. He also notes that while more research is needed, studies show Glycerin is believed to calm inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
How do you use glycerin in your skin care routine?
It’s incredibly easy to incorporate into your routine as it’s formulated into so many products on the market. But Graf says it’s best to use a moisturizer with glycerin, as it will help keep skin moist and hydrated. “It will help lock in moisture throughout the day,” she says. “Using it every day can help with dry skin conditions.”
Are there any side effects?
Both experts say that glycerin has minimal, if any, side effects. “Glycerin is a gentle ingredient that is safe enough to apply to open wounds,” says Engelman. “So its impact on the skin is primarily healing and moisturizing, with few unwanted side effects. It also works well with other skincare ingredients.”
While glycerin is suitable for all skin types, Graf says those with dry skin will benefit the most. Engelman also says that people with very oily skin You should be careful about overusing as it can trap excess oil and bacteria in your pores and cause breakouts.
Graf emphasizes that while the moisturizing ingredient shouldn’t cause irritation or sensitivity, always do a test strip on your skin whenever you introduce a new ingredient or product to your routine. “Every person’s skin is different and can react differently to a product.”
How long does it take to see results?
While Engelman says glycerin can immediately help skin feel calmer and more hydrated (especially when used on injuries or dry, cracked skin), Graf says it can take up to six weeks to see significant results when used regularly. . “It takes time for your skin to adjust and change when a new ingredient is introduced to your skincare routine,” she says.
You can tell that the glycerin is working if you notice that your skin looks brighter and more hydrated. Since keeping skin hydrated also helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, Engelman says that regular use of glycerin will make skin look smoother, dewy and healthier.
More information on glycerin
Although Graf says it’s best used as a moisturizer, it’s also safe and beneficial to use as a serum. “When considering how to add glycerin to your skincare routine, it’s best to think about what you want to accomplish with this ingredient,” says Engelman. “If the goal is to support and maintain hydration throughout the day, a serum is a great option as it will absorb and can hold the layer of other skincare ingredients on top. If the goal is to cure or prevent moisture loss, a thicker, more occlusive cream may be suitable.”
Due to its minimal side effects, he adds that glycerin is safe to use every day. “Just be aware of your individual skin type and concerns,” she says. “Make sure you use glycerin in a way that best supports your skin health.”
Dr. Dendy EngelmanMD, FACMS, FAAD, Board Certified Cosmetic Dermatologist and Mohs Surgeon at Shafer Clinic.
Dr. Jeannette GrafMD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Widyarman, A., Drestia, A., Bachtiar, E., Bachtiar, B. (2018). The anti-inflammatory effects of glycerol-supplemented probiotics Lactobacillus reuteri on infected epithelial cells invitro. Contemporary Clin Dent. 2018 Apr-Jun;9(2):298-303. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29875577/