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Why Glycerin Deserves a Spot in Your Skincare Routine

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Photo by Rockie Nolan/Getty Images

There are a lot of skincare ingredients trending and fighting for space in our beauty cabinets—but what is hype and what is actually helpful? You’ve heard of ‌squalane for hydration, hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture, and retinol for anti-aging, but glycerin, also known as glycerol, is an unsung skincare hero. 

In fact, this holy grail skin perfector has been around so long and has been loaded into so many cult-favorite products, it never even got the chance to be “new and buzzy.” Want to learn more about this amazing, skin-loving ingredient? We chatted with licensed esthetician and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar and Courtney Moseley, PA, a board-certified physician assistant about glycerin in skincare, and the benefits of glycerin in your skincare routine.

About the Experts:

Natalie Aguilar is an LA-based licensed esthetician and dermatological nurse. She has worked with Rita Ora, Emma Stone, Alfre Woodard, and Sofia Vergara (among others) at her skincare studio in West Hollywood N4 Skincare
Courtney Moseley, PA, is a board-certified physician assistant in Charlotte, North Carolina.

So, What Exactly Is Glycerin?

The short answer: glycerin is a champion for dry skin. Aguilar explains that “glycerin is an uncelebrated humectant that is found in almost all of our skincare products. Glycerin is a naturally occurring compound in the body, in topical skincare, and is derived from plants.” In fact, Moseley likes it even better for healthy skin and dryness than more popular hydrating ingredients.

“Unlike the hyped ingredient hyaluronic acid, which has a much larger molecular weight, glycerin is small enough to be easily absorbed into the dermis, making the skin appear firmer, plumper, and more youthful,” she explains. “It can also help to improve the skin barrier function, allowing it to better withstand environmental stressors.”

There are two types of glycerin: animal glycerin and vegetable glycerin. You can almost always expect the latter glycerin found in your moisturizer or other skincare products. It’s clear, odorless, and plant-based as it’s derived from soybean, palm, or coconut oils. Now that you’ve gotten the basics, keep reading to learn how you can use it for achieving soft, supple skin.

What Is Glycerin Used For?

“It can be used on irritated and inflamed skin to alleviate itchiness, redness, and discomfort,” Moseley says. “It also aids in strengthening the skin's natural protective barrier. By doing so, the skin becomes more resilient to environmental stressors such as pollution, UV rays, and harsh weather conditions.” Basically, if you’re looking for skincare that leaves your skin feeling strong and hydrated, reach for glycerin skincare products. 

How Can Glycerin Benefit Your Skin?

Unlike harsh ingredients that need to be used sparingly, hydrating glycerin doesn’t have many typical side effects (allergies aside, of course). Moseley explains that glycerin is suitable for almost all skin types, including dry skin, oily skin, compromised skin (such as skin conditions like psoriasis), and sensitive skin. Even those with acne-prone skin don’t have to worry about it causing breakouts because glycerin is non-comedogenic. 

“The quick-absorbing ingredient will not leave an oily residue on the skin like emollients can, making it an ideal hydrator for those prone to breakouts,” Moseley continues. “Even very compromised barriers can benefit from the soothing effects glycerin provides.” In general, regular glycerin usage ensures you can expect a soft, dewy complexion. Here are the main reasons we consider it a skin savior.

1. Glycerin Increases Hydration

According to Aguilar “glycerin acts as a moisturizing barrier. It prevents water loss while serving as a moisturizer.” As a humectant, glycerin moisturizes the skin and actually attracts more moisture to it—pulling water from the environment or from deeper layers of the skin. The result: a complexion that is dewy and plumped with moisture. 

2. Glycerin Accelerates Wound Healing

Got a nick, burn, or dry, cracked skin? You’ll find glycerin in most healing lotions because the moisturizing properties accelerate the wound-healing process. “Think of glycerin as a liquid bandage for dry, dehydrated or cracked skin,” says Aguilar. 

3. Glycerin Improves Skin’s Moisture Barrier

Research shows that glycerin acts similarly to skin’s natural moisturizing factor, which is why it’s great for all skin types. This helps protect from environmental exposures and harsh ingredients, like alcohol or fragrance.

4. Glycerin Enhances Your Other Skincare Ingredients

Glycerin plays nice with other effective ingredients, making it one of the most common ingredients in skincare next to water and fragrance. It increases the suppleness of the outer layer of your skin, which causes other ingredients to absorb easier and makes them more effective. 

Are There Any Side-Effects?

In general, glycerin added to skincare products is tolerated and in fact, can calm other skincare conditions. “In addition to its well-known hydrating and moisture-retaining properties, glycerin exhibits remarkable soothing and calming effects on the skin,” Moseley says. Of course, if you think you’re having any type of allergic reaction, talk to your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist. 

How To Use Glycerin in Your Routine

“Chances are, you are already using some sort of glycerin,” explains Aguilar. “It’s found in almost all skincare products.” But if you’re craving an extra boost of moisture, look for products with glycerin in the first few ingredients in the formulations, Moseley says. You’ll get the most hydration with a leave-on product like a serum or a moisturizer, but you’ll reap the benefits of the ingredient in any part of your skincare routine.

Best Products With Glycerin:

1. Best Glycerin Facial Cleanser:

FIRST AID BEAUTY Pure Skin Face Cleanser

FIRST AID BEAUTY Pure Skin Face Cleanser

This ultra-gentle cleanser removes dirt, buildup, and excess oil without stripping your skin of its natural oils. The pH-balanced formula uses a calming blend of aloe, allantoin, and glycerin that soothe skin, and lock in moisture.

2. Best Toner With Glycerin:

BEST FACE FORWARD Clarifying Toner

BEST FACE FORWARD Clarifying Toner

Salicylic acid and glycolic acid steal the show in this exfoliating gel toner, but it’s also packed with glycerin to soothe skin and boost moisture. If that weren’t enough, it helps to minimize excess oils and dissolve trapped gunk in your pores by sloughing off dead skin cells. 

3. Best Glycerin Face Serum:

KEYS SOULCARE Promise Facial Serum

KEYS SOULCARE Promise Facial Serum

Oil control serums don’t need to be drying. Proof: this multitasking serum featuring glycerin. It will help to balance your sebum production and reduce the look of your pores while also hydrating, calming, and brightening your skin. 

4. Best Moisturizer With Glycerin:

AVETTE Water Flash Coconut Water Cream

AVETTE Water Flash Coconut Water Cream

The coolest cream around, this coconut water moisturizer is perfect when you need to cool irritated skin. It’s great to use day or night to gently hydrate and seal in moisture.

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Article Last Updated June 16, 2023 12:00 AM