Skincare ingredients can be confusing—there are so many names and purposes that it's difficult to keep it all straight. There are compounds like retinol, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and vitamin C. There's also glycerin, a water-binding element vital to many, many product formulas. But is it good for your skin? The answer is a resounding yes. But there's more to know before you go slathering it on with abandon.
Glycerin can be derived from plant oils, fermentation of sugars, or synthetically produced. It's a clear, odorless skincare ingredient commonly used in cleansers, serums, and moisturizers. But that's not all. Keep scrolling for experts' opinions as to why incorporating glycerin into your skincare routine is a good idea.
1. Glycerin is a powerful humectant
"This means it pulls water into the skin and is a super-hydrating ingredient in moisturizers," explains Michele Farber, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. "It helps attract water to the skin to keep it soft."
"It's considered to be a humectant, which means that it attracts moisture from the air, as well as from the lower layers of the skin, to deliver it to the epidermis to make the skin feel moist and bouncy," explains celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. "It's highly water-absorbent—holding several times its weight in water—and known as the 'moisture magnet.'"
2. It helps impede skin maturation
"Studies of glycerin showed that skin cells age and mature more normally when glycerin is applied instead of too quickly, as with certain skin problems like psoriasis," says Farber.
"When glycerin in a formula is mixed with emollients," Rouleau adds, "it protects the skin from environmental stressors. By doing so, it creates soft, bouncy skin."
3. Glycerin is especially effective on dry skin
"It helps your skin maintain its moisture barrier. Using glycerin for irritated skin can help the skin repair more quickly," says Farber. And, according to Rouleau, by retaining the outer layer of your skin, glycerin helps protect your skin from the elements (including pollution and dry, harsh weather conditions).
4. But when used in a 100% concentration, glycerin will irritate your skin
This can only happen if the skin's surface lipids are low and you're in a hot, dry environment with low humidity (under 65%, which also includes airplanes) or suffering from internal dehydration.
"This occurs because both internally and externally when there is little amount of water to pull from," notes Rouleau. "In a dry environment, there is a process called 'osmosis' where the air will look for moisture wherever it can get it. Since glycerin pulls water from the deeper layers of the skin, when there isn't moisture in the environment, it will come out of the skin and evaporate into the air."
"However," she continues, "most cosmetic formulas aren't using glycerin in high concentrations because of this. Generally, glycerin is used 2% to 5% and is combined with emollients to offer other water-binding benefits." (We're obsessed with Renée Rouleau's Skin Recovery Lotion, $42, because it blends glycerin with calendula flower and willowherb extracts for a formula that is antibacterial, prevents redness, and soothes inflammation.)