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It's usually the most complicated, exotic and otherworldly sounding ingredients that get us the most excited. Of course, we know rationally that a long name doesn't equate to results but our minds like to think they do. However, there's one hardworking sleeper ingredient that's here to prove us wrong and that's glycerin.
When we think of moisture boosters in skincare, we immediately think of hyaluronic acid, but you can consider glycerin its less glamorous but highly effective sister. It's probably already hiding out in some of the products you use too, so now is the time to get acquainted with it. To give you the full lowdown on what glycerin is, we spoke with cosmetic scientist Rachael Polowyj MSc, so you can reap all of this ingredient's benefits.
Type of Ingredient: Hydrator
Main benefits: Moisturizes skin, smoothes skin, makes skin appear dewy
Who should use it: Generally, glycerin is safe for all skin types
How often can you use it: Products with glycerin can be used topically multiple times a day.
Works well with: Other moisturizing ingredients, like rose water or hyaluronic acid.
Don't use with: There are no known interactions, however glycerin should not be used in a 100% concentration.
What Is Glycerin?
We know that your skincare dictionary is already bursting at the seams but trust us, this is one that you need to save and file.
"Glycerin works as a humectant, it attracts moisture from the air into the stratum corneum (top layer of skin), and due to its low molecular weight, will continue to draw moisture to the deeper layers of the dermis. It has a molecular weight of approximately 92 g/mol which means it is able to penetrate deep into the skin," Polowyj explains.
According to Dendy Engelman, MD, "Glycerin is a natural occurring compound in the body. In topical skincare, it is derived from plants," she says.
After you apply glycerin, the magic happens deep inside the skin. Once it's absorbed, it can get to where it's needed, replenishing the moisture your skin loses.
Benefits of Glycerin for Skin
There's a lot of things you need in your routine to keep your skin in tip-top shape and we're advocating for glycerin to be one of them.
You're probably already using it in some of your products, but if you're not then Polowyj makes a case for it, "cosmetic chemists will use it in most formulations because of how effective it is in terms of moisturizing." When you're battling with dry, dehydrated, or cracked skin you'll take some added moisture wherever you can get it.
She adds that "it’s used a lot in pharmaceutical creams, promoted by doctors to treat extreme dryness and repair skin elasticity. It keeps your skin soft, supple and hydrated which is essential as we use harsh soapy products which strip away our natural oils."
The difference between glycerin- and non-glycerin based products? "Oils and serums are meant to penetrate the skin barrier and be absorbed by the skin. Thicker products, like those that include glycerin, are meant to support the skin barrier by covering the outside," Engelman says. "They prevent loss of water in the skin which allows natural oils to nourish and repair."
Side Effects of Glycerin
There are no known side effects of glycerin when used as an ingredient in skincare products, however it can be irritating if used on the skin in its full concentration.
How to Use It
Glycerin really doesn't discriminate when it comes to its usage in skincare, as everything can benefit from a healthy dose of it. So it can be added into every single step of your routine and if your skin needs some more moisture it can be the deciding factor.
"It's one of the most commonly used raw materials in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries and in chemistry, glycerin is the basic backbone of most essential lipids, which are oils found within your skin, so it has a great affinity to the skin," says Polowyj. As a result, you'll see it as an ingredient in a lot of skincare products, especially in moisturizers, cleansers, and serums. It's an easy and quick-fire way to get super smooth and moisturized skin without needing a separate product.
When you're looking for key actives you'll want them to be nearer the top, but for glycerin, you might need to look a little further down. "It can be quite a sticky material, so you don’t want to see it too high up on the ingredients list as it will affect the way the product feels. Generally speaking, it’s ideal to see it around the third or fourth ingredient down, with a typical usage level of 10%," Polowyj explains.
The Best Products With Glycerin
Now you're an expert on the merits of this super ingredient for parched skin, we've found seven products with glycerin in for you to try out.
NMF's protect the outer layer of the skin and keep it drenched with moisture. This purse-friendly moisturizer packs them in with glycerin, hyaluronic acid, amino acids and more for the thirstiest of skins.
When you use a helping of this decadent cream, you'll understand that the use of the word magic is more than warranted. Starting its life as a backstage staple for model's skin its now the go-to moisturizer for ultimate hydration.
There's nothing quite like removing the build-up of make-up and just general grime at night. This mighty pink gel will make your cleansing routine even more of a treat with its blend of nourishing and impurity-removing ingredients.
This cleanser gets deep into pores to remove any pesky gunk and leave behind dewy skin. It has glycolic to gently exfoliate and a host of soothing oils and glycerin to up the moisture levels.
If your skin needs a little pep in its step then this super hydrating mask will bring it back to life. With samphire, orange and bergamot extracts in there you'll want to keep this in heavy rotation for your Sunday skincare routine.
It makes a lot of sense for glycerin to feature in eye products and it does in this puff-reducing wonder. Dark circles are hard to shift but this gel tightens up the eye area by giving it a dose of moisture. Tired eyes be gone.
This ointment can literally do it all. From chapped lips to dry patches, its thick formula locks in moisture and protects skin. In fact, Engelman says it's one of her favorite products.