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Skin Care Ingredients

The Fascinating Science of Glycerin in Your Skincare

by Beverly Hills MD

September 18 2016

If you’ve ever dealt with totally dehydrated skin, you know: You’ll do just about anything to find relief. That is where glycerin can help. It’s an odorless, colorless, non-toxic substance with a thick consistency. It’s a natural substance that can work wonders on everything from dry skin to acne. It’s also the second most used ingredient in cosmetics (the first being water). 5

glycerol (glycerin) molecule.

A glycerol (glycerin) molecule.

Glycerin is often used in topical ointments for healing skin conditions, including diaper rash. Want skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom? Look for products containing glycerin. Although we’re not recommending slathering your face with diaper rash ointment. You’ve got plenty of other options!

Why Glycerin is Great

Glycerin occurs as triglycerides, composed of three fatty acids and glycerin, in plant and animal fats. Plant or animal fats will undergo a process called hydrolysis, which separates the three fatty acids to form glycerin.1

Glycerin is also a byproduct of the soap-making process and a waste product of biodiesel. Glycerin produced from soap-making is later on used by manufacturers as an additive to other skincare products such as lotions and creams.2

How is Glycerin Used?

Glycerin is used in various ways in all sorts of industries.


Since it is edible, glycerin is used in the food industry as a humectant. This helps prolong the shelf-life of certain foods. Glycerin is classified as a carbohydrate; it has a lower glycemic index than sucrose.3


Glycerin is used in eye drops to treat glaucoma. It is also used in intravenous fluid to relieve excess pressure on the brain. In addition, it can be used as a base for wound dressings.4

Skin and Hair Care

Because of its benefits to skin, glycerin is used in a wide range of products, including skin lotions, moisturizing creams (for face and body), shaving creams, toothpaste, hair conditioners, soaps, and makeup.5

Glycerin: The Wonder Ingredient

Why do so many skincare and cosmetic products contain glycerin? Because it has numerous benefits, such as the following:

Mega Moisture!

Glycerin is a humectant—a substance that draws moisture from the environment deep into the skin when applied. Get ready to geek out, chemistry buffs: Molecules of glycerin attract the molecules of the water to form a hydrogen bond. Humectants can attract, hold and bind moisture. Some humectants can hold up to 1000 times their weight in water! This is the reason glycerin is a go-to additive in many skincare products and cosmetics, particularly products targeted for dry skin.6,9

Here’s a fun experiment to help you better understand why glycerin is so incredible: Get a clear bar of soap with concentrated amounts of glycerin in it. Then, leave the soap out in the open air for a bit. You’ll notice tiny, wet beads will form on it. These wet beads are moisture attracted by glycerin from the environment.Imagine what will happen if you use products containing glycerin on your skin? It’s a true moisture magnet. That’s why we’ve included it in our Beverly Hills M.D. skin-firming products, such as Deep Regenerating Stem Cell Moisturizer and Crepe Correction Body Complex.

Softens the Skin

We’ve already established that glycerin is a fantastic humectant, but it is also an excellent emollient. What’s the difference? A humectant attracts water or moisture from outside the skin, drawing it in. An emollient helps to hold all that moisture in, by forming a protective layer over the skin. This keeps it feeling soft, smooth, and well-hydrated.7,8

Glycerin serves a dual purpose when it comes to moisturizing and softening. This one-two punch can help take your skin from flaky to fabulous fairly quickly.

Promotes Faster Healing

15878081 - closeup shot of beautiful female hands applying hand cream, isolated on white background

Glycerin may lessen bacterial and viral activities when applied to wounds. This helps the skin to heal faster. Studies also show that wounds treated with glycerin have lower myofibroblasts. These are cells between smooth muscles and fibroblasts necessary for repairing damaged tissue. However, excessive production of myofibroblasts may contribute to the formation of keloid or hypertrophic scars. Applying glycerin on wounds can help regulate the production of myofibroblasts, minimizing scarring.

Additionally, some wound dressings also use high concentrations of glycerin because they are shown to absorb exudate (the fluid released by damaged blood vessels) caused by wounds or cuts. The release of exudate on the surface of wounds is normal, and a necessary part of the healing process, but excessive accumulation may adversely affect healing.9

Improves Psoriasis & Eczema

Applying glycerin on the skin may help to strengthen the skin’s barrier function. This barrier function exists to help prevent moisture loss, and it also helps keep toxins and irritants from getting into the skin. Damage to the barrier function leaves skin prone to inflammatory problems, including psoriasis and eczema.

How does a barrier function become damaged? Young skin cells move up to the skin’s surface to mature. Once mature, these cells release lipids, which make up the skin’s protective barrier. If the cells mature abnormally, this process is interrupted, resulting in a breakdown of the skin’s natural barrier.

One study showed glycerin, which can act as a bonding agent, may help to direct skin cells through the maturation process, contributing to a stronger barrier function.10

Can My Skin Be Helped by Glycerin?

Everyone has their own various skin care needs, based on individual skin types, allergies and specific problems. Can glycerin, or products containing glycerin, offer any benefit? You bet. If you have:

Dry Skin

Dry skin often appears rough, tight, itchy, and sometimes flaky. It’s a pain to deal with, and can be caused by external or internal factors.

External factors that can cause dry skin

  • Intense weather conditions
  • Harsh chemicals/irritants
  • Too frequent washing, or prolonged soaking in water
  • Accumulated exposure to UV rays 16

Internal factors that can cause dry skin

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Overall health condition 16

No matter the cause, skin that’s been stripped of its protective layer of oil (which locks in moisture) is not in optimal condition.

If left unattended, dry skin may become severe. This may lead to the formation of deep fissures or cracks, allowing bacteria to enter and cause infection. Combat dry skin by applying skin care products containing glycerin.11

Normal Skin

What if you have normal skin? Can glycerin or glycerin products help? Yes. While those with normal skin don’t usually require an intensive moisturization routine, all skin needs moisture. Don’t skip this critical step. Even if you have great skin, external factors (like those listed above), can dry it out. Choose gentle products to help prevent dryness and keep skin soft and supple. Choose products containing emollients and humectants like glycerin.

Oily Skin

A greasy shine, acne, and blackheads —these are all common problems people with oily skin encounter. But there is another problem: dehydrated skin.

And yes, you can have both oily skin and dehydrated skin. This may sound confusing, but it’s pretty simple. All too often, people with oily skin use harsh products to get rid of pimples. These products may work on acne, but they also strip much-needed water from the skin, leaving it completely parched. Dehydrated skin lacks water, but it can still produce oil. This process can leave skin a greasy, flaky mess.

This is where glycerin can help, as a humectant. Products containing glycerin can help the skin stay hydrated by attracting water from the environment.12 Glycerin can also help heal acne faster, and it may minimize the appearance of acne scars.

Aging Skin

As we age, our skin slowly loses its ability to retain moisture. Skin cell turnover begins to decline, and the epidermal layer of skin begins to thin. These are all normal things that go along with the aging process. Unfortunately, aging skin is prone to dryness. As a result, older adults may find themselves dealing with rough, flaky, itchy skin for the first time in their lives. Dry skin is also more prone to developing fine lines and wrinkles. Using moisturizers such as glycerin, or products that contain glycerin, may help to give aging skin a much-needed boost of hydration.13

Skin Disorders

Keeping the skin hydrated and moisturized is a must in people who suffer from skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis, because dryness can exacerbate symptoms.

While there is no cure for eczema, sufferers can manage or even improve the symptoms, especially during flare-ups. Proper skin care and lifestyle changes can make all the difference. Look for moisturizers that do not contain harsh chemicals; these can worsen symptoms. Glycerin is good for people with eczema because it’s natural and safe for sensitive skin.14

Psoriasis is another skin disorder where careful management of symptoms is a must. Just like eczema, psoriasis sufferers deal with flare-ups of symptoms, often caused by triggering factors. With psoriasis, skin cells mature and proliferate at an abnormally fast rate. Glycerin may help improve psoriasis by reducing inflammation, keeping the skin moisturized and regulating maturation of cells. Some studies show that glycerin may improve psoriasis by moisturizing the skin.15

1 Fats and Fatty Acids – Chemistry Encyclopedia – structure, reaction, water, proteins, number, name, salt, molecule. Chemistryexplainedcom. 2016.  Accessed September 7, 2016.

2 What Is Glycerin? | Glycerol. Crafts | Pioneer Thinking. 2009.  Accessed September 7, 2016.

3Food Humectant – foodadditive. foodadditive. 2016.  Accessed September 7, 2016.

4Glycerin (Inactive Ingredient) – Drugscom. 2016. Accessed September 7, 2016.

5Glycerin | Cosmetics Info. Cosmeticsinfoorg. 2016. Accessed September 7, 2016.

6 Humectants and Hyaluronic Acid in Skincare – The Naked Chemist. The Naked Chemist. 2012. Accessed September 7, 2016.

7 What is Glycerin used for?. Innovateusnet. 2016. Accessed September 7, 2016.

8 Understanding the Difference Between an Emollient, Moisturizer, and a Humectant | Dermcasttv. 2016.  Accessed September 7, 2016.

9Stout EMcKessor A. Glycerin-Based Hydrogel for Infection Control. Advances in Wound Care. 2012;1(1):48-51. doi:10.1089/wound.2011.0288.

10Glycerin May Help Skin Disease, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. 2016. Accessed September 7, 2016.

11Dry Skin Guide: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options. Drugscom. 2016. Accessed September 7, 2016.

12Glycerin — The Dermatology Review. Thedermreviewcom. 2016.  Accessed September 7, 2016.

13 Skin wrinkles and blemishes. University of Maryland Medical Center. 2016. Accessed September 7, 2016.

14 Things You Should Know About Eczema Treatment. HubPages. 2016.  Accessed September 7, 2016.

15Is Glycerin Good for Psoriasis?. Healthline. 2016.  Accessed September 7, 2016.

16 Dry Skin &nbsp|&nbsp American Skin Association. Americanskinorg. 2016.  Accessed September 7, 2016.

Beverly Hills MD Dermal Repair Complex