I don’t have many staples in my skincare routine since I usually like to switch things up and experiment. That said, there’s one laughably budget-friendly product I always go back to, and it’s not just because of the price.
It’s because no other hydrating serum, essence, or moisturizer has ever managed to get my skin looking quite so dewy and hydrated without breaking me out. That product is pure vegetable glycerin.
I’ve written about glycerin for skin before, extolling its virtues as a super-hydrator, but I never went into much detail about how I use it. Calling this method a hack is probably a stretch since it’s so minimal and effortless. Either way, it was a game-changer for me, and I hope it can be the same for you!
My glycerin “hack”
Let’s get right to it. If you’d like to give my hack a try, this is all you need to do:
- Mix a small drop of glycerin with cool water in the palm of your hand. I like to put a drop of glycerin in one hand, wet my other hand under the tap, and rub them together.
- Aim for a 1-to-1 or 1-to-2 ratio of glycerin to water. It should have the texture of an essence or a very runny serum.
- Press or massage it into damp skin, and you’re done — expect maximum hydration.
How glycerin fits into a skincare routine
I use glycerin at the point in my routine where I’d otherwise use a hydrating serum or essence. If you’re new to skincare layering, it goes after pH-dependent actives, like vitamin C or BHA but before any thicker lotions or creams.
I usually use it twice a day, morning and night. In the morning, I skip moisturizer after applying it. Instead, I let it sink in completely and then layer my sunscreen (an essential part of every skincare routine) on top. At night, I follow up with a moisturizer to seal everything in.
If I can, I like to apply the glycerin in the shower. That way, it can soak up all that lovely steam and deliver it directly to my happy stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin).
Why it’s such a game changer
Glycerin is a humectant, a moisturizing ingredient that attracts and absorbs water into the skin. It’s directly hydrating, as opposed to oils or silicones that moisturize by preventing water evaporation.
Hyaluronic acid for skin is the most famous humectant these days since it’s effective even at low percentages. Unlike glycerin, though, the average person can’t just buy pure hyaluronic acid at the drugstore.
I started using glycerin eight years ago. I was young, money was tight, and everything I tried was breaking me out, even though my skin looked dry and flaky. The only exception was an expensive hydrating gel sold at the salon where I worked. The key ingredient in that moisturizer? Glycerin, of course.
That’s when I figured, let’s get minimal. I picked up a bottle of glycerin from the first-aid section at my local pharmacy, and my skin had never felt so soft and hydrated. Within days, even matte foundation went on beautifully, without a flake in sight. My breakouts weren’t getting any worse, and eventually, with the help of glycerin and acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide, I could reintroduce traditional moisturizers into my routine.
Now let’s talk money — this is a budget hack, after all. I usually buy glycerin at the drugstore for around $1 per ounce. That said, you can easily find it cheaper, especially if you buy larger quantities.
For comparison, The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid Serum costs around $7 to $9 per ounce depending on which size you buy and whether it’s on sale — and this is considered one of the best bang-for-your-buck hydrating serums out there.
But it’s also not a 1-to-1 comparison. Hydrating serums are basically pre-diluted since they already contain water. Pure glycerin is concentrated, so you need a tiny amount to add water until it reaches about the same consistency as a serum. One ounce of pure glycerin will go a lot further than a serum. The savings are exponential, and the results, in my experience, are identical, if not better.
Drawbacks and risks to keep in mind
Just because I’m obsessed with glycerin doesn’t mean I’m blind to some of my hack’s drawbacks. Here are a few things to keep in mind about this method:
- Don’t attempt to premix it. Glycerin alone is shelf-stable, but once you add water, you run the risk that the mix will breed bacteria over time.
- Use plenty of water. If you don’t use enough, the glycerin will heat up as it comes in contact with your skin, which doesn’t feel pleasant.
- Be careful in dry climates. Some say humectants can pull too much moisture from the dermis if used in dry environments. Research is limited, and I theorize that as long as your body is well hydrated, it’s perfectly fine for your epidermis to depend on your dermis for hydration. That said, your mileage may vary, so it may be best to prioritize slightly thicker moisturizers.
- Be aware that it’s sticky. This can feel odd, especially compared to commercial serums that tend to be light and cosmetically elegant. But using more water will reduce the stickiness.
- Know it’s a little sweet. If anyone kisses you on the cheek, they’ll notice — my boyfriend, unfortunately, isn’t a fan.
Try it for yourself
I’m a little too lazy for most “skincare hacks,” but using glycerin this way is so simple. Now that I’m a beauty writer, I often try new methods, but I’ve yet to find a commercial serum that makes my skin feel quite as good. The glowy finish and excellent savings easily outweigh the drawbacks. If your skin’s been feeling dehydrated or you’re trying to curb your spending, consider giving glycerin a try.