I’m about to let all of you in on my biggest secret: glycerin for skin. Lots of fancy ingredients have come and gone, but glycerin has been the one staple in my skin care routine. It is a cheap, dependable ingredient that I simply cannot live without.
When I mention all of the glycerin uses I’ve discovered over the years, someone will always make a joke about explosives; while it is true that this ingredient is necessary for creating nitroglycerin, most of its uses are actually quite innocuous. According to the Cosmetics Ingredient Review, glycerin is the 3rd most ubiquitous ingredient in cosmetics!
We go on to explain exactly what glycerin is, how it works in skin care, and which glycerin skincare products are the best to try. I break down all of the glycerin skin benefits, and explain how it works for different skin types. I make sure to dispel any concerns you may have about glycerin side effects, and finish off with an explanation about the various glycerin uses for skin.
Glycerin Skin Care Guide: Contents
• 15 Best Glycerin Skincare Products to Try
• What Is Glycerin and What Does It Do to Skin?
• Glycerin Skin Benefits
• What Skin Types Can Benefit from Glycerin?
• Possible Glycerin Side Effects on Skin
• All the Glycerin Uses in Skin Care
While glycerin shows up in a huge percentage of commercial skin care preparations, we selected the 15 best glycerin skincare products – products that place it front and center in their formula, to hydrate the skin.
1. Farmacy Honey Potion Renewing Antioxidant Hydration Mask with Echinacea GreenEnvy
This hydrating mask is quite unique to use, since it warms up a little bit as it is massaged into the skin. The main ingredient in it is glycerin, which has been combined with other powerful hydrators like honey and panthenol to bring maximum levels of moisture into the skin. It also contains antioxidant-rich ingredients to prevent premature aging, like propolis and sea buckthorn oil. It is an excellent mask for all skin types, and it can be found at Sephora.
2. Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber De-Tox Hydra-Gel Eye Patches
The skin around the eyes is often more easily dehydrated than the skin elsewhere on our face, so these eye patches can be an excellent solution. They combine hydrating glycerin and hyaluronic acid with soothing chamomile and allantoin, as well as skin-firming cucumber extract.
While all of these ingredients could just come in an eye gel, the fact that this product is a patch makes it significantly more effective! The patches occlude the eye area ensuring that all of the beneficial ingredients are thoroughly absorbed into the skin and ensuring better hydration. You can buy them from Sephora.
3. Paula’s Choice CALM Soothing Toner Normal to Dry
This hydrating toner is the perfect remedy for when the skin feels stressed or irritated, and on a regular basis it offers a significant skin-rebuilding and hydrating boost. In addition to a healthy amount of glycerin for skin, this liquid also includes anti-inflammatory allantoin and brightening licorice root extract. It’s perfect for anyone with sensitive and dry skin, so order it online from Dermstore.
4. Caudalie Micellar Cleansing Water
It’s hard to resist a product that hydrates your skin while lightly cleansing it. This ultra-gentle cleansing water from Caudalie contains a burst of glycerin to nourish the skin, along with skin-soothing grape water and a touch of chamomile. All you have to do is pour a bit of this liquid on a cotton pad, wipe your face, and it’ll feel instantly cleaner, smoother, and healthier. It is available at Sephora.
5. Bobbi Brown Extra Balm Rinse
If you like a more powerful cleanser, then take a look at this balm cleanser. It melts off makeup like a dream, with a cushiony texture that never irritates or tugs at the skin. The first ingredient here is hydrating glycerin for skin, but it also contains emollient olive oil and antioxidant beta-carotene. It has a refreshing lemony scent that will instantly put you in a good mood. It’s fabulous for all skin types, but especially for dry skin. Buy it from Nordstrom!
6. Youth To The People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask
Don’t you want to wake up with glowing skin? Overnight masks with glycerin are one of the most effective ways of ensuring your skin looks incredible right as you wake up in the morning.
No matter your skin type, this mask is a good choice, since it contains non-comedogenic ingredients like vitamin E-rich sunflower oil, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid. Using it in the long term will brighten up the skin, but in the short term it’ll make it feel healthy and hydrated. Pick it up at Sephora!
7. The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA
Excellent hydration doesn’t have to come at a high cost! This product combines glycerin with other skin-hydrating superstars like hyaluronic acid, saccharides and more, as well as emollient and occlusive lipids that occur naturally in the skin. It is made to load the skin up with moisture but only with gentle, non-comedogenic ingredients. It is great for all skin types, though those with dry skin often like to layer an oil on top for added occlusion. It is available for purchase at Sephora.
8. Dermalogica Calm Water Gel
With a lightweight gel texture and a super soothing formulation, this is an ideal moisturizer for just about anyone but especially those with sensitive skin. In addition to glycerin for skin, it also contains aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, and apple extract. If the typical creams don’t seem to work for you, then definitely give this gel a try. You can find it at Nordstrom.
9. Philosophy Purity Made Simple Ultra-Light Moisturizer
This is a creamy take on moisturizers with glycerin for skin, and it also contains a touch of silicone making it extremely occlusive and incredible under makeup. If your skin is anywhere between dry and combination-oily, then this cream is certainly worth a try. It also contains fabulous anti-aging ingredients like vitamin C and green tea extract. Grab yourself a bottle from Sephora.
10. Kiehl’s Since 1851 Ultra Facial Cleanser
One of the best glycerin uses is in cleansers, where it helps infuse the skin with moisture during cleansing and helps mitigate the drying effects of surfactants. While this foaming cleanser does contain sulfates, which should normally be avoided, they are mixed with some gentler emulsifiers to ensure a gentler cleansing. There is also squalane and almond oil in the formula to give it a creamier feel. It’s a cleanser ideal for combination and oily skin types, and it can be found at Sephora.
11. Juice Beauty GREEN APPLE Peel Full Strength Exfoliating Mask
Even in a peel glycerin uses are still plentiful, since any skin care step is a good time for hydration. This acid peel combines it all, with acne-fighting salicylic acid, resurfacing glycolic acid, brightening vitamin C, and retexturizing vitamin A.
All of these powerful actives can take a toll, so glycerin helps to keep things in check and ensure the skin remains hydrated and intact. This peel is fabulous for all skin types except the extremely sensitive. Pick up a jar at Ulta Beauty!
12. Skin Inc Supplement Bar Vitamin B3+ Niacinamide Serum RESCUE TROUBLED SKIN
I’ve written quite a bit about my love for niacinamide, the skin-rejuvenating antioxidant that somehow also helps with acne, pigmentation, and sensitivity without any of the side effects of other actives. Here it is paired with hydrating glycerin for skin, hyaluronic acid, and panthenol in a light formula perfect for those with acne-prone skin. You can use it alone if you’re very oily, or layer it under a moisturizer if you get dry. It is sold at Sephora.
13. Lancôme Advanced Génifique Serum
Pairing glycerin with other humectant and moisture barrier-improving ingredients is always a fabulous idea, especially for dry skin. That’s exactly what this serum does, as it includes a healthy quantity of glycerin for skin along with all kinds of microbiome-strengthening ferment extracts. The result is a super hydrating serum that also helps to eliminate redness and give the skin a glow. Order it from Nordstrom!
14. REN Clean Skincare Evercalm Overnight Recovery Balm
This ultra-rich balm moisturizer is a godsend to anyone with dry skin. It combines powerfully occlusive lipids to prevent moisture evaporation with the moisture-attracted effect of glycerin for skin. The formula is all natural and rich in antioxidants, and is absolutely perfect as an overnight treatment. Find it at Sephora!
15. La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm AP + Body Cream with Shea Butter and Glycerin
Your body also deserves some of the love that comes with all those glycerin skin benefits, especially if your skin is sensitive or if you have eczema. This obsession worthy body cream contains glycerin to hydrate, shea butter to soften and occlude, and even niacinamide to give the skin a soothing, anti-aging dose!
Wanna hear a little secret? If your skin is particularly dry, you can also cheat and apply this body cream to your face. Note that this product is fragrance-free, so not everyone will like the smell. Pick up a bottle at Ulta Beauty!
Glycerin, which you sometimes will also see come up as glycerol, is a humectant, which happens to be my favorite category of moisturizer ingredients. On the molecular level, glycerin is a polyol, meaning that it is a very simple compound comprised of three hydroxyl groups. This kind of formation means that glycerin is not just soluble in water, but it also has a very high affinity for it.
Glycerin is “hygroscopic”, which means it is able to attract and hold water molecules. Physically, glycerin is a clear, colorless liquid with a fairly thick texture and a sweet taste. It is wholly inoffensive, which is why it is such a lovely addition in skincare formulations.
Glycerin is also used in baking and commercial food products (especially sweets), in liquids for e-cigarettes and vaporizers, and in various healthcare applications.
The glycerin used in skin care is usually derived from plant oils, although it can also come from animal oils. Glycerin is the “glyceride” part in triglycerides, with the other part being fatty acids. Triglycerides are the main constituents in oil, including the oil that makes up part of human sebum.
There are a few different processes oils can be put through in order to separate the glycerin from the fatty acids. One such process is saponification, when sodium hydroxide is added to oil. The fatty acids in the oil become saponified (i.e. they turn into soap), and the glycerin is separated.
There are many reasons you’re going to think of adding glycerin to your skin care routine, and all of them are discussed below.
• Super Hydrating
The most important glycerin skin benefit is its ability to attract water to the skin. When our skin is dehydrated, it simply doesn’t act as a good barrier. It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t feel good, and it becomes much easier to damage.
That is why an ingredient like glycerin, which counters hydration by pulling water into the skin, is so useful. It instantly plumps up the skin, making it look and feel smoother, softer, and stronger.
Glycerin also helps further water evaporation from the skin once it has been applied, so it really does help to keep the skin moist in the long term.
• Instantly Beautifying
You know those times when your skin just looks kind of “blegh”? Usually that uninspiring appearance is caused by simple dehydration. I’m talking about those times when the skin looks dull, overly matte, and kind of lifeless; fine lines might look just a little bit deeper and the area under the eyes will sag a hint more than usual.
Injecting a dose of moisture into the stratum corneum (the top layer of skin) is all it usually takes to instantly fill in the gaps and plump up the skin so it looks instantly brighter, smoother, and happier. Glycerin is the perfect ingredient for the job, especially when it comes in a formula that also contains some water and a touch of oil.
• Promotes Healing
As anyone with sensitive or irritated skin can attest, dryness can only exacerbate things. If your skin is feeling raw and needs some love, glycerin is guaranteed to help, as proven by a study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology. The hydrating effect of glycerin improves skin functioning, promotes skin healing, and helps to calm irritation.
• Skin Cell Regulating
According to a study published in the Investigative Journal of Dermatology in 2003, glycerin is able to direct skin cells through their stages of maturation, and ensure they do so regularly. When skin (albeit in mouse models) lacks glycerin, it can become coarse and thick, but adding glycerin topically helped to regulate things and contribute to normal skin functioning.
While the research wasn’t conclusive, it does make it clear that glycerin might hold more benefits to the skin than just hydration.
From the driest skin to the oiliest, just about every skin type will benefit from using glycerin for skin!
Since glycerin is so beneficial to both dry and oily skin types, it also follows that it’ll be excellent for anyone in between. No matter your skin type you should definitely be on the lookout for skin care products with glycerin!
Glycerin for Dry Skin
On one side of the spectrum we have dry skin, meaning skin that doesn’t produce a lot of oil and tends to have smaller, less visible pores. The oil our skin produces is somewhat occlusive, so it doesn’t allow moisture to escape from our skin.
When the skin doesn’t produce a lot of oil, then it also becomes dehydrated much more easily. By attracting moisture back into the skin, glycerin can prevent that dehydration and leave dry skin looking and feeling much healthier.
However, it is important that those with dry skin use glycerin skincare products that also contain occlusive and emollient oils, in order to counter the initial issue of lack of natural oils in the skin.
Glycerin for Oily Skin
On the other side of the spectrum we have those with oily skin. Oily skin produces a lot of oil throughout the day. Pores tend to be larger and they can get easily clogged so those with oily skin often suffer from acne as well.
Oily skin doesn’t get easily dehydrated naturally, and yet, dehydration is often an issue for those with oily skin. This is because folks with oily skin will often try to counter the oiliness with harsh skin care products – stripping cleansers and dehydrating astringents, in particular.
In other cases, the best ingredients for treating clogged pores and acne, like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, also have a skin-drying or dehydrating effect, at least in the formulas they come in. It is important that those with oily skin restore that moisture, but of course they want to do it in a way that won’t exacerbate any oiliness in their skin.
That is why glycerin is such an incredible ingredient for oily skin: it restores hydration and moisture without being oily or greasy. Glycerin doesn’t clog the pores and it absorbs into the skin quickly so it doesn’t leave an oily cast.
If your skin is very oily and you aren’t using any harsh or stripping skin care products, then you can definitely opt for oil-free glycerin skin care ingredients like toners or essences. If you do use harsher skin care products, then you can choose skin products that contain glycerin along with a light oil that doesn’t cause breakouts like sunflower oil, grape seed oil, or rosehip seed oil.
The reason why I love glycerin so much is because it’s so simple – simple enough that it won’t cause breakouts or irritate sensitive skin.
When used on its own, glycerin has a slight warming effect which some people occasionally mistake for irritation. However, this is not the case. What is actually happening is that as the glycerin bonds with the moisture in the skin it begins to heat up a little bit, which is perfectly safe and normal. I usually mix glycerin with a bit of cold water before using it, in order to mitigate the exothermic reaction.
If you happen to live in a very dry climate you might want to avoid using products that include overly high amounts of glycerin. While you can still use moisturizers that contain glycerin, water, and occlusives, serums that are primarily made of glycerin might have an adverse effect on your skin.
This might occur because the air lacks moisture for glycerin to absorb, so it might pull moisture from lower levels of the skin instead. While this effect has only been hypothesized rather than proven, it is undeniable that glycerin functions better in comprehensive formulas like the ones we’ve listed earlier in the article.
Since glycerin shows up in most moisturizing skin care preparations, chances are you have already used it, but even so, when trying out new skin care products, first take a few days to patch test them on your inner arm to make sure that you won’t have a negative reaction.
Allergic reactions to glycerin are extremely rare, though not unheard of. If you are allergic to glycerin you will likely notice a reaction quite quickly, as those who are allergic to glycerin will develop skin irritation in the form of hives. The reaction will normally disappear within a few hours to a few days after the skin has been cleaned.
As you have noticed from our list of the best glycerin skin products, it appears in a variety of products, from moisturizers to toners to cleansers. Find all the glycerin uses in skin care before you pick your favorite product!
As a humectant, glycerin is an important ingredient that shows up in almost all moisturizers. It ensures that moisturizers will hydrate the skin well by pulling water into the skin.
However, on its own glycerin is not a great moisturizer because it lacks the emollient and occlusive properties that other moisturizing ingredients provide. This is why you want to choose moisturizers that include skin-softening oils along with the hydrating glycerin.
If you find that your moisturizer isn’t hydrating enough, you can add a few drops of store-bought glycerin to it before applying to your skin.
Glycerin Hydrating Masks
Much in the same way that glycerin works in moisturizers, it works similarly in hydrating masks, including overnight masks. These masks can be especially nice to use in the shower, when all of the moisture and steam in the air can readily penetrate into the skin with the aid of the glycerin.
On its own glycerin is not a cleansing ingredient, despite what some flawed sources might say. Even so, there are still many benefits to having glycerin in a cleanser.
Cleansers often dehydrate the skin, especially if they are surfactant-based, so having glycerin in a cleanser can help mitigate that effect and leave the skin a little softer and healthier after it’s been cleansed. That being said, even if your cleanser contains glycerin, that doesn’t mean that you can skip moisturizing your skin.
Soaps with glycerin are particularly interesting. Often, high-quality soaps will naturally contain glycerin. This is, of course, the glycerin that was separated from the oils that turn into soap during the saponification process.
In some instances, this glycerin will get separated from the soap and then sold commercially to other cosmetics companies, while in other instances the glycerin will remain in the soap and turn it into a much more moisturizing product.
While glycerin-laden soaps are much better for the skin than regular soaps, they should still not be used on the face since their pH will be too high and therefore disruptive to the skin.
Glycerin Toners and Serums
In toners and serums, glycerin can hydrate the skin much in the same way that it hydrates in moisturizers. The key difference, however, is that toners and serums have a thinner texture than moisturizers, and they usually don’t contain strong occlusives.
Those with very oily skin might be able to use toners and serums with glycerin instead of moisturizers, but for most people these toners and serums will just give a hydration boost that will help but shouldn’t replace a moisturizer.
You can actually make your own hydrating glycerin-based toner by combining water and glycerin in a spray bottle. You can add some witch hazel if you would also like the formula to tighten your pores, or you can add rose water for a pleasant scent and added hydrating effect!
Photos via @maskmeanything, @mod.young, @frankies.skin, @rosalierouge, @cynthialions, @satinandskin