It has emollient properties
“Glycerin is also an emollient,” says Dr Alexandrides, “meaning it’s able to form a protective layer on the skin, retaining moisture that’s been drawn in, resulting in softer, smoother skin.”
It can strengthen the skin’s barrier function
Skincare products containing glycerin have been found to help defend against dryness caused by environmental aggressors like pollution. “These products help the skin retain moisture long after they’re applied,” adds Dr Alexandrides.
It’s non-comedogenic and non-irritating
Glycerin is a skin-friendly ingredient that’s suitable for all skin types and, as Dr Alexandrides, can even help soothe inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Is glycerin better than hyaluronic acid?
Both humectants, glycerin and hyaluronic acid work in a similar way – by attracting and holding water. However, they’re not exactly the same. “The biggest difference between the two is molecule size,” points out Dr Ejikeme. Glycerin’s low molecular weight means it can penetrate deeper into the skin and is more easily absorbed than hyaluronic acid.
“It also has the added benefit of being better at increasing skin’s overall hydration levels, something which – over time – decreases water loss,” adds Dr Ejikeme. So, while both ingredients can help hydrate skin, glycerin works at a deeper level.
Another differentiating factor is cost. As Dr Ejikeme muses, “glycerin is less expensive than hyaluronic acid, but we rarely hear about it because hyaluronic acid is a ‘trending’ ingredient.” Hyaluronic acid is also thinner in consistency and will often be combined with other occlusive ingredients to really lock in moisture.
Can glycerin irritate skin?
While glycerin is non-irritating, there is some concern that this ingredient can exacerbate dryness when there isn’t enough humidity in the air. “When the air is very dry, humectants draw moisture from the deeper layers of the skin – leaving it more dehydrated,” explains Dr Alexandrides.
This is, thankfully, only a problem with pure glycerin (100%). Most over-the-counter skincare products containing glycerin will be formulated with concentrations of 5% or less and will be laced with other hydrating and skin-soothing ingredients, too.
How to use glycerin on the face
Available in serums, cleansers, moisturisers and more – glycerin can be found in most skincare products. Where you won’t find it is in oil-based formulations (these typically use silicones instead). Below, we’ve rounded-up our go-to glycerin-based products that will help protect your skin this winter…