Glycerin has become the must-have skin product for the millions of Americans with dry skin. Although dry skin can occur at any age, it’s typically more common in older adults. Mayo Clinic predicts that more than 50% of those over the age of 40 have dry skin. With claims that glycerin is the ‘ultimate moisturizing ingredient, how do consumers benefit from this common beauty ingredient? And, are there any risks which counteract these advantages?
What is glycerin?
Glycerin also goes by the names glycerine and glycerol. It was discovered more than two centuries ago and comes from plant sources in the form of a colorless and odorless liquid. It is widely used in skin care products as it is a humectant. This means it’s capable of retaining water and keeping the outer layer of the skin hydrated and moisturized.
Where you’ll find glycerin
The majority of your existing skin care products probably already contain glycerin as it’s a widely used ingredient. Brands including Garnier, Boots, and La Roche-Posay currently use the compound regularly. Glycerin tends to be added to soap as it makes it kinder on the skin than non-glycerin containing soaps. Cleansers, toners, moisturizers, body lotions, and even cosmetics also typically contain glycerin as it’s deemed as safe to use for all skin types.
Dermatologists, including Erin Gilbert, usually recommend mixing glycerin with other skin care products for optimum effectiveness. “One of the tricks I do is mix Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream and add some extra vegetable glycerin to it and put it on my hands and feet before I go to bed,” she says.
Enhanced skin moisture
Hydrated skin looks and feels healthy, plump, and resilient. Good moisture levels will provide protection against environmental factors, such as the weather and pollution. Thankfully, research has shown that glycerin can boost the skin’s natural hydration levels.
A 2001 study found that when glycerin was used for just 10 days, there was a significant increase in the hydration of the participants’ skin. A further study revealed that glycerin prevents moisture loss better than silicone oil or hyaluronic acid, which are also ingredients commonly used in the skin care industry.
Along with hydration, there are three other factors which contribute to healthy skin; consistent color, smoothness, and no noticeable sensations. Research carried out in 2008 found that glycerin can improve the appearance of wounds and speed up the healing process. Whereas, the same research detailed how glycerin can improve conditions such as atopic dermatitis, as well as those that flare up due to environmental triggers.
The average individual will shed between 30,000 and 40,000 skin cells every day. But, sometimes these cells need a little extra help to keep the skin in top condition. When applied topically to the skin, glycerin encourages the removal of dead skin cells as it breaks down skin proteins. Furthermore, acne-prone skin can benefit from glycerin as it keeps the skin clean, clear, and free from blackheads.
While glycerin does come with multiple skin benefits, there are factors to consider before dabbing it all over your skin. One of its biggest drawbacks is that its only effective as a moisturizer when the humidity in the air is less than 65%. When it’s humid, glycerin will suck the moisture from the dermis, AKA the inner layer of the skin.
As a result, your skin will continue to look healthy and hydrated on the outside, but the hydration levels will be lacking on the inside. Another downside is that glycerin can make your epidermis feel and look sticky. This poses a risk as it makes it easier for dust and pollution to stick to it which, therefore, puts your skin at greater risk of damage.
Although allergies to glycerin are considered rare, research has found a link between glycerin, urticarial syndrome and anaphylaxis. So, it’s wise to use glycerin with precaution, especially if it’s your first time using it. Start off with a small dose and allow your skin time to get used to the compound before gradually upping the amount you apply each time. It’s also important to note that glycerin should only be used in diluted forms to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction from occurring.
Your beauty cupboard is more than likely packed full of products containing glycerol. And, while, it does have some great advantages, it should be used with care to prevent unwanted side effects from arising.
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Your statement is contradictory regarding the humidity level scenario, i.e., “One of its biggest drawbacks is that its only effective as a moisturizer when the humidity in the air is less than 65%. When it’s humid, glycerin will suck the moisture from the dermis, AKA the inner layer of the skin.”
This is a complete opposite from what they state on other websites. When the humidity is low (less than 65%), that is when it is NOT effective, since it draws moisture from the dermis, i.e., “In a dry environment, there is a process called ‘osmosis’ where the air will look for moisture wherever it can get it. Since glycerin pulls water from the deeper layers of the skin, when there isn’t moisture in the environment, it will come out of the skin and evaporate into the air.”
Karen, thank you for your comment! I finally found one confirmation to my suspicions about glycerine. I live in a usually very dry area and even more so in the winter when we have the heaters on. I was ill a couple years ago with an stomach bug where I got dehydrated rapidly and I got the most severe cramps in my calves, just where I had applied lotion. My thoughts were that if glycerine pulls moisture from the air, it would also pull it from our skin.