Dermatologists explain why glycerin is one of the best moisturizing skin-care ingredients out there.

By Melanie Rud
March 31, 2020
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In the world of moisturizing skin-care ingredients, there are the big hitters you've probably heard of—such as hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and squalane—that get prime placement in product names and on labels. But there's another, under-the-radar moisturizing workhorse doing just as many great things for your skin. Enter: glycerin, an extremely common, yet not often talked about, hydration ingredient.

Is the name leaving you scratching your head and thinking, what is glycerin, exactly? You're not alone. Ahead, top dermatologists explain exactly what makes glycerin *so* great, and what you need to know about making it a part of your skin-care routine. It's time to give this unsung hero some time in the spotlight. (Related: The Best Moisturizers for Every Skin Type)

What Is Glycerin?

Glycerin is a colorless, odorless sugar alcohol that comes from animals or plants, or can be derived synthetically from petroleum, says New York City-based cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, M.D. It's a common ingredient in many personal care products (more on that in a minute), though it's also used in foods to add sweetness. In the beauty world, vegetable glycerin—which simply means it comes from plant oils—or glycerin made from sources such as cane sugar and soybeans is most often used, adds Dr. Green.

The Benefits of Glycerin for Skin

Moisturization is the name of the game here. Glycerin is a humectant, meaning it attracts moisture from the air into the top layer of your skin and holds it there, explains New York City-based dermatologist Kenneth Howe, M.D., of Wexler Dermatology. It does such a good job, that it's often referred to as, "a moisture magnet," says Dr. Green. (In fact, topically, glycerin acts similarly to the substances in the uppermost layer of the skin and helps to reinforce the skin barrier to keep it healthy and hydrated, she adds.)

Despite glycerin use as an intense hydrator, the skin-care ingredient is still very lightweight (translation: It won't feel heavy or greasy on your skin) and is non-comedogenic, which means it won't clog your pores. Another amazing benefit of glycerin? It's also safe enough for sensitive skin types. "Glycerin is fantastic because it doesn't clog pores and is also extremely gentle, making it appropriate for all skin types," says Chicago dermatologist Emily Arch, M.D. In other words, no matter whether your complexion is oily, acne-prone, dry, or sensitive, you can feel safe using glycerin. (Related: The Best Anti-Aging Moisturizers to Use Every Morning)

How to Use Glycerin

Glycerin is found in most moisturizers, where it's often combined with other potent ingredients that help trap its hydrating benefits in the skin, explains Dr. Arch. Her pick: EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex (Buy It, $50, dermstore.com), which Dr. Arch says leaves skin super smooth and soft and has the added benefit of tamping down redness. Dr. Howe also recommends the Glossier Hydrating Face Moisturizer (Buy It, $22, glossier.com) because it contains glycerin and hyaluronic acid. (Related: Kristen Bell Loves This $20 Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer)

Another daily skin-care product that features glycerin? Your cleanser. In face washes, glycerin works by maintaining the moisture of your skin and protecting against irritation and dryness, says Dr. Howe. Try La-Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Facial Cleanser (Buy It, $12, dermstore.com), a go-to for both Dr. Arch and Dr. Green who praise the gentle, yet effective formula.

Keep in mind that glycerin can be used on places other than just your face. For example, it's an ingredient found in Aquaphor Healing Ointment (Buy It, $5, target.com), which Dr. Arch recommends for treating chapped lips, dry and cracked hands, and for soothing burns and sores. (Related: Drew Barrymore Shared a Genuis Quick Fix for Dry Hands.)

If you take a peek at the ingredient label of pretty much any skin-care product you're already using, chances are, glycerin is in there. But if you want to really reap the benefits of glycerin, well, you can actually shop straight-up vegetable glycerin online online and dab a little bit of that onto super dry patches of skin or cracked spots, like elbows or heels.

At the end of the day, glycerin is a universal crowd-pleaser that's a safe and effective hydrating ingredient for anyone. Lucky for you, it's probably already in the products you're using, but if not, seek it out, stat.

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