Why Glycerin Is the Secret to Defeating Dry Skin

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

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. It's time to give this unsung hero some time in the spotlight.

Is the name leaving you scratching your head and thinking, what is glycerin, exactly, and how does glycerin help dry skin? You're not alone. Ahead, top dermatologists explain what makes glycerin so great, and what you need to know about making it a part of your skin-care routine.

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, 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

How does glycerin help dry 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 UnionDerm. 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 skin's uppermost layer and helps reinforce the skin barrier to keep it healthy and hydrated, she adds.

Despite glycerin being used 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.

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, $56, dermstore.com), which leaves skin super smooth and soft and has the added benefit of tamping down redness, she notes. Dr. Howe also recommends the Glossier Hydrating Face Moisturizer (Buy It, $24, glossier.com) because it contains glycerin and hyaluronic acid.

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, $13, dermstore.com), a go-to for both Dr. Arch and Dr. Green, who praise the gentle yet effective formula.

Glycerin is a wonder product that you can use all over the body. If you have dry skin literally anywhere, have Aquaphor Healing Ointment (Buy It, $6, target.com) handy at all times. This can be used for treating chapped lips, dry and cracked hands, and for soothing burns and sores, recommends Dr. Arch.

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 (Buy It, $4, walmart.com) and dab a little bit of that onto super dry patches of skin or cracked spots, such as 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.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles