It’s easy to get fatigue about studying up on the latest trendy skin care ingredient, but glycerin is a skin care stalwart and transcends any gimmicks. Here’s everything you need to know about the tried-and-true skin hydrator.
What is glycerin?
Glycerin is found naturally in the skin, but it is also a common and effective skin care ingredient. Also called glycerine and glycerol, it can be derived from plants or animals, or made synthetically.
“Glycerin is a humectant that draws in moisture from the environment into the skin to hydrate it,” explains Dr. Ramya Garlapati, an LA-based, board-certified dermatologist, certified makeup artist and co-founder of Skin Medicinals. “It has a lower molecular weight giving it the added benefit of being able to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin to provide deep hydration.”
What can glycerin be used for?
Glycerin is widely found in hydrating moisturizers, creams and serums, and according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jenny Liu, “It doesn’t have to be in a high concentration to work effectively to hydrate the skin.”
That said, you’ll often find it listed second after water on ingredient lists for moisturizers and serums. Looking for glycerin within the first three ingredients is an easy way to confirm that the products you’re using are hydrating. As Garlapati explains, “For ingredient lists on skincare products, the ingredients are listed from highest to lowest concentration. So if glycerin is one of the first few ingredients listed, it’s safe to say the product has a high concentration of it, making it a hydrating product.”
While glycerin is a moisturizing ingredient on its own, it’s even better when paired with other hydration-preserving elements like fellow humectant hyaluronic acid or emollients like plant oils or petrolatum.
Benefits of glycerin for your skin
Hydrated skin is one of the most straightforward pathways to “anti-aging” results — when skin is adequately moisturized, it will appear plumper, firmer and with fewer lines and wrinkles. So with a super-hydrating ingredient like glycerin, you can expect the skin to drink in all that moisture and the visible benefits to go along with it. Glycerin will also help your skin become softer yet stronger by keeping your skin barrier moisturized and protected from environmental irritants.
Garlapati says the ingredient is well-tolerated and suitable for all skin types. The dermatologist notes that it also “has no known interactions with other topical products making it very easy to integrate into any skin care routine.”
With that in mind, check out 10 skin care products that feature glycerin.
Keep it simple with straight-up vegetable glycerin. The humectant can be added to your favorite moisturizer or serum as a booster or applied straight from the bottle. According to Garlapati, "Vegetable glycerin happens to be the type of glycerin found in most skincare products." With more than 37,000 ratings, this popular option is an affordable way to upgrade your skin care (and you can even use it for DIY bath and body recipes, too).
Plump, bright skin starts with a healthy skin barrier, and Garlapati says this moisturizer is "a great option to repair or maintain the skin barrier." According to the dermatologist, the cream contains glycerin and lipids that will keep the skin hydrated and moisturized.
Liu is "a fan of dual-use SPF products that treat skin as you wear them," like this sheer, glowy sunscreen that doubles as a makeup primer. "It's lightweight, yet hydrating with glycerin, squalane and aloe to deliver on healthy skin," Liu says. "I love its elegant dewy finish that gives off a glow without looking shiny or oily."
"This anti-aging cream is rich in glycerin and lipids, and contains a lipid ratio of 2% ceramides, 4% natural cholesterol and 2% fatty acids, which has been shown to help restore the skin's natural barrier and improve overall radiance," Garlapati says. "It also smells amazing."
This serum packs in 30% glycerin, which, as founder Lisa Guerra explained in a TikTok, unlocks the ingredient's other benefits beyond hydration. At higher concentrations, she says, it can protect from irritation and help repair the skin barrier.
Liu recommends this affordable cream for an everyday moisturizer. "The glycerin helps lock lasting hydration, while hyaluronic acid and peptides nourish and plump the skin," she says.
Dr. Jart+'s fan-favorite moisturizer delivers five ceramides, panthenol and glycerin to strengthen the skin barrier and prevent moisture loss.
This moisturizer supports "skin longevity" with a proprietary peptide and a blend of proven skin care ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and glycerin. Made for mature skin, the OS-01 peptide works to reduce the amount of damaged skin cells, which also weaken the cells around them.
Liu recommends this nourishing body cream with glycerin, urea and lactic acid, which she says is great for your skin all over and "a great ingredient combination for dry and ashy skin."
Glycerin's hydrating benefits are great for the scalp — and therefore your hair — too. Liu says this leave-on scalp treatment with niacinamide and glycerin "hydrates [the] scalp and supports [a] healthy skin barrier for hair growth."