Has your heart been betrayed by a 7-step routine?
That still leaves your skin dry and flaky.
Well, there’s no time for tears; instead, it’s time to take action.
With an understated beauty hero.
And that, my friends, is gorgeous glowy glycerine.
When we think of moisture boosters, we think of sexy humectants like hyaluronic.
And rarely does its less glamourous relative glycerine spring to mind.
But we folks at NC are on a mission to bring it into the spotlight.
So let’s take a deep dive and look at what is glycerine.
What is glycerine?
Glycerine is often referred to as “Glycol” or “Glycerol”.
It’s a humectant and makes up part of your skin’s natural moisturising factor (NMF).
Glycerine has a molecular weight of approximately 92 g/mol; in layperson’s terms, it penetrates deep.
Why it may seem like the dull, poor relation to more glamourous urea or hyaluronic acid, glycerine’s slow and steady manoeuvre comes with lasting benefits.
It draws moisture deep into your skin’s layers, continuously releasing it throughout the day.
For all you dry-skin guys and gals, think tiny moisture magnets that keep your skin visibly hydrated.
All hail glycerine!
The humectant that keeps on giving
The effects of glycerin last well beyond the usage of the product containing it, even in the wash-out period—thought to be two weeks after the end of the application has been completed,
This study that looked at what is glycerine and its effect on the skin (1) found that ten days of treatment on normal skin with 20% glycerine significantly increased the hydration in participants’ skin and improved the skin health of those whose skin was primarily characterised by xerosis and barrier impairment.
In other words, it keeps working on your skin long after you’ve stopped using it.
Glycerines beautifying benefits
Anti-Ageing: It stabilises collagen and accelerates healing.
Protective: It is often used in pharmaceuticals to treat dry skin, help with elasticity and repair the barrier function.
Moisturising: Glycerine is an effective moisturising agent helping to soften and lubricate your skin.
Anti-Irritant: It is thought to influence the protective function of your skin against irritation.
Hydrating: Glycerine absorbs its weight in water over a few days, making it the perfect ingredient if you have dehydrated skin.
Natural Exfoliant: It has a keratolytic effect, helping with desquamation—your skin’s natural exfoliating process, which breaks down skin cells to prevent dull and flaky skin.
As if that’s not enough, it’s also great for your hair, helping to retain moisture in the hair shaft; it’s also an excellent conditioning ingredient giving hair a glossy sheen.
1. Improves chronic dry skin
It is important to remember that dry skin may result from mutated skin lacking in AQP-3. Hence, a product formulated with glycerin is the perfect choice for those suffering from dry skin conditions.
This study (2) found that when applied to skin deficient in AQP-3, only glycerin could help restore the normal hydration levels in the participant’s outer layer of skin; increased skin elasticity and improved impaired barrier recovery were also discovered. Other humectants, like propylene glycol, did not have the same effect.
Glycerine effectively treats several conditions associated with dry skin, including; psoriasis, ichthyosis, atopic dermatitis, and xerosis.
This is why having a good understanding of the mechanism of glycerine’s actions is the key to treating your skin if you have extremely dry skin or its associated conditions.
2. Naturally exfoliating
Glycerine has been suspected to improve dry, flaky skin by facilitating the digestion of desmosome cells in the epidermis.
Desmosome cells appear as thick patches in the cell membrane between two cells; they contain specialised proteins–like keratin found in fingernails and hair, increasing the rigidity of your skin’s tissues.
Glycerine possesses a keratolytic effect (slightly exfoliating) that reduces the formation of the scales on the surface of your skin, breaking stubborn cells apart, which means you won’t get those big flaky patches of skin, only nice smooth ones instead.
This is a very convoluted way of saying that glycerin can help exfoliate your skin, allowing your skin cells to shed quickly. Phew!
3. Maintains water balance
Glycerine deeply hydrates the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of your skin.
Studies have found that it forms a persistent reservoir in the depth of the stratum corneum, thus reducing the evaporation rate of moisture from your skin’s surface.
Our article, “The clear skin difference“, explains water and hydration’s roles on your skin.
4. It has a protective role.
Glycerine helps protect the skin against harsh ingredients.
It is often found in pharmaceutical formulas promoted by doctors to repair dehydration and extreme dryness.
5. Promotes skin cell maturation
Glycerine can fight the effects of topical skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Research (3) carried out by doctors Wendy Bollag, and Xiangjian Zheng found that when glycerine is applied to the skin, it signals the cells to mature normally.
Psoriasis is a skin condition whereby the skin cells shed before they can adequately mature, resulting in thickened, scaly skin.
The doctors found that glycerine can interrupt this abnormal process, allowing skin cells to develop fully before shedding.
With all these benefits, it’s no wonder you can find vegetable glycerine in our H₂O Hydrating Complex or our moisture bomb formula Quench, where the list of ingredients reads like a drink for your skin.
The moisturising effects of glycerin can last well beyond the use of the product that contains it, even up to two weeks after it is stopped being used.
It can help restore an impaired barrier, gently encourage natural exfoliation, help restore hydration, and possibly increase skin elasticity and hydration, even in those deficient in AQP-3.
What percentage should you use?
The moisturising effects of glycerine depend on the quantity of the absorbed humectant. Therefore, the concentration and the composition of the formula you use is essential.
This study (4) found that glycerine used between 2 and 5 % within a formula significantly improved skin’s hydration when used in an occlusive oil in water cream.
For participants with dry skin on their legs, a benefit was achieved at 20 to 40% concentration.
For this reason, we supply a foot lotion with 25% glycerin in our clinic, and whilst it does feel tacky, it takes our client’s feet from really dry to extraordinary in one night.
How is glycerine formed?
Vegetable glycerine is an organic compound traditionally made from vegetable fat, a thick, gelatinous, and odourless liquid that completely dissolves in water.
A complex extraction method known as hydrolysis is used to create glycerine and fatty acids used in skincare; the raw material is subjected to a temperature of around 400° C at constant pressure for approximately thirty minutes.
This process enables water to absorb the glycerol from the fatty acid phase – once this phase is complete, the glycerol is purified by distillation to create glycerine.
To conclude. The naked truth
So when asking the question, what is glycerine? There is a lot to know, and it seems we can all benefit from a little glycerine in our life, and the really great thing, it can be used in every single step of your routine.
It has a natural affinity with your skin. It forms the backbone of many essential lipids within your skin, which is why it is found in many personal care products.
Put simply, it’s an easy and quick-fire way to get super smooth and moisturised skin.
There is a school of thought that glycerine can harm your skin in humid climates.
It is said to pull moisture from the skin’s tissues. However, we think this may be an urban myth as we can find no evidence to support this theory.
All the research points to glycerine being an excellent choice as a humectant.
Remember the earlier study that included glycerine in a skincare formula that keeps skin hydrated for as long as two weeks? Even after removing the product, it keeps working its magic on the skin much longer than many other humectants.
So we think you’d agree if you are suffering from dry, dehydrated, or mature skin, it could just become the holy grail ingredient you have been looking for.
1. The influence of a cream containing 20% glycerin and its vehicle on skin barrier properties.
Relationship between Aging-Related Skin Dryness and Aquaporins.
2. Glycerol — Just a Moisturizer? Biological and Biophysical Effects.
3. Glycerin may help skin disease, study finds.
4. The 24-hour skin hydration and barrier function effects of a hyaluronic 1%, glycerin 5%, and Centella asiatica stem cells extract moisturising fluid: an intra-subject, randomised, assessor-blinded study.