What is Glycerine and How Effective Is It in Skincare?

Updated 01/09/20.

Your face: flaky, dry, dehydrated, and inflamed.

Your heart: betrayed by a 7-step foolproof skincare routine.

But stop there’s no time for tears – instead, it’s time to take action.

There are a number of factors that can trigger dehydration and skin irritation—allergens and pollutants to name a few, they all produce a similar effect – compromising your skin’s natural moisturising factor.

When we think of moisture boosters in skincare, we immediately think of hyaluronic acid, with glycerin considered its less glamorous cousin.

In fact, that’s not the case at all, and we’re on a mission to set the record straight.

The Beautifying Benefits of Glycerine

Glycerine has a molecular weight of approximately 92 g/mol, which means it is able to penetrate deep into the skin.

It’s slow and steady maneuver comes with lasting benefits –  drawing moisture deep into the skin’s layers, which is continuously released throughout the day.

Anti-Ageing: It stabilises collagen and accelerates the healing process.
Moisturising: Glycerine is an effective moisturising ingredient, helping to soften and lubricate.
Anti-Irritant: It is thought to influence the protective function of the skin against irritation.
Hydrating: Glycerine absorbs its own weight in water over a period of a few days, making it the perfect ingredient for a dehydrated skin.
Natural Exfoliant: It has a keratolytic effect, helping with desquamation – the skin’s natural exfoliating process that 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.

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 2 weeks after the end of the application has been completed,

A study on the corneometry values of those previously treated with cream containing glycerine remained higher than in the placebo group. What this means, is that glycerol exerts its hydrating effect not only on healthy skin but also on those subjects 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.

So, What is Glycerine?

Glycerine is often referred to as “Glycol”, or “Glycerol”.

It is what is called an endogenous humectant, meaning it’s part of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor (NMF).

Vegetable glycerine is an organic compound traditionally made from vegetable fat; a thick, gelatinous, and odourless liquid that completely dissolves in water.

A complex method of extraction 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 around thirty minutes. This process enables water to absorb the glycerol from the fatty acid phase – once this phase is complete, the glycerol is then purified by distillation to create glycerine.

It is important to note that glycerine can be petrol-derived; We only use 100% vegetable glycerine in my formulas.

Glycerine’s Best Bits

As with urea, it is a key molecule in skin physiology because of its important biosynthetic functions, including being a primary humectant.

Improves chronic dry Skin conditions

A study found that when applied to skin that was deficient in AQP-3, only glycerin was able to help to restore the normal hydration levels in the outer layer of skin, increased skin elasticity, and improved impaired barrier recovery was also discovered. Other humectants, like propylene glycol, did not have the same effect.

It is important to keep in mind here that dry skin may be a result of mutated or skin lacking in AQP-3, so it could just be that a product formulated with glycerin might be a great choice if you are suffering from dry skin conditions.

Glycerine plays an important role in treating a number of 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 these conditions. Not only is it extremely effective in the treatment of dry skin conditions, but new research is indicating that glycerol also has a repairing action on the barrier function.

Naturally Exfoliating

We apologise for getting a bit technical here -but stay with us as its important.

Glycerine has been suspected to improve dry flaky skin by facilitating the digestion of desmosomes cells in the epidermis. Desmosomes appear as thick patches in the cell membrane between two cells, they contain specialised proteins–like keratin which is found in fingernails and hair, which increase the rigidity of tissues

Glycerine possesses a keratolytic effect which reduces the formation of the scales on the surface of the skin, breaking stubborn cells apart, which means you won’t get those big flaky patches of skin but nice smooth desquamated skin instead.

This is a very convoluted way of us trying to say, that glycerin can help exfoliate our skin, by breaking apart these connectors and allowing our skin cells to shed easily. Phew, we’re glad that is over.

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 the skin’s surface.

Our article, “The Clear Skin Difference“, does a great job of explaining the roles water and hydration have on the skin.

Has a Protective Role on the Skin

It helps protect skin against harsh ingredients. Glycerin is often found in pharmaceutical formulas – promoted by doctors to repair dehydration and extreme dryness. It keeps the skin soft, supple, and hydrated, which is essential in rebuilding the skin’s protective barrier, which allows the natural oils to nourish and repair the skin.

Promotes Skin Cell Maturation

Glycerine can fight the effects of topical skin conditions such as psoriasis.

Research carried out by doctors Wendy Bollag and Xiangjian Zheng, found that when glycerine is applied to the skin, it signals the cells to mature in a normal manner.

Psoriasis is a skin condition whereby the skin cells shed before they have a chance to properly mature, resulting in thickened, scaly skin. What the doctors found is that the application of glycerine can interrupt this abnormal process, allowing the skin cells to reach full maturation 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 the skin.

To summarise

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 to restore an impaired barrier, very gently encourages natural exfoliation, it can help restore hydration, and it can possibly increase skin elasticity and hydration, even in those who are deficient in AQP-3.

How should we use glycerin to get maximum results?

The moisturising effects of glycerine are dependent on the quantity of the absorbed humectant. Therefore, the concentration and the composition of the formula you use is important if you are to benefit from the product.

From previous studies mentioned, we can see that a rise in the glycerine content from 2% to 5% in an occlusive oil in water lotion (cream), significantly improves skin.

On dry skin of the legs, a benefit was achieved at 20 to 40% concentration; 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 amazing in one night.

A question we are often asked is, can glycerine be applied directly to the skin? We recommend against this, as it could possibly draw water out of the skin, which completely defeats the purpose.

The naked truth

There is a school of thought that glycerine can have an adverse effect on the skin in humid climates. It is said that it pulls 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.

In fact, all the research points to glycerine being a great choice as a humectant – remember the study earlier, that showed the inclusion of glycerine within a skincare formula keeps skin hydrated for as long as two weeks, even after the product has been removed from the skin.

It keeps working its magic on the skin much longer than many other humectants.

So we think you’d agree if your suffering from dry, dehydrated, and mature skin it could just become the holy grail ingredient you have been looking for.


The placebo effect of glycerine: http://www.scientificspectator.com/documents/personal%20care%20spectator/Glycerol%20a%20Moisturizer.pdf
Glycerine may help skin disease: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/12/031203075525.htm
The science of skincare: https://www.chemistryworld.com/features/the-science-of-skincare/5494.article
8 benefits of glycerine: https://www.ah18c.com/en-us/news/benefits-of-glycerine-for-skin-care

98 thoughts on “What is Glycerine and How Effective Is It in Skincare?

  1. Sophie says:

    I was fooling around with some rose water and commercial lotions on my face. That was a mistake. My face has become very irritated with some puffy red patches on my high cheeks. I read today about a green tea mixture – green tea, witch hazel and an essential oil (forgot which one). I think I can’t use essential oils – too strong for my skin. So, once the tea cools, I am going to mix equals parts of tea and glycerin. Any other ideas? I wouldn’t put lemon or anything acidic on my face but, I do on my legs. I drink lemon juice everyday in my cranberry juice for urinary infections. Works fabulously.

  2. Karen Phipps says:

    I’ve been using glycerin and 100% aloe vera gel for 6 months I mix 50/50 and apply it to my face for a moisturizer. I have extremely dry skin and It works great for that!!

  3. sylia burrows says:

    Hi in the early 1950’s I remember my mother used a sacket containing glycerine. It was clear substance. When applied to skin we gently massaged it until it was absorbed then gently continued to massage until it exfoliated our skin. It left our skin feeling soo soft. How can I experience this again. I would li k e to make my own forumula , can you helps

  4. Natasha says:

    I’ve had some adverse affects with Glycerine. Be very careful with it. The initial stage of use was wonderful, it plumped and hydrated the skin, but then I became too cocky and started using it (mixed with Rosewater) every day, directly after a shower under moisturiser. Within a week I had inflammation, puffininess, and eventually – fine irritated peeling on my entire face. It looked like I had been bitten by a wasp and had an allergic reaction, and my wrinkles took on a whole new crevassey look. I’m going to start again with a new approach, this one being the same mixture, but using only twice per week, or alternatively, add 1 drop of glycerine to my moisturiser.

    • Verified Author Samantha Miller replied:

      Hi Natasha

      Thank you for this interesting feedback I would be keen to know how you got on after your experiment. Natasha do you think the rosemary was just to active on the skin used neat? Samantha

  5. Jay says:

    I weirdly started getting ear infections from surfing recently — never got them in the past. Someone told me to clean out my ears with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar (1:1) but that only worked for a couple days and then I got another infection. Then someone told me to put a drop of glycerine in my ears as it would pull all the excess water out. Now I do both and I haven’t t had an ear infection in months.

  6. Kristin says:

    I’m trying to make my own DIY Miscellar water for removal of eye make-up for lash extensions. A lot of recipes call for Glycerine, Rose Water and Witch Hazel. If the Glycerine is a lubricant would it be considered a oil? Oils break down the bonds on the extensions.

  7. Pieter Ijsselstein says:

    Anybody try potato juice? Excellent for skin, especially rich in vitamin C and hyaluronic acid which helps to keep skin tissue moist. Helps with wrinkles and dry skin.

  8. Ann says:


    Glycerine is a nice moisturer and gives Your skin a Healty look
    Unfortunately i am a rosacea patiënt and van not use it. Glycerine feels warm and my skin turns read ommediately ?

    Any other rosacea patiënt on this forum?

  9. Nick says:

    I have a fairly dry face, and still get a bit of acne, i was wondering if i start using vegetable glycerine by itself, will it aid me in both areas? Or is it best to pair the glycerine with something else

  10. Eileen Coombs says:

    I have very dry skin and also very sensitive. After trying many skin cleansers I have found I cannot use water on my face because it becomes very irritated. My dermatologist suggested using glycerine and mineral oil to cleanse my face. What proportions would I use? Is there a better solution?

  11. roel silvano sayson says:

    hello im roel,25 and im suffering from mild eczema/ skin asthma. I have been seeing my dermatologist for quite sometime now and i feel no relief from all of her prescriptions. A friend of mine told me that glycerin can prevent the outbreak of eczema. I hope you guys can help me.

    • Verified Author Samantha Miller replied:

      Roel ts not topical the condition it is systemic-therefore you must addrss your diet I am not a nutritionist but start with foods from the deadly nightshade family and gluten, are you lactose intolerant? All questions you need to ask yourself. Savior and Bio will give you the topical relief you need. Samantha

      • Nitin Tabib says:

        I have extremely dry skin, and my feet crack almost all 12 months. Past few months, I’ve been mixing Glycerine with Fortify in the proportion of 1:2, and the results are amazing. I apply it twice a day (morning and night) and my legs don’t look dry anymore. My feet are not ugly. Cracks have reduced but not healed. I have experimented mixing glycerine with Nivea and Santoor, but this worked the best. Hope this helps.

  12. Carol says:

    Glycerin has been used for many years on horses for sore muscles and inflammation. When I have a tight muscle in my back, my masseuse well apply undiluted glycerin on the muscle and then stick saran wrap over it and I sleep with that glycerin wrap overnight. It makes my skin very warm and relieves the muscle pain. Give it a try if you have sore muscles. You do need to put on the plastic wrap to keep it working for several hours and also it eliminates it’s sticking to your clothes.

  13. Elena says:

    I’m trying to make a micro-derm face scrub, these are my ingredient, coconut oil, activated charcoal, micro-derm crystals, and my face wash Cetaphil, would glycerin help to bind all ingredients, they separate?

  14. Julia says:

    Hi Samantha!
    I have extremely oily skin and no matter what I rub into my skin it basically pushes it right out.
    I’ve been trying to use aloe vera gel with oils like red raspberry seed oil or watermelon seed oil. Anything that has a comedogenic rating of 0-1. However i wake wth the greasiest face in the morning. Worse than ever before. Someone mentioned to me to add glycerin to help lock the moisture? Do you agree? How many percent should I add?

    • Verified Author Samantha Miller replied:

      Hi Julia
      Yes to glycerine properly infused into a formula and only if you have dehydration? I would look for an oil free moisturiser, that is natural that won’t strip your skin of oil, which is the key as long term astringent strong products will make you overproduce oil. Equilibrium my oil free formula is gorgeous and filled with lovely humectants also.

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