All hail glycerine.
Now, I realise this may sound like a strange thing to say about such an inconspicuous ingredient, but once you appreciate its beautifying benefits, you might just agree:
- Anti-Ageing: It stabilises collagen and accelerates the healing process
- 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
- Moisturising: Glycerine is an effective moisturising ingredient, helping to soften and lubricate the skin
- 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 dry skin
As if that’s not enough, it also has a couple of great benefits for your hair:
- It helps to retain moisture in the hair shaft
- It is an excellent conditioning ingredient, giving hair a glossy shine
With all these beauty benefits, it’s no wonder vegetable glycerine is included in a number of my formulas – including H₂O Hydrating Complex, where the list of ingredients read like a drink for the skin.
So, What is Glycerine?
Glycerine is often referred to as “Glycol”, or “Glycerol”.
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 a 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; I only use 100% vegetable glycerine in my formulas.
Glycerine’s Best Bits
As with urea, I feel it is important to recap on the many benefits of glycerine.
It is a key molecule in skin physiology because of its important biosynthetic functions, including being a primary humectant.
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.
My article, “The Clear Skin Difference“, does a great job of explaining the roles water and hydration have on 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 where by 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.
Improves the Appearance of Skin
In addition to keeping moisture levels buoyant, glycerine helps to maintain skin health. This is due, in part, to the fact that the skin is hydrated and does not have the characteristic ‘scaly’ look of dry skin.
As you can see, glycerine supports a number of conditions associated with dry skin, including psoriasis, ichthyosis, atopic dermatitis, and winter xerosis. Having a god understanding of the mechanism of glycerine’s actions is the key to treating these conditions.
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, I think this may be an urban myth as I can find no evidence to support this theory.
In fact, all the research points to glycerine being a great choice as a humectant, helping to keep lipids locked within the visible layer of our skin.
Research has shown that an inclusion of glycerine within a skincare formula keeps the skin hydrated for as long as two weeks, even after the product has been removed from the skin.
Glycerine keeps working its magic on your skin, keeping it moisturised and hydrated much longer than other humectants.