What is Glycerine and How Effective Is It in Skincare?

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.

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.

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.

It is a natural emollient, helping to keep your skin moisturised; coupled with its gentle exfoliating properties, your skin is kept looking soft and supple.

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.


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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