Behind water and fragrance, glycerin is one of the most frequently reported ingredients in cosmetics. It’s also a major ingredient in moisturizers and lotions. Using glycerin in its pure form is growing in popularity but there are things consumers need to be aware of if choosing to do this.

Studies show that glycerin can positively affect your skin in a number of ways. Keep reading to find out how.

Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is a natural compound derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. It’s a clear, colorless, odorless, and syrupy liquid with a sweet taste.

Glycerin is a humectant, a type of moisturizing agent that pulls water into the outer layer of your skin from deeper levels of your skin and the air.

In skin care products, glycerin is commonly used with occlusives, another type of moisturizing agent, to trap the moisture it draws into the skin.

According to a 2016 study, glycerin is “the most effective humectant” available to increase hydration on the top layer of your skin, in comparison with numerous others, including:

Glycerin’s appearance in skin care products seems to be warranted, as there are a number of benefits it brings to your skin.

Glycerin skin benefits

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, glycerin can:

  • hydrate the outer layer of the skin (stratum corneum)
  • improve skin barrier function
  • provide protection against skin irritants
  • accelerate wound-healing processes
  • relieve dry skin
  • may help with psoriasis

As a humectant, glycerin draws water from the nearest source. Especially in low humidity conditions, the nearest source of water is the lower levels of your skin. This can dehydrate the skin, even to the point of blistering.

Because blistering can occur with undiluted glycerin or glycerin that’s not diluted enough, it’s a good idea to use products that have glycerin as an ingredient rather than using pure glycerin.

Many proponents of natural cosmetics recommend diluting glycerin with rosewater, as rosewater is thought to hydrate the skin and refine pores. A 2019 study found that rose had positive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the skin.

Additionally, a 2017 study found that a combination of glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and Centella asiatica extract improves skin barrier function for up to 24 hours after application.

Although there don’t appear to be many reported side effects, glycerin is a natural product, so there’s always potential for an allergic reaction.

If you experience redness, itching, or rash, stop using the product immediately. Look for an alternate product that doesn’t contain glycerin, and be sure to read the labels carefully.

Warning

It’s very important to dilute glycerin before using it directly. Applying diluted glycerin to the face is an easy process, and typically very safe. But if it’s not diluted, it can badly irritate your skin — or worse.

If you choose to use diluted glycerin, make sure you don’t get it in your eyes and mouth.

  • First, rinse your face with cold water.
  • Put glycerin on a cotton pad or tissue and gently blot your face.
  • Let the glycerin absorb into your skin for a few minutes.
  • Gently rinse off the glycerin with water.

While browsing the internet or the aisles, you may be overwhelmed by the number of glycerin products to choose from. While certain brands may seem trendier than others, it’s important to get the kind that reacts best with your particular skin type. Keep in mind that it might not be one of the popular brands.

When choosing the best glycerin for your skin, consider talking with a dermatologist first to learn more about your specific skin type and what product would be best.

One option also available is glycerin soap, which is generally recommended for people with sensitive skin.

In addition to being a humectant, glycerin is used as a:

  • hyperosmotic laxative (drawing water to the bowels to treat constipation)
  • vehicle for numerous pharmaceutical preparations
  • sweetening agent
  • thickening agent
  • preservative

Glycerin is generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Research suggests that glycerin in your moisturizers or your soap can have a positive effect on your skin.

The skin on your face tends to be more delicate. In certain conditions, glycerin can dehydrate the skin, and undiluted glycerin can cause blistering in some cases. It’s safer to consider using a product rich in glycerin rather than diluting the pure form.

If after applying a product with glycerin to your skin, you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, like itchiness or redness, stop using the product immediately and talk with a healthcare professional.