Glycerin is nature's super-moisturizer. How does it work?

Glycerin is a common ingredient in our fave beauty products. Learn the important role it plays in hydration

product shot of medicine dropper with glycerin on a pink background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You probably heard of glycerin because it is an ingredient in so many beauty products that we know and love. Glycerin is a natural skin conditioner that keeps your skin moist, soft, and hydrated. Have you ever wondered what glycerin is and how this common ingredient works? The abilities of this all-natural ingredient may actually revolutionize your skincare routine. 

What is glycerin and how does it work?

Glycerin is an odorless, colorless liquid found in both plants and animals. It is usually sourced from soybeans or cane sugar, so it is a natural ingredient. Glycerin, also known as glycerol or glycerine, has humectant properties, which is a fancy way of saying it attracts water, and then helps hold in water. This is what gives glycerin its super-moisturizing abilities, and why it is used in so many skincare routine products.

What products contain glycerin?

Likely, you're already using glycerin in some of your beauty and personal care products. Glycerin's amazing moisturizing benefits are mixed into everyday products such as moisturizers, eye cream, toners, sunscreen, lipstick, and lip balms, and even in wash-off products like the best cleansers, body wash, and shaving cream to provide that extra boost of hydration.

Is glycerin good for your skin?

Glycerin has many benefits for our skin and is a great addition to your skincare routine. First and foremost, it moisturizes. Glycerin improves moisture levels in the skin by trapping it inside which helps give you a hydrated, healthy glow. It also protects the skin by creating moisture, thus strengthening the skin barrier against outside irritants like pollution. Other benefits of glycerin include:

  • Wrinkle reduction
  • Wound healing
  • Dry skin relief
  • Eczema treatment 

How to use glycerin

You can incorporate glycerin into your beauty routine in many ways:

  • Face wash: Before you begin, rinse your face with cool water. You can use glycerin as a face wash by diluting it with water and using a damp cotton ball to wipe it all over your face. Allow it to soak into your skin for a minute and penetrate, then rinse with lukewarm water. You can also use it as part of a double cleanse routine.
  • Toner: Diluted with rosewater, glycerin makes a fabulous toner. Just a few tiny drops will tighten pores and give your face an overall refreshed look. Use half a cup of rosewater mixed with a few drops of glycerin, and apply before your moisturizer.
  • Moisturizer: You can make your own all-natural moisturizer by mixing glycerin and your kitchen staple vegetable oil, such as avocado oil, coconut oil, or olive oil.
  • Lip treatment: You can even use glycerin on your lips by mixing it with cocoa butter, shea butter, or even good old coconut oil. You can apply it to your lips before bed and wake up with moisturized lips. Lips are one area of your face that is often neglected especially as we get older, so be sure to add lip moisturizing as a step in your skincare night routine.

A few precautions with glycerin

If you are trying a product or recipe with glycerin on your skin for the first time, remember to first patch-test it on a small portion of skin. Although a natural and gentle product, doing so is advised to ensure you don't have any allergic reactions. Apply it to the back of your hand and wait 24 hours for any adverse reactions like itchiness, redness, or inflammation and before applying it to your face.

Another tip is to remember to always dilute glycerin. This is especially true if you have sensitive skin

In some cases, glycerin can cause some people to be more sensitive to the sun. Make sure you are sticking to your normal sunscreen routine and applying the best facial sunscreen for your skin type to protect your skin while outdoors. 

DIY beauty tricks with glycerin

Pure vegetable glycerin is available in most drugstores, and once you've obtained a bottle of your own, you can start creating some of your own glycerin-infused beauty concoctions. Be sure to mix pure vegetable glycerin with other ingredients that are non-irritating to the skin, because using pure glycerin directly on the skin can irritate or cause reactions. 

Use your imagination when mixing glycerin with different oils, such as avocado oil, coconut oil, or even olive oil. These are regular oils that you can find in your kitchen or at the market, and you only need to add a few drops of glycerin, so it is a low-cost beauty option. 

Another idea is to try is to combine glycerin with rosewater. This brings the moisturizing properties of glycerin together with the non-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits of rosewater. You can even dilute glycerin in plain water and get its moisturizing effects. 

There's a great reason why glycerin is found in everything from baby products to anti-aging creams: It has ultra-moisturizing properties, it traps moisture inside the skin keeping it hydrated and supple, and it is affordable, all-natural, and for the most part, non-allergenic.

Try adding glycerin to your skincare routine and reap all of its moisturizing and protective benefits. Experiment a little to find out what works best for your skin type, and soon your DIY glycerin moisturizer may become your go-to product. 

Eunice Lucero-Lee

A lifelong creative writer and beautyphile, Eunice Lucero-Lee graduated from De La Salle University in 2002 and was hired a year later to front all beauty coverage for Pink Magazine. A beauty, astrology, and pop culture obsessive and insider for over 18 years, Eunice is an internationally published editor (and now certified astrologer) whose work has been featured in publications such as Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and The Numinous, among many others.