"It’s in everything from face wash to moisturizer, and there’s no shortage of good things glycerin can do for your skin."
In the world of skin care ingredients, there are those big, buzzy ingredients that you hear about all the time. We’re talking the powerhouse rejuvenators that always get all the credit…the retinoids, peptides, and acids of the world. They’re splashed across the front of product labels, hyped up in TV commercials, you name it. But take a look at almost any skin care product, and we’re willing to bet that, more likely than not, it contains glycerin. “Glycerin is one of the most overlooked ingredients, simply because it’s so common,” points out Jeff Rosevear, founding scientist and Head of Product Development for Skinsei. But don’t mistake common for basic, or anything less than amazingly effective. Here’s the deal with glycerin in skin care, and why we think it’s an unsung hero that deserves a little more credit than it’s gotten up to this point.
What is glycerin and what does it do?
Colorless and odorless, glycerin usually comes from plant sources and falls into a category of ingredients known as humectants. These hydrating ingredients work by attracting moisture from the air and drawing it to your skin (hyaluronic acid is another common one). “That means that not only does glycerin deliver an initial dose of moisture, but it also is giving your skin the ability to keep attracting moisture,” explains Rosevear. This makes glycerin a good pick for oily or acne-prone skin, too, since the so-called ‘occlusive’ hydrating ingredients sit on top of the skin and have a higher likelihood of clogging pores, not to mention can just feel too heavy if you’re already oily to begin with. Also nice: Unlike many other, more potent ingredients out there (we’re talking to you, retinol), glycerin is pretty much well-tolerated by everyone and is safe to use. So yes, if you have sensitive skin, this is one of those ingredients that you most likely don’t have to worry about.
What else can it do?
“We keep learning things about glycerin, but one of the most interesting new discoveries is that it also plays a vital role in the skin’s microbiome,” says Rosevear. As a quick reminder, the microbiome consists of all of the billions of microorganisms that live on the surface of your skin; we all have them, and they’re a vital component for skin health. “When glycerin is first applied on the skin, it helps to support the balance of the microbiome, allowing it to stay healthy and resilient,” Rosevear explains˳ Essentially, glycerin helps keep the microbiome healthy, which translates to skin that’s stronger and better able to protect itself against dryness and fatigue. And not only will that keep your skin healthy, but it can even help ward off signs of aging. The bottom line: Glycerin skin benefits go far beyond just moisturization.
Sounds like I should be using glycerin all of the time, right?
Well, kind of. While it’s always a good ingredient to look for, remember that when it comes to hydrating purposes, it works by pulling moisture from the air outside. That means a glycerin moisturizer is going to work exceptionally well when it’s humid (AKA during the summer), but not quite as well during the winter when the air is much dryer and there’s simply no moisture for the glycerin to pull into the skin. That’s when you may want to think about using thicker creams and moisturizers, which balance out glycerin with other, richer hydrating ingredients such as lipids to help deliver the ideal amount of hydration, says Rosevear. BTW, this is one of the reasons the Skinsei holistic diagnostic tool is so helpful; by taking into account the time of year and climate where you live, we can account for all of that and help figure out exactly what type of moisturizer is going to be best for you to use and when.
What kind of products have the most glycerin?
As a general rule, moisturizers—specifically gel formulas which are lighter and contain more water and humectants than thicker moisturizers. One great option: The Skinsei Cool on Cue Hydro Gel. Their lightweight and refreshing formulas absorb quickly while still locking in hydration and boosting radiance. But here’s the thing: While glycerin is perhaps most popular in moisturizers, it pops up in all kinds of different products, so you really can incorporate this great ingredient every step of the way, from glycerin face wash to glycerin cream. The one con when it comes to glycerin? “The more glycerin you have in a formula, the stickier that product is going to be. And while you may not necessarily notice that if you’re using it on your body, you will feel that stickiness in a complexion product,” notes Rosevear. This is why exact product formulations are key, and not all glycerin products are created equal. Take the Skinsei Staycation Jelly Mask, which has some of the highest levels of glycerin of any of the Skinsei products; in fact, almost half of it is glycerin, points out Rosevear. Still, because it’s balanced out with other ingredients, it won’t feel sticky or tacky and is still enjoyable to use. Because let’s be real, no matter how great an ingredient may be, if the product it’s in isn’t fun to use, you’re probably not going to use it, right? We certainly wouldn’t.