Glycerin for Skin

The beauty market is one of the most profitable industries in the world. As such, tons and tons of skincare products continue to be manufactured and sold every day. Unlike in the past though, the current consumer is more knowledgeable. Scrutiny is the order of the day with keen interest on the ingredient list. 

Glycerin happens to be one of the key ingredients in the majority of beauty products. To help you understand the role of glycerin for skin, we have sought to answer some of the most burning questions surrounding the topic. Read on to find out what skin care specialists have to say about its efficacy, benefits and so much more. 

Glycerin is classified by the FDA as a (GRAS) substance. Its property as a humectant makes it great for dry skin and is suitable for all skin types. In a nutshell, topical application of glycerin will keep your skin moisturized, reduce signs of skin ageing, treat skin disorders and in the right mixture, it can help in your efforts for attaining a lighter skin tone.

What is Glycerin?

Glycerin, also known as Glycerol or glycerin, is a natural compound found in plant and animal fats. The lipid part of fats breaks down after reacting with water, giving rise to three fatty acids that form glycerin. 

Glycerin is used as a lubricant, macro nutrient, toothpaste, and mouthwash ingredient. It's also taken orally to relieve pressure on an injured eye.

Types of Glycerin

Although the compound is considered as a natural compound, there is a synthetically produced version. It's made from propylene, a byproduct of crude oil. For this, chlorine is added to propylene followed by hydrolysis. 

The resulting glycerin is not recognized as natural, so if you advocate for ‘natural products’, you would want to keep off products with this type of glycerin. Progress has also been made to efficiently produce glycerin from biofuel and as a byproduct in soap manufacture.

What does Glycerin Do for Skin?

Now that you know where this sticky, slippery and sweet substance comes from, let’s look at why glycerin is good for your skin. Before we get to the benefits, let’s first examine the endearing properties that make glycerin such a vital skincare ingredient. 

For starters, the glycerin is a humectant, a substance that attracts moisture from the surrounding environment. Glycerin absorbs water vapour from the air and body onto the skin to keep it moist or hydrated. 

As Perry Romanowski explains:

“Glycerin is a colourless and odourless liquid that comes from plant sources… It is a humectant, which means it has the property of attracting water to itself."

Source: Allure

Glycerin is classified by the FDA as a (GRAS) substance. Its property as a humectant makes it great for dry skin and is suitable for all skin types.

In the same publication, Erin Gilbert, a New York City-based dermatologist concurs that "Glycerin is essentially like a sponge that pulls in water to the outer skin layer...It can attract water from the deeper skin layers or even the air in humid environments."  

So, what does this mean for your skin? 

Benefits of Glycerin on Skin

As a hygroscopic substance and a natural moisturizer on its own right, topical application of glycerin comes with several benefits. Here is a brief overview of the different uses of glycerin for the skin. 

1.   Smooths Skin

With age, the skin becomes duller and drier. This is partly due to its reduced ability to maintain moisture. As the dryness continues, the skin becomes rougher making fine lines and wrinkles to be more pronounced. 

Regular use of glycerin helps to fill in these imperfections by slowing down moisture loss. As such, glycerin becomes a valued addition to your dressing table especially if you suffer from dry skin. 

2. Helps in Maintaining Water Balance

One of the leading damage to skin health is transdermal water loss or TEWL in short. This is the loss of moisture from the body occasioned by evaporation through the outer skin layer. It’s a form of insensible water loss since the body has little control over the process. As such it can cause fluid imbalance, impairing your skin and general health. 

As a humectant, glycerin minimises this loss by attracting more moisture to the skin. In a study investigating the efficacy of glycerin as a protective barrier, it was concluded that “glycerol leads to a more rapid reconstitution of the protective skin barrier and initiates regenerative skin protection.” 

3. Heals and Protects the Skin

Glycerin has been shown to be of therapeutic value. In a study by Dr Wendy Bolliger, a cell physiologist, apart from being a water attractor, “glycerol also makes skin look and function better by helping skin cells mature properly.” This is made possible by the compound’s ability to act as a signal in aiding skin cells through maturation cycle.   

With a hastened turnover of skin cells, cuts, dark spots, and wounds heal faster. At the same time, fast maturation of skin cells helps in spitting out of lipids- which forms a protective barrier skin, before they are spent and die off. 

This creates an additional layer on top of the already existing plasma membrane lipid layer, a protective bilayer that encases all cells. With an increased and thicker epidermal layer, the skin becomes better protected from external chemical and environmental factors.   

4. Treats Psoriasis and Eczema

Both of these conditions result in extra dry skin. The disorders also leave the skin with wounds and lesions. This combination ultimately causes skin irritation. To ease the itch, you may find yourself scratching and removing scabs. This inadvertently makes the conditions worse. Glycerin, however, helps to alleviate the symptoms and treat the disorders.  

According to Dr Tanya Kormeili, clinical professor at UCLA and dermatologist, Glycerin, or glycerol, helps cells to mature in a normal fashion, as opposed to psoriasis, where there is a signal to the skin to proliferate excessively and cause thick plaques.

She goes on to say, “In psoriasis, there is a strong inflammatory signal that triggers cells to hyper-proliferate and create big red plaques. Any product that can hydrate and reduce skin inflammation and turnover can help this condition.” 

5. Good for Acne-Prone Skin

Use of skincare products that can clog up skin pores is a big concern when it comes to acne prone skin. This is a huge concern especially for oily skin since clogged pores become a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria. 

To treat and reduce acne spread, you need a non-greasy and non-comedogenic moisturizer. Glycerin comes with these properties and works to give the skin an extra layer of protection while letting your skin breathe.

How to Use Glycerin for the Skin

There are many regimens for using glycerin for better skin health. The simplest way to go about this is by applying the moisturizer using your hands or a cotton ball. To make the treatment work, here are some pointers to follow;

  • Wash your face thoroughly to remove dirt and excess oil
  • Exfoliate with a smooth scrub to increase the effectiveness of glycerin
  • Apply glycerin using a cotton ball
  • Message it around the affected area, or throughout the skin
  • Avoid getting it in the eyes, mouth and nose- it can cause irritation
  • Let the glycerin stay in place until its fully absorbed- you can also dab your skin with a clean cloth to remove excess product 

Can Glycerin be used for Skin Lightening?

Glycerin does not have any bleaching properties, meaning it can’t be used on its own to whiten skin. It can, however, be used to improve complexion by protecting your skin from photodamage.

Similarly, by hastening skin cells maturity and turnover, glycerin can help in getting rid of blemishes. In this way, glycerin becomes handy in giving you an even and fairer skin tone. 

That said, glycerin can be used with melanin-inhibiting products and natural remedies to lighten skin. This is usually done for home remedies, where glycerin acts as a moisturizer and helps in spreading the active ingredient(s). Among the many DIY skin lightening methods that incorporate glycerin here is one for you to try; 

What you will need:

●     ½  tsp glycerin

●     1 tbsp lemon juice

●     1 tsp brown sugar

How to mix:

1.    Mix the ingredients into a consistent scrub

2.    Apply and massage on cleansed skin for about 5 minutes

3.    Rinse off using clean plain water

4.    Repeat twice daily for desirable effect

Why this works:

Lemon juice contains citric acid, a natural skin cleanser, bleach and astringent. The skin lightening properties of lemon juice are enhanced by the presence of vitamin C, a natural exfoliant.

Lemon juice, however, dries the skin. If left as such, your skin may become itchy and irritated. To keep this in check, glycerin soothes, keeps the skin moisturized and locks in the treatment. The addition of brown sugar helps to exfoliate dead skin as well as open clogged pores to make the remedy even more efficacious.

Glycerin - Potential Side Effects

Although glycerin is beneficial to the skin, side effects are hard to rule out. These are however minor effects which clear after getting used to the product. Some of the common side effects include;

  • Burning sensation
  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Irritation

If you experience increased tenderness or changes in skin colour, then consult a doctor. 

Is Glycerin Safe to Use on The Skin?

The above side effects are rare when glycerin is used correctly. This, however, depends on the purity of the compound. 100% pure glycerin is not recommended for skin, reason being, the absorption property can dry out the skin more than it draws water from the air. 

This is more so when the humidity, that is the water in the atmosphere, is much lower. To be on the safe side, here are some pointers on how to safely use glycerin on your skin. 

  • To avoid dehydrating your skin, always dilute glycerin with water before use;  equal amounts will do 
  • Do not leave highly concentrated glycerin on the skin for long. Apart from dehydrating, the sticky substance may attract dust and toxins from the air.
  • Use it alongside your products; it works well with other creams, emollients and essential oils- it increases their effectiveness and adds on the shelf life

Final Word

Glycerin is classified by the FDA as a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) substance. Its property as a humectant makes it great for dry skin and is suitable for all skin types. In a nutshell, topical application of glycerin will keep your skin moisturized, reduces signs of skin ageing, treat skin disorders and in the right mixture, it can help in your efforts for attaining a lighter skin tone.

>