Glycerin Might Be the Holy Grail Ingredient for Treating Dry Skin—Here's How to Use It
Plus, dermatologist-approved skincare products featuring the hydrating superstar.
Chances are, you're most likely familiar with popular moisturizing skincare ingredients like cocoa butter, hyaluronic acid, and squalane, but there is one intense hydrator that offers incredible benefits for those with dry skin and is not given proper credit. We're talking about glycerin.
You’ve probably heard of glycerin, even if you don’t know exactly what it is or where it comes from. It's a time-tested skincare ingredient present in a slew of products—perhaps some you’re already using. In fact, it’s so widely used that Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, notes that it’s a mainstay on the ingredient lists of almost all skincare products, ranging from cleansers to moisturizers to sunscreens.
What is glycerin?
Simply put, glycerin is a clear, oily, odorless liquid that comes from a variety of animal, chemical, or plant sources, says Dr. Zeichner. It can be derived from animal fats, synthetically from petroleum, or from plant oils such as soybean, coconut, or palm, he adds.
In the beauty and skincare world, vegetable glycerin—which means it comes from plant oils—and glycerin are essentially interchangeable. Whether a product contains vegetable glycerin or glycerin, the actual molecule (and function) is the same, explains Morgan Rabach, MD, dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC.
It really just boils down to personal preference. For example, vegans will want to look for products that use vegetable glycerin. And luckily, this isn't super difficult, considering vegetable glycerin is the most commonly used form, because it can be responsibly produced from natural sources, says Dr. Zeichner.
The benefits of glycerin for your skin
Glycerin is a humectant, which means that it brings moisture to an area (namely, the top layer of your skin) by attracting water from the air to the area and keeping it there, says Dr. Rabach. In other words, it effectively works like a sponge, helping skin retain moisture and keeping it hydrated.
Derms are nearly universally in favor of this moisturizing ingredient. Even though it's an intense hydrator, glycerin is still lightweight, non-comedogenic (translation: it won't clog your pores), and gentle enough for all skin types. “Glycerin is extremely mild and well-tolerated, and can be used by all skin types," says Dr. Zeichner. He notes that it's particularly useful for people with seriously dry skin.
However, even if you don't have overly dry skin, you can still benefit from a dose of glycerin. It adds moisture without adding oil, which makes it great for those with oily, combination, sensitive, or even acne-prone skin, points out Dr. Rabach.
Dermatologist-approved products with glycerin
If you take a look at the ingredient label of any skincare product in your medicine cabinet, you're almost guaranteed to find glycerin. Glycerin is combined with other hardworking ingredients in your moisturizers, cleansers, and serums, which help to harness its hydrating benefits to moisturize skin.
While it's more than likely already a part of your skincare routine, derms offer up their favorite products featuring glycerin that you can add to your beauty haul.
Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Lift and Firm Night Cream
Glycerin and ceramides are both high on the ingredient list of this deeply hydrating night cream, of which Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City, is a fan. The result: a moisturizer that works to protect the skin’s barrier while you sleep and helps skin appear firmer and more lifted.
To buy: Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Lift and Firm Night Cream ($82; dermstore.com)
Neutrogena Facial Cleansing Bar For Acne-Prone Skin
A favorite of Dr. Rabach, this mild cleansing bar removes excess oil from skin and won’t clog pores, but also, thanks to glycerin’s hydrating properties, won’t leave skin dry either.
To buy: Neutrogena Facial Cleansing Bar For Acne-Prone Skin ($4 for 3-pack, target.com)
Burt’s Bees Burt's Bees Renewal Intensive Firming Serum
Boasting skin-firming bakuchiol—a botanical ingredient often compared to retinol—and a combination of glycerin, sunflower seed oil, and vitamin E, this affordable serum hydrates, nourishes, and protects skin, says Dr. Zeichner. Plus, it's safe enough for those who are more sensitive to harsh ingredients.
Lancôme Eau Fraiche Douceur Micellar Cleansing Water
Another pick from Dr. Jaliman, this glycerin-fortified micellar water keeps skin hydrated even when taking off makeup. It lifts and removes dirt, grime, and even pesky waterproof mascara, while purifying and toning skin.
To buy: Lancome Eau Fraiche Douceur Micellar Cleansing Water ($40, sephora.com)
La Roche Posay Lipikar Balm AP+
Shari Marchbein, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, likes this decadent body cream, which is made with the brand’s signature prebiotic-rich thermal water, moisturizing shea butter, soothing niacinamide, and, of course, glycerin.
Solara Clean Freak Nutrient Boosted Daily Unscented Sunscreen
Dr. Zeichner is a fan of this mineral sunscreen with SPF 30, which feels like a creamy moisturizer. It features a blend of antioxidants, botanical actives, and glycerin to hydrate and protect skin from environmental stressors and sun damage.
Vanicream Unscented Gentle Facial Cleanser
This cleanser is a standby for Dr. Jaliman, because of it's hydrating properties and fragrance-free, noncomedogenic formula—making it safe for even the most sensitive skin. It'll remove your makeup and get rid of shine without drying out your skin.
Inn Beauty Project Electrify Lightning Bolt Eye Mask
Glycerin is *so* common that you'll even find it in under eye treatments and sheet masks, says Dr. Zeichner. He likes these Instagrammable lightning bolt patches, which contain glycerin, caffeine, starfruit, and hyaluronic acid to plump and hydrate the under eye area, while boosting circulation and brightening dark circles.
To buy: Inn Beauty Project Electrify Lightning Bolt Eye Mask ($20 for 4-pack, innbeautyproject.com)