Glycerin: What Is It, Skin Benefits, Cosmetic Uses & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: May 7, 2023
Table of Contents

We’ve all been there, standing in the skincare aisle, staring at the back of a cosmetics product, trying to decipher the intricate language that is the ingredients list. It can feel like you need a degree in chemistry just to understand what you’re putting on your skin. Amidst the complex jargon and scientific terms, one ingredient that you might have come across is Glycerin.

Glycerin is a multifunctional ingredient that can be found in a variety of cosmetic products, from cleansers and moisturizers to makeup and hair care. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at Glycerin, exploring its functions, skin benefits, cosmetic uses, and potential side effects. So, let’s dive in and unravel the mystery behind this popular ingredient.

What is Glycerin?

Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is a naturally occurring compound that is widely used in the cosmetic industry due to its humectant and moisturizing properties. It is a colorless, odorless, and viscous liquid that is derived from either plant or animal sources, with the plant-based version being more commonly used in cosmetic formulations.

The primary purpose of glycerin in cosmetic products is to attract and retain moisture, making it an effective hydrating agent. It works by drawing water from the air as well as from the deeper layers of the skin, helping to maintain the skin’s natural moisture balance. This versatile ingredient is not only beneficial for the skin but also for hair, as it can help improve hair’s manageability and softness.

Glycerin can be found in a wide range of cosmetic products, such as cleansers, moisturizers, serums, toners, and even makeup items like foundations and primers. It is usually included in formulations at concentrations ranging from 1% to 10%, depending on the desired effect and product type. While glycerin can be purchased as a stand-alone ingredient, it is more commonly found as part of a wider formulation of ingredients in cosmetic products.

Who Can Use Glycerin?

Glycerin is a versatile ingredient that can be suitable for various skin types, including sensitive, dry, oily, and combination skin. Its gentle nature and ability to retain moisture make it an ideal choice for those seeking hydration without causing irritation or exacerbating existing skin concerns.

As for vegans and vegetarians, it is essential to note that glycerin can be derived from both plant and animal sources. The plant-based glycerin is typically sourced from soy, palm, or coconut oil, making it suitable for those following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. When selecting cosmetic products containing glycerin, it is crucial to check the packaging or consult the manufacturer to ensure that the glycerin used is plant-based if you adhere to specific dietary or ethical preferences.

Glycerin Skin Benefits

Glycerin offers a multitude of skin benefits based on its official functions within cosmetic products. Here, we will delve deeper into each benefit and understand how and why these effects occur.

  • Hydration and Moisture Retention: As a humectant, glycerin attracts water to the skin’s outer layer, locking in moisture and preventing water loss. It also draws moisture from the deeper layers of the skin, helping to maintain optimal hydration levels. This results in a well-hydrated and plump-looking complexion, which can lead to improved skin texture and suppleness.
  • Skin Conditioning and Softening: Glycerin is known to have skin conditioning properties, which means it can help improve the skin’s overall appearance and texture. By retaining moisture within the skin, glycerin can soften and smoothen the skin’s surface, making it feel more comfortable and look healthier.
  • Skin Protection: Glycerin plays a role in skin protection by forming a barrier on the skin’s surface. This barrier helps to shield the skin from environmental stressors, such as pollution and harsh weather conditions, by preventing water loss and maintaining the skin’s natural moisture balance.

It is essential to note that the beneficial effects of glycerin on the skin are not permanent. To maintain these benefits, consistent and sustained usage of products containing glycerin is necessary. Incorporating glycerin into your regular skincare routine can help ensure that your skin continues to reap the rewards of this powerhouse ingredient.

Glycerin Hair Benefits

Glycerin’s impressive properties extend beyond skincare, offering a range of benefits for hair health and appearance. Based on the official functions listed earlier, let’s explore these hair benefits in more detail.

  • Moisture Retention: Glycerin’s humectant properties help attract and retain moisture within hair strands. By drawing water from the air and trapping it within the hair’s structure, glycerin helps maintain optimal hydration levels, keeping hair soft, smooth, and less prone to breakage or damage.
  • Improved Manageability: As a hair conditioning agent, glycerin can enhance hair’s manageability by reducing friction between hair strands, making it easier to comb, brush, and style. This can lead to a reduction in tangles, knots, and breakage, resulting in healthier-looking and more manageable hair.
  • Frizz Reduction: Glycerin’s ability to retain moisture within the hair can help combat frizz, a common issue for those with dry or curly hair. By maintaining the hair’s hydration levels, glycerin can help prevent the hair cuticle from lifting and reduce frizz, leaving hair smoother and more polished in appearance.
  • Enhanced Softness and Shine: Glycerin’s moisturizing and conditioning properties can also contribute to improved hair softness and shine. By keeping hair hydrated and reducing friction between hair strands, glycerin can help hair reflect light better, resulting in a lustrous, shiny appearance.

Similar to its effects on the skin, the hair benefits of glycerin are not permanent. Consistent and sustained use of hair care products containing glycerin is necessary to maintain these beneficial effects. Incorporating glycerin-based products into your regular hair care routine can help ensure that your hair continues to benefit from this versatile and nourishing ingredient.

Glycerin’s Non-active Cosmetic Benefits

Aside from the active skin benefits that glycerin offers, it also plays a crucial role in the formulation and functionality of cosmetic products. Let’s explore these non-active benefits in more detail, based on the official functions listed earlier.

  • Denaturant: Glycerin can act as a denaturant, which means it can render certain substances, such as alcohol, unfit for consumption. In cosmetic products, this function helps deter the misuse of alcohol-containing products and ensures that they are used solely for their intended purpose.
  • Perfuming: Glycerin can be used as a carrier or solvent for fragrances in cosmetic products. Its odorless nature and solubility in water make it an ideal choice for incorporating fragrances, ensuring the desired scent is evenly distributed throughout the product without altering the product’s overall consistency and performance.
  • Solvent: In cosmetic formulations, glycerin can act as a solvent, helping to dissolve other ingredients and create a homogenous mixture. This is particularly beneficial in products containing both water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients, as glycerin’s dual solubility ensures that all components are evenly blended for optimal product performance.

By understanding glycerin’s non-active cosmetic benefits, we can appreciate the multifaceted role it plays in creating effective and enjoyable cosmetic products. It not only enhances the skin’s appearance and health but also improves product performance and functionality.

Glycerin Potential Side Effects

It is essential to understand that side effects and reactions to cosmetic ingredients, including glycerin, can vary from person to person. The reason for this variability lies in individual differences in skin types, sensitivities, and underlying conditions. To better understand your skin’s needs and how it may react to specific ingredients, it is helpful to find your skin type.

While glycerin is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, there are some potential side effects and interactions that one should be aware of:

  • Skin Irritation: Although rare, some individuals may experience skin irritation, redness, or itching when using products containing glycerin. This reaction could be due to sensitivity to glycerin or another ingredient within the product.
  • Over-hydration: In extremely humid environments, glycerin may draw too much moisture to the skin or hair, leading to a heavy or greasy feeling. This can be mitigated by using glycerin-containing products in moderation, especially in high humidity.
  • Dehydration: In very dry environments, glycerin may pull moisture from the deeper layers of the skin instead of the air, potentially causing dryness or dehydration. To avoid this issue, ensure that your skincare routine includes sufficient moisturizing ingredients to maintain your skin’s hydration balance.

If you experience any of these side effects while using glycerin or a product containing it, it is best to discontinue use and consult a dermatologist or healthcare professional for guidance. However, it is important to note that adverse reactions to glycerin are relatively rare, and generally speaking, it is considered a safe and effective ingredient.

Before introducing any new cosmetic product into your skincare or haircare routine, it is crucial to perform a patch test to minimize the risk of an adverse reaction. A patch testing guide can help you properly test a product on a small area of skin, ensuring its compatibility with your skin type and sensitivities. By patch testing and understanding your skin’s unique needs, you can confidently incorporate glycerin-based products into your routine while minimizing potential side effects.

Comedogenic Rating

Glycerin has a comedogenic rating of 0, which means it is considered non-comedogenic. This rating indicates that glycerin is unlikely to clog pores or contribute to acne breakouts. Its hydrating and gentle nature makes it a suitable ingredient for various skin types, including sensitive and acne-prone skin, without causing congestion or exacerbating existing skin concerns.


Finding success in skincare often involves a degree of experimentation and trial and error, as each person’s skin has unique needs and sensitivities. Glycerin, with its multifunctional properties and compatibility with various skin types, can be a valuable addition to many skincare and haircare routines.

This versatile ingredient offers both active and non-active effects, providing immediate benefits for the skin and hair while also enhancing the functionality and performance of cosmetic products. Glycerin’s hydrating and moisturizing properties can improve skin texture, protect against environmental stressors, and contribute to healthier, more manageable hair.

Despite its myriad of benefits, glycerin may sometimes fly under the radar in comparison to trendier or more exotic ingredients. However, its popularity in the formulation of a wide range of cosmetic products speaks to its effectiveness and versatility as a skincare and hair care staple.

Overall, glycerin is a valuable ingredient that can be highly beneficial for both skin and hair health, while also playing a crucial role in cosmetic product formulation. By understanding its properties and potential side effects, individuals can make informed choices and confidently incorporate glycerin-based products into their skincare and haircare routines.

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