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The Complete Guide to Glycerin: History, Benefits, Uses in Skincare, Different Skin Types, Side Effects, Alternatives, and Safety Regulations

Last updated: Aug 2023
In this article:

Introduction to Glycerin

Glycerin, also known as glycerol or glycerine, is a versatile compound that has a wide range of applications. In this guide, we will provide you with a comprehensive overview of glycerin, including its definition, historical background, and various methods of production.

What is Glycerin?

Glycerin is a colorless, odorless, and viscous liquid that is derived from natural fats and oils. It is a trihydric alcohol, meaning it contains three hydroxyl groups (-OH) in its molecular structure. Glycerin is miscible in both water and alcohol, making it highly soluble. It is a non-toxic substance that is commonly used in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries.

History of Glycerin

The discovery of glycerin dates back to the late 18th century. It was first isolated by a Swedish chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1779. However, it was not until the early 19th century that glycerin's potential as a valuable commercial product was recognized. During this time, glycerin was primarily obtained as a byproduct of soap manufacturing.

Production Methods

There are three main methods of glycerin production: saponification, hydrolysis, and biodiesel production.

  1. Saponification: Saponification involves the reaction of fats or oils with an alkali, such as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. This process results in the formation of soap and glycerin as byproducts. Saponification is the traditional method of glycerin production and it is still widely used today.
  2. Hydrolysis: Hydrolysis is the process of breaking down fats or oils into glycerin and fatty acids using water. This method requires the use of a catalyst, such as sulfuric acid or enzymes, to speed up the reaction. Hydrolysis is a common method used in industrial-scale glycerin production.
  3. Biodiesel Production: Glycerin is also produced as a byproduct of the biodiesel industry. Biodiesel is derived from vegetable oils or animal fats and during the production process, glycerin is separated from the biodiesel through a process called transesterification.

Benefits and Effects of Glycerin

Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is a versatile ingredient that offers numerous benefits for the skin. From moisturizing properties to anti-aging effects, glycerin is a key component in many skincare products. In this guide, we will explore the various benefits and effects of glycerin on the skin.

Moisturizing Properties

Glycerin is a humectant, which means it attracts moisture from the environment and helps to retain it in the skin. This makes it an excellent moisturizer, as it keeps the skin hydrated and prevents dryness.

Hydration and Water Retention

Glycerin not only moisturizes the skin but also helps in maintaining its hydration levels. By forming a protective layer on the skin, it prevents water loss and helps in retaining moisture, leaving the skin soft and supple.

Healing and Soothing Properties

Glycerin has healing and soothing properties that make it beneficial for sensitive and irritated skin. It aids in reducing inflammation and redness, providing relief to conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

Anti-aging Effects

The hydrating properties of glycerin help in improving the skin's elasticity and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also promotes the production of collagen, a protein that keeps the skin firm and youthful.

Improvement of Skin Texture

Glycerin acts as a gentle exfoliator, helping to remove dead skin cells and revealing a smoother and clearer complexion. Regular use can improve the overall texture and tone of the skin.

Reduction of Skin Irritation

Glycerin has natural anti-irritant properties, making it effective in soothing skin irritation caused by environmental factors or harsh skincare products. It can calm down redness and itchiness, providing comfort to irritated skin.

Enhancement of Skin Barrier Function

Glycerin strengthens the skin's natural protective barrier, which helps in shielding it from external pollutants and irritants. A strong skin barrier leads to healthier and more resilient skin.

To reap the benefits of glycerin, incorporate skincare products that contain this powerful ingredient into your daily routine. Look for moisturizers, serums, and cleansers that list glycerin as one of the key ingredients. Alternatively, you can make a DIY face mask by mixing glycerin with honey or aloe vera gel for a hydrating and soothing treatment.

Remember, although glycerin is generally safe for most skin types, it's always recommended to do a patch test before using new products. If you have any concerns or allergies, consult a dermatologist before incorporating glycerin into your skincare regimen.

In conclusion, glycerin offers a range of benefits for the skin, including moisturization, hydration, healing, and even anti-aging effects. By harnessing the power of glycerin, you can achieve a smoother, more youthful, and healthier complexion.

Different Uses of Glycerin in Skincare

Glycerin is a versatile ingredient commonly found in skincare products due to its ability to attract and retain moisture. It has various uses in a wide range of skincare products. Here is a guide to understand the different uses of glycerin in skincare:

Moisturizers and Lotions

  • Glycerin acts as a humectant in moisturizers and lotions, drawing moisture from the environment to the skin.
  • It forms a protective layer on the skin, preventing moisture loss and keeping the skin hydrated and supple.

Cleansers and Soaps

  • Glycerin is often added to cleansers and soaps for its moisturizing properties.
  • It helps to maintain the skin's moisture balance while effectively removing impurities and excess oil, leaving the skin clean and refreshed.

Face Masks

  • Glycerin is an excellent ingredient in face masks as it helps to hydrate and nourish the skin.
  • It improves the skin's elasticity, smoothness, and overall texture, giving you a radiant complexion.

Serums and Toners

  • Glycerin is commonly found in serums and toners due to its ability to moisturize the skin deeply.
  • It helps to replenish and restore the skin's moisture barrier, leaving it soft and supple.
  • It also aids in the absorption of other active ingredients into the skin.

Lip Balms and Lipsticks

  • Glycerin is a key ingredient in lip balms and lipsticks as it offers excellent moisturizing properties to the delicate skin of the lips.
  • It helps to prevent dryness, chapping, and flaking, keeping your lips smooth and nourished.

Shaving Creams and Aftershave Products

  • Glycerin is added to shaving creams and aftershave products for its hydrating and soothing properties.
  • It helps to soften the hair, making shaving easier and reducing the risk of irritation.
  • It also soothes the skin post-shave, reducing redness and inflammation.

Haircare Products

  • Glycerin is beneficial for the hair as well. It can be found in shampoos, conditioners, and hair masks.
  • Glycerin moisturizes the hair, making it soft, shiny, and more manageable.
  • It also helps to reduce frizz and prevent breakage.

In conclusion, glycerin is a versatile ingredient with multiple uses in skincare. Whether it is used in moisturizers, cleansers, face masks, serums, lip balms, shaving creams, or haircare products, glycerin adds moisture and nourishment to the skin and hair. Incorporating glycerin into your skincare routine can help you achieve hydrated, healthy, and radiant skin.

Glycerin in Different Skin Types

Dry Skin:

For those with dry skin, glycerin can be a lifesaver. Its humectant properties help to attract moisture and lock it in, providing hydration to your parched skin. Look for moisturizers and creams that contain glycerin as one of their main ingredients, as this will help to replenish your skin's moisture barrier and prevent it from becoming even drier. Additionally, incorporating a glycerin-based cleanser into your skincare routine can help to gently cleanse your skin without stripping away any natural oils.

Oily Skin:

Although people with oily skin tend to shy away from products that contain glycerin due to its moisturizing properties, it can actually be beneficial for regulating oil production. Glycerin has a lightweight texture that absorbs quickly into the skin, providing hydration without clogging pores. By using an oil-free moisturizer or serum that contains glycerin, you can hydrate your skin without adding any extra oiliness. Additionally, incorporating a glycerin-based toner can help to balance your skin's pH levels and control excess sebum production.

Sensitive Skin:

If you have sensitive skin, glycerin can be a gentle and soothing ingredient to include in your skincare routine. It has a low risk of causing irritation or allergic reactions, making it suitable for most sensitive skin types. Look for products that are specifically formulated for sensitive skin and contain glycerin as a key ingredient. These products will provide hydration while also calming any inflammation or redness. Opt for fragrance-free options as artificial fragrances can often trigger sensitivity in some individuals.

Acne-Prone Skin:

Contrary to popular belief, glycerin can be beneficial for acne-prone skin. Its moisturizing properties can help to balance moisture levels, preventing excessive dryness that can lead to increased sebum production and eventually, acne breakouts. Opt for non-comedogenic moisturizers or serums that contain glycerin, as they will not clog pores or exacerbate existing acne. Glycerin also has antimicrobial properties, which can help to fight off acne-causing bacteria and reduce the occurrence of breakouts.

In conclusion,

glycerin can be beneficial for all skin types, including dry, oily, sensitive, and acne-prone skin. By understanding the specific needs of your skin type and incorporating glycerin-based products into your skincare routine, you can enjoy the hydrating and soothing benefits of this versatile ingredient. Remember to always patch test new products before applying them to your entire face and consult with a dermatologist if you have any concerns or questions about using glycerin on your skin.

Potential Side Effects and Precautions

  • Allergic Reactions:
    • Perform a patch test before using a new product by applying a small amount to your skin and waiting 24 hours.
    • Discontinue use and consult a healthcare professional if you experience redness, itching, or signs of an allergic reaction.
    • Check product labels for ingredients you are allergic to.
  • Skin Irritation:
    • Follow proper usage guidelines provided by the manufacturer to minimize the risk of skin irritation.
    • Do not apply products to broken or irritated skin.
    • Rinse the affected area thoroughly with water and discontinue use if irritation occurs.
    • Seek medical advice if the irritation persists or worsens.
  • Proper Usage and Dilution:
    • Follow the provided instructions for proper usage and dilution of products.
    • Dilute products, such as cleaning solutions or essential oils, as instructed to avoid skin irritation.
    • Use products only for their intended purpose and avoid using excessive amounts.
    • Store products out of reach of children and pets to prevent accidental ingestion or misuse.
  • Consult a healthcare professional if you have pre-existing skin conditions or are unsure about the suitability of a product.
  • Stop using a product and seek medical advice if you experience unexpected side effects or adverse reactions.

Remember to be well-informed and take necessary precautions to reduce the risks associated with potential side effects. This will ensure a safe and positive experience with any product you use.

Alternative Natural Moisturizers to Glycerin

When it comes to natural moisturizers, glycerin is a popular choice. However, if you're looking for alternatives, there are several options that can provide your skin with the nourishment it needs. In this guide, we will explore four alternative natural moisturizers to glycerin: hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, shea butter, and coconut oil.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance in the body that helps keep the skin hydrated. It is known for its ability to retain moisture, making it an excellent moisturizer. Look for skincare products that contain hyaluronic acid and incorporate it into your daily skincare routine for best results.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has been used for centuries for its healing properties. It is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can soothe and moisturize the skin. Apply pure aloe vera gel or look for skincare products that contain aloe vera to experience its hydrating benefits.

Shea Butter

Shea butter is a rich and thick butter derived from the nuts of the shea tree. It is highly moisturizing and helps lock in moisture, making it ideal for dry and flaky skin. Shea butter can be applied directly to the skin or found in various skincare products such as body lotions and creams.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a versatile moisturizer with numerous benefits for the skin. It is rich in fatty acids, which help retain moisture and prevent moisture loss. Apply a small amount of coconut oil to your skin, focusing on dry areas, and massage it in until absorbed. However, be cautious as coconut oil can be comedogenic for some individuals, meaning it can clog pores.

It's important to note that everyone's skin is different, and not all moisturizers work the same way for everyone. It's recommended to patch test any new product on a small area of your skin before applying it to your face or body. Additionally, since these alternatives are natural, they may have a shorter shelf life compared to commercial products, so be mindful of expiration dates and storage recommendations.

In conclusion, if you're looking for natural alternatives to glycerin as a moisturizer, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, shea butter, and coconut oil are excellent options to consider. Experiment with these alternatives and find the one that works best for your skin, providing it with the hydration it needs for a healthy and radiant complexion.

Safety and Regulation of Glycerin in Skincare

Glycerin is a common ingredient found in many skincare products due to its ability to moisturize and hydrate the skin. However, it is important to understand the safety and regulation measures in place to ensure the quality and purity of glycerin in skincare products. In this guide, we will explore the FDA regulations, quality control and purity standards, labeling requirements, and tips to avoid counterfeit products.

FDA Regulations

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the use of glycerin in cosmetics. Glycerin is considered safe for use in skincare products when it meets the FDA's requirements. Manufacturers are required to comply with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to ensure the safety of their products.

Quality Control and Purity Standards

Glycerin used in skincare products should meet certain quality control and purity standards. It should be free from impurities and contaminants. Look for products that use pharmaceutical-grade or cosmetic-grade glycerin, as these are held to higher purity standards.

Labeling Requirements

Skincare products containing glycerin must adhere to specific labeling requirements. The label should list glycerin as an ingredient, and it should be clearly stated in the product's ingredients list. Additionally, product labels may include information about the source of glycerin, such as whether it is plant-derived or synthetic.

Avoiding Counterfeit Products

To ensure the safety and quality of glycerin in skincare products, it is crucial to avoid counterfeit products. Counterfeit products may use substandard or contaminated glycerin, which can be harmful to the skin. To avoid counterfeit products, always purchase skincare products from reputable and authorized retailers. Check for authorized seals and look for reviews and recommendations from reliable sources.


  • Glycerin is a humectant ingredient commonly used in skincare products.
  • It helps to attract moisture from the environment and retain it in the skin, enhancing hydration and preventing dryness.
  • Glycerin is suitable for all skin types as it is non-comedogenic and does not clog pores.
  • Its moisturizing properties make it effective in addressing skin concerns such as dryness, flakiness, and roughness.
  • Glycerin can also improve the elasticity and smoothness of the skin, giving it a more youthful appearance.
  • Additionally, it can assist in creating a protective barrier on the skin, shielding it from environmental stressors and pollutants.