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  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

Ingredient spotlight: Glycerin

Do the hydrating superpowers of glycerin live up to the hype? We break it down.

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Curology Team
Nov 09, 2020 · 6 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  3. > Ingredient spotlight: Glycerin

Ah, glycerin—that sugary sweet ingredient found in loads of cosmetics for its hydrating properties. Fun fact: Glycerin is also used in food for the same reasons it’s used in skincare—to attract and retain moisture. 

Here we’ll explain what glycerin is, the benefits of glycerin in your skincare products, how to use it, and other helpful info to keep in mind.

What is glycerin?

If you—like us—are all about the science of skincare, here’s the nitty gritty on glycerin: Glycerin (aka glycerol or glycerine) is a skin-friendly compound that’s sweet and fatty—it’s derived from animal and plant fats, but is also produced synthetically in labs. Glycerin attracts water molecules and is used in a variety of products.¹ On the skin, it's used as a humectant to pull water from deeper skin layers to the skin's surface, and from the air to the skin. Glycerin in skincare is often paired with occlusives, which are used to seal in moisture. 

Its humectant properties make it a star ingredient in moisturizers and other cosmetic products.² And glycerin has mass appeal—it’s one of the most popular cosmetic ingredients, so you’ll likely find it in many skincare products and makeup you’re already using.

Is glycerin good for your skin?

Short answer: glycerin + skin = awesomeness. A study focusing on the use and possible side effects of topical glycerin concluded that glycerin is safe for use in cosmetics.³ So, unless you have a rare allergy to it, you should feel free to reap the skin benefits of glycerin. Here’s just a peek at what glycerin can do: 

  • Glycerin has major hydrating powers. Since it’s a moisturizing ingredient, it can help bring out a radiant glow in your skin. That’s because it plays a role in skin hydration, especially hydrating the outermost layer of skin.⁴ 

  • Glycerin helps protect and heal the skin. Glycerin increases hydration of the outermost skin layer, providing a protective effect for dry skin and skin conditions with an impaired skin barrier, such as atopic dermatitis. It can help reinforce your skin’s natural protective barrier, and one study demonstrated that a glycerin based ointment improved wound healing.⁵

  • Glycerin helps calm dry irritated skin. A moisturizer with glycerin can help with dryness and irritation (and make sure you never skip out on the sunscreen!). Of course, the rest of your product’s ingredients also matter. Unfortunately, many over-the-counter skincare products contain potentially pore-clogging or irritating ingredients. Don’t forget to review your product’s ingredients before you apply. Check out some of our other blogs and guides for good product recommendations like these:

Female model applies foaming cleanser

How to use glycerin

In general, glycerin is safe to use—while there are no known serious side effects, a reaction is possible, as with any topical ingredient. It’s always good to take it slow and use products formulated with glycerin (not just pure glycerin). 

Glycerin is so prolific in the skincare industry that you can find it in cleansers, moisturizers, serums, and toners. How you apply glycerin depends on what product or products you use that contain glycerin. 

  • In cleansers:Use lukewarm water to splash your face before applying cleanser (like the Curology cleanser). Massage it into your face using your fingertips. Rinse and pat dry with a clean, soft towel. 

  • In moisturizers:Moisturizers are usually applied after washing your face in the morning or after your other topicals (such as your personalized prescription formula from Curology) at night. Use a pea-sized amount—just enough moisturizer (like the Curology moisturizer) to apply a thin coat over your face and neck. If you’re headed out for the day, don’t forget sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher!  

  • In toners and serums: Toners and serums are optional products that target specific skin concerns. Here’s the skinny on toners and serums. In general, both products are applied to a clean face using a small amount to just cover your face and neck. If you’re using both, apply the toner first, then the serum. Finish by applying moisturizer, and don’t forget sunscreen in the morning or before you go out into the sun! Of course, always be sure to follow the instructions on your specific product.

Should you use glycerin during pregnancy?

Products containing glycerin (such as the Curology cleanser and moisturizer) are generally fine to use while pregnant. 

That said, it’s important to review all topical products with your OBGYN before continuing with or starting anything new while you’re pregnant or nursing. 

Curology products with glycerin

We’re big fans of this sweet skincare ingredient (if you couldn’t tell already). In fact, glycerin is a key ingredient in many of Curology’s products, including:

  • The moisturizer. Our original moisturizer has a lightweight, gel-cream texture that hydrates skin without weighing you down.

  • The rich moisturizer. Our rich moisturizer has a thick, creamy texture that locks moisture in and keeps it there.

  • The cleanser. Formulated with a special combination of plant sugars, our cleanser treats your skin to a gentler clean while soothing and hydrating.

  • The acne body wash. Tough on acne yet gentle enough to use every day, our body wash cleans deep into pores, helping keep your skin clear and happy.

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Curology Product Line Up

Guess what? You can try these products when you start your Curology trial. A member of our team of licensed dermatology providers will build a personalized skincare routine just for you to address your skin concerns. Curology is here to take the guesswork out of skincare—now and as your skin naturally changes with time. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Signing up is easy. Simply answer a few questions and upload some selfies. If Curology is right for you, you’ll be paired with one of our licensed dermatology providers, who will create a personalized prescription formula. Complete the set with your choice of moisturizer and the cleanser, along with any of our other recommended products for you! 

FAQs

What is glycerin?

If you—like us—are all about the science of skincare, here’s the nitty gritty on glycerin: Glycerin (aka glycerol or glycerine) is a skin-friendly compound that’s sweet and fatty—it’s derived from animal and plant fats, but is also produced synthetically in labs.

Its humectant properties make it a star ingredient in moisturizers and other cosmetic products. And glycerin has mass appeal—it’s one of the most popular cosmetic ingredients, so you’ll likely find it in many skincare products and makeup you’re already using.

How to use glycerin?

Glycerin is so prolific in the skincare industry that you can find it in cleansers, moisturizers, serums, and toners. How you apply glycerin depends on what product or products you use that contain glycerin. 

  • In cleansers: Use lukewarm water to splash your face before applying cleanser (like the Curology cleanser). Massage it into your face using your fingertips. Rinse and pat dry with a clean, soft towel. 

  • In moisturizers:Moisturizers are usually applied after washing your face in the morning or after your other topicals (such as your personalized prescription formula from Curology) at night. Use a pea-sized amount—just enough moisturizer (like the Curology moisturizer) to apply a thin coat over your face and neck. If you’re headed out for the day, don’t forget sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher!  

  • In toners and serums: Toners and serums are optional products that target specific skin concerns. Here’s the skinny on toners and serums. In general, both products are applied to a clean face using a small amount to just cover your face and neck. If you’re using both, apply the toner first, then the serum. Finish by applying moisturizer, and don’t forget sunscreen in the morning or before you go out into the sun! Of course, always be sure to follow the instructions on your specific product.

Is glycerin good for your skin?

Here’s just a peek at what glycerin can do: 

  • Glycerin has major hydrating powers.

  • Glycerin helps protect and heal the skin.

  • Glycerin helps calm dry irritated skin.

Should you use glycerin during pregnancy?

Products containing glycerin (such as the Curology cleanser and moisturizer) are generally fine to use while pregnant. 

That said, it’s important to review all topical products with your OBGYN before continuing with or starting anything new while you’re pregnant or nursing.

Does consuming glycerin provide the same skin benefits?

It doesn’t work that way. Glycerin is used in food to help it retain moisture—just like the skin—but you’ll need to use it topically to get the skin benefits. According to the FDA, glycerin was the third most reportedly used ingredient in skincare in their 2014 review of its safety in cosmetics.⁶

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Christoph, R., et al.  Glycerol. Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry; Wiley Online Library. (2006 April 15).

  2. Sethi, A., et al. Moisturizers: The slippery road.Indian Journal of Dermatology. (May-June 2016).

  3. Becker, L.C., et al. Safety assessment of glycerin as used in cosmetics.International Journal of Toxicology. (November-December 2019).

  4. Fluhr, J.W., et al. Glycerol and the skin: Holistic approach to its origin and functions.British Journal of Dermatology. (July 2008).

  5. Hornby, S., et al. Therapeutic glycerin-based ointment provides healing benefits.Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2009 March 1). 

  6. ergfeld, W.F., et al. Safety assessment of glycerin as used in cosmetics.Cosmetic Ingredient Review. (2014). 

This article was originally published on November 18, 2022, and updated on December 9, 2022.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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