This ingredient is in almost all of your beauty products
If you were a teen in the 90s, you may have heard this in a song over the radio by Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale. You've probably also seen it in the ingredients list of moisturizers, hydrating skincare products, and lately even hair care products. Glycerin is one of the most commonly used ingredients in skin care and cosmetics. But why is it used so often, what does it do, and most importantly, is it actually safe to use on your skin?
What is glycerin? Also known as glycerine or glycerol, it is a thick, colorless and odorless liquid that is present in all human and animal lipids. It can be naturally derived from these fats, or synthesized in a lab. Since glycerin is water-soluble, it is often in bath products like body lotions, moisturizers, shampoos, conditioners, and soaps. If you check your gel moisturizer or body lotion, it probably has glycerin in it.
Aside from skin care, glycerin is also used products such as antifreeze, inks, lubricants, and even in sweeteners. Of course, the glycerin we use for our skin is cosmetics grade and nowhere near the amount of concentration it would take to harm you.
What does it do? Glycerin is a humectant, meaning it has the ability to pull in water from the environment and the dermis (or the lower layers of the skin) into the outer surface of the skin. This helps keep the skin’s natural barrier intact, so skin feels moisturized, soft and less prone to dryness. When applied to hair, it increases the moisture content of the hair shaft so it's protected from the damaging effects of heating tools and premature breakage. Sounds like it has some really good benefits, right?
Moisturizing. Glycerin absorbs water from air so if you apply it to your skin, the air around your is actually hydrating your skin. Want proof? If you leave a bottle of pure glycerin open, it would eventually absorb enough water from the environment to change its composition to become 80% glycerin and 20% water.
Smoothing. As your skin ages, it cannot retain moisture as much as it used to. This causes skin to be prone to irritation, redness, and a rough texture. Glycerin fills and repairs microscopic cracks caused by aging and irritation, which is why you'll often find it near the top of the ingredients list in lotions.
Protecting. Since it has the dual ability to hydrate skin and fill gaps in dryer skin, glycerin can protect your skin by keeping the outer layer of the skin intact. This layer is important as it is the natural barrier that protects you from pollutants and disease-causing organisms.
So is it safe to use for cosmetic use? Glycerin is generally safe to use if already found in established cosmetics and skin care brands, but apply with caution and only where instructed. Also, avoid sensitive areas such as your eyes and the inside of your mouth and nose.
Serious allergic reaction to glycerin is very rare. However, immediately consult your doctor if you experience any reaction to products with glycerin. You may not be allergic to glycerin per se, but active ingredients in glycerin may cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms may include rashes, itching or swelling, dizziness, and trouble breathing.
Just as glycerin attracts moisture to your skin, it can also do the reverse and suck your skin dry. Especially for those living in extremely dry weather, pure and undiluted glycerin can take out moisture from your skin if does not find any moisture or humidity in the external environment, so be cautious if you plan to use glycerin in its pure form, or mixed with natural ingredients for organic skin care treatments. Also, take note that commercial skin care products only use 10% glycerin mixed with other emollients and oils for glycerin to work without problems.
Do you use products with glycerin? What do you think of them?