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When it comes to skin care, there are a few trendy ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and retinol, that tend to get most of the spotlight. But then there are others that fly under the radar, boosting your skin health from behind the scenes.
And glycerin is one of those unsung heroes. While you may not always see it advertised on the front of a bottle, you can find it pretty high up on the ingredients list of many of the trendiest beauty products. It's the second ingredient in both the mega-viral Peter Thomas Roth Instant FIRMx Eye Temporary Eye Tightener and the derm- and internet-loved CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser. But if you've seen the word and wondered what it actually does for your skin, you're not the only one. So we consulted with two top dermatologists to find out why the underrated ingredient is such a staple in the beauty world. (Hint: There's a pretty good reason for it.)
What is glycerin?
Much like the buzzier hydrating powerhouse hyaluronic acid, glycerin is a humectant. Dr. Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, said that it draws in moisture from the environment and deep within the skin to boost hydration. You also might sometimes hear it referred to as an emollient, because of its ability to soften the skin, she added. While it can come from animal sources, the glycerin that’s used in skin care products is typically synthetic or derived from vegetables.
Most commonly, you’ll find the ingredient in moisturizers, but it's also added to cleansers to counteract potential dryness, Dr. Angela Lamb, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan said.
Outside of skin care, you may also see it on the ingredients list of other things, like toothpaste, as it can help prevent products from drying out and has a lubricating effect, which can improve the feel of the formula, Shah said.
What are the benefits of glycerin for skin?
Because of its hydrating effects, it can improve the skin's barrier function and help to protect it against irritants, said Shah. It’s also a smaller molecule than hyaluronic acid, which means that it can penetrate deeper into the skin. So while you might not see the benefits as quickly, it can provide long-lasting hydration.
As an added bonus, it's generally well-tolerated and is safe for all skin types. It doesn't tend to cause acne or weigh the skin down, Lamb said.
If you take a look at your go-to beauty products, you'll likely find that some of them already include glycerin. But in case you're looking for ways to up your skin hydration — especially before the temperatures drop — here are nine dermatologist-approved products to try.
Dr. Lamb likes this hydrating serum, which features ingredients like glycerin and a Triple Oat Complex. Ideal for anyone with sensitive skin, the hypoallergenic formula can help soothe dry skin and fortify the natural moisture barrier.
Aquaphor may not be the buzziest product out there, but it’s a tried-and-true staple that can be used to help treat a variety of skin issues, from chapped lips to dry, cracked hands and feet. And Shah said that she commonly recommends the ointment (which contains glycerin) to patients.
One Shop TODAY writer said this derm-approved moisturizer helped her say goodbye to dry skin days. It’s an Amazon bestseller and contains two powerful hydrators: glycerin and hyaluronic acid. “This stuff feels incredible on my skin, it feels like a relief to put it on," wrote one verified reviewer. “It's not even remotely greasy, absorbs almost instantly, and has the lightest, cleanest fragrance. Other heavier moisturizers left me with tiny clusters of new blemishes every morning (so frustrating), but this hasn't clogged my pores at all and my skin feels soft and plump.”
Kiehl’s bestselling moisturizing cream comes recommended by Dr. Lamb. It’s formulated with glycerin and other hydrating ingredients like squalane and the brand’s Glacial Glycoprotein. It can be applied both morning and night to provide parched skin with a much-needed moisture boost.
There are a handful of La Roche-Posay’s products that Shah recommends to patients, many of which contain the hydrating ingredient. And the Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer is one. The moisture-boosting face cream contains niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that is said to have a host of benefits, from reducing moisture loss to minimizing the appearance of dark spots. As an added bonus, the cream also provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB SPF 30 protection.
She also likes this retinol eye cream from the brand. Along with hydrating glycerin, it contains pure retinol and caffeine to help reduce the appearance of dark circles and wrinkles around the eyes.
The cleansing process can sometimes strip the skin of some moisture, Shah said, which is why humectants like glycerin are often added in to balance that out. She likes this hydrating cleanser from CeraVe (she has previously worked with this brand), which contains hyaluronic acid, ceramides and glycerin. The cleanser is a shopper favorite, with more than 50,000 raving five-star reviews, and is TikTok-approved.
Dr. Bruce Robinson, a dermatologist in New York City previously recommended this face wash for people with sensitive skin. "This cleanser has glycerin which is super hydrating and great for patients with eczema, rosacea and psoriasis," he said.
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