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Is Glycerin safe for skin? See what scientists learned!

Asking if Glycerin is safe to use on skin is good question to have.
Especially because this skincare ingredient is found in many products not related to skincare!

It’s commonly used in air fresheners, antifreeze and even toilet cleaning products![9]

Glycerin, Glycerol and Glycerine all refer to the same slightly sweet[1] ingredient commonly made from vegetables.[9]

If Glycerin is used in harsh household products, you might be wondering:

  • Why is Glycerin in skincare products?
  • Is Glycerin safe for skin?
Bright green leaves close up
Glycerin can be sourced from vegetables

What is the purpose of Glycerin in skincare?

As it turns out, Glycerin has a simple, yet important part in maintaining skin health.

Glycerin is an extremely popular skincare ingredient, especially in moisturizers, because it can attract and hold onto water![6]

Skincare ingredients with this ability are known as humectants and is valuable because it[2]:

  • Hydrates the skin and keep it supple.
  • Repairs the skin barrier to prevent water loss.
  • Blocks irritants from crossing the skin and into the body.
  • Helps wounds heal faster.


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Glycerin and Sensitive Skin

Glycerin’s ability to repair the skin barrier is especially important to people with sensitive skin.

It is estimated that 50% of women and 40% of men view themselves as having sensitive skin to some degree.

Rodan, Fields, Majewski & Falla, 2016

Sensitive skin can mean different things, but usually show signs of[5]:

  • dryness
  • inflammation
  • itchiness

Maintaining a nice, healthy & hydrated skin is the ultimate goal of using skincare products, and Glycerin is an important ingredient in that process.

brown dropper bottle next to rose petals

Scientific researchers recently learned:

Barrier repair is best performed with the delivery of moisture through humectants, such as glycerin and Hyaluronic Acid..

Rodan, Fields, Majewski & Falla, 2016

When testing a cream containing 20% Glycerin, scientists found that Glycerin caused less stinging sensation and was a “suitable alternative to urea/sodium chloride in the treatment of atopic dry skin.”[3]


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What makes CeraVe Moisturizing Cream popular?
It’s loaded with humectants and emollients of course!

Is Glycerin safe for skin and does it really work?

Answering this question involved a lot of research and testing by scientists.

One particular group of scientists measured the hydrating effectiveness of a 20% Glycerin cream.

Their approach was simple

Apply the 20% Glycerin cream for 10 days and measure skin hydration with a corneometer (a device to measure hydration in the top layer of skin).

The final results?

Ten days treatment of normal skin with 20% glycerin significantly increased skin corneometer values, indicating an increased hydration.

Loden & Wessman, 2001

Another group of scientists praised Glycerin, stating that:

glycerol is the most effective humectant.

Sethi, Tejinder, Malhotra & Gambhir, 2016


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Final conclusion for Glycerin as a Skincare Ingredient

Glycerin is a safe and effective ingredient that actually works to improve the way our skin functions.[8]

Remember, there are two popular categories of moisturizers to keep the skin hydrated[7]:

  1. Occlusive skincare products prevent water from escaping the skin by creating an oily “barrier”.
    These products are usually oil based, using ingredients like olive oil, beeswax, petroleum etc.
    Ex: Vaseline
  2. Humectant skincare products attract and absorb water into the skin, therefore hydrating the skin barrier.


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  1. Glycerol. PubChem
  2. Fluhr, J., Darlenski, R., Surber, C. (2008). Glycerol and the Skin: Holistic Approach to Its Origin and Functions.
  3. Loden, M., Andersson, A., Bergbrant, I., Frodin, T., Ohman, H., Sandstrom, M., Sarnhult, T., Voog, E., Stenberg, B., Pawlik, E., Preisler-Haggqvist, A., Svensson, A., Lindberg, M. (2002). A Double-Blind Study Comparing the Effect of Glycerin and Urea on Dry, Eczematous Skin in Atopic Patients.
  4. Sethi, A., Tejinder, K., Malhotra, S., Gambhir, M. (2016). Moisturizers: The Slippery Road.
  5. Rodan, K., Fields, K., Majewski, G., Falla, T. (2016). Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare.
  6. Loden, M., Wessman, W. (2001). The Influence of a Cream Containing 20% Glycerin and Its Vehicle on Skin Barrier Properties.
  7. Draelos, Z. (2010). Active Agents in Common Skin Care Products.
  8. Becker, L., Bergfeld, W., Belsito, D., Hill, R., Klaassen, C., Liebler, D., Marks Jr., J., Shank, R., Slaga, T., Snyder, P., Gill, L., Heldreth, B. (2019). Safety Assessment of Glycerin as Used in Cosmetics.
  9. 20 Common Products Containing Glycerin. Twin River Technologies