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With so many skincare formulations packed full of exotic-sounding active ingredients competing to be the star of the show, glycerin is happy to fly under the radar. While it may bring to mind a sticky, syrupy liquid, it's actually one of the most soothing and moisturizing skincare compounds.
So, what exactly is this sleeper ingredient? And what benefits of glycerin make it such a universal skincare staple?
Glycerin is a naturally occurring compound found in your body. However, the glycerin you find in skincare comes from plant sources like soybeans and cane sugar. This colorless and odorless liquid was first used in skincare in 1811 and has been a staple in skincare products for more than two centuries. These days, you can find glycerin on the label of some hydrating serums.
Yes, two centuries. This tried-and-true ingredient is still popular today. Here are seven reasons why.
Glycerin's moisturizing superpowers boil down to two factors. This natural humectant can pull water from the environment toward the skin for intense hydration — but that's far from the only trick this ingredient has up its sleeve.
This compound also boosts the skin's aquaporin function. Aquaporins are proteins that help channel the flow of hydrating substances such as water to the skin's outermost layers; by promoting these proteins, glycerin acts as a supercharged hydrator to help keep skin soft and moisturized.
As a humectant, glycerin also plumps up the skin, smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles. Deeper within the skin, this secret weapon helps close gaps within the skin's intercellular matrix, the tissues that prevent skin from sagging, while simultaneously boosting epidermal thickness.
One of the most important benefits of glycerin is its ability to help skin cells mature fully before shedding. When cells shed too fast, it can exacerbate conditions like psoriasis. Overactive or abnormal cellular activity also delays the healing of wounds. This makes glycerin a terrific skin healer.
A natural barrier protects your skin from becoming vulnerable to skin infections, sensitivity and irritation. Glycerin has also been shown to help skin's natural lipids maintain their structure, which in turn helps fortify this barrier and shields against environmental stressors like pollution and weather changes.
With its anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory properties, glycerin is well-equipped to soothe sensitive and compromised skin. The ingredient's calming presence comes from how it helps to regulate the maturation process of keratinocytes — the cells responsible for creating a new epidermal layer on the skin's surface when dead cells are sloughed off. As the skin is repopulated by healthy cells, it becomes smoother and less inflamed. This makes glycerin a powerful ally when dealing with skin concerns such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, cuts, burns, hives, sores and increased sensitivity. To maximize these benefits, look for glycerin in the ingredients lists of creams, cleansers and toners.
Glycerin has natural antibacterial properties, helping to keep skin infections at bay. This includes inflammatory acne, which occurs when the bacteria P. acnes proliferates a clogged pore. In fact, glycerin is a good choice for treating skin wounds.
Glycerin is a powerhouse of benefits on its own, but it easily shares the stage with almost all other skincare ingredients, including retinol and alpha hydroxy acids. Lightweight and noncomedogenic, it's compatible with all skin types, including dry and sensitive complexions. Since this compound is skin identical — meaning it's naturally present in the body — skin is more likely to tolerate it than other skincare compounds. Glycerin's willingness to play well with others is one of the reasons it's recorded as the third most frequently used ingredient in skincare.
You can use glycerin at any point in your routine, from cleansing to moisturizing. However, if you're looking for where glycerin packs the biggest punch, opt for a hydrating serum featuring other super ingredients formulated to boost skin moisture and keep your complexion smooth and hydrated.