Ingredient Highlight: Glycerin
IN THIS ARTICLE:
- A brief history of glycerin
- What makes glycerin such a wonderful ingredient?
- Who is glycerin good for?
- Glycerin in Graydon Skincare products
- Final words
*The descriptions below only reflect the quality of the raw ingredient.
Other names: glycerine, glycerol, osmoglyn
What it is: anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, moisturizer/humectant
Okay, let me just say this…
If glycerin had hyaluronic acid’s publicists, it’d be wayyyyy more trendy by now. Don’t get me wrong, hyaluronic acid is a wonderful hydrating ingredient with many skin benefits. It totally deserves all the attention it gets. In fact, I’ve even written extensively about it here.
But what about glycerin? From skincare to hair care products, glycerin is everywhere. Chances are, if you check the ingredient lists on the products that you own right now, you can definitely find glycerin in most of them. So I truly feel like we’re doing this OG ingredient a disservice by not talking about it more.
So today, we’re changing that and chatting about glycerin.
A brief history of glycerin
You might be surprised to hear this, but glycerin was discovered completely by accident. In fact, its original purpose wasn’t even rooted in skincare.
Glycerin was first discovered in 1779 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish-German pharmaceutical chemist. It was a by-product of the soap-making process, which Carl discovered by chance. He would go on to name it the “sweet principle of fat.” It wasn’t until 1811 that Michel Eugène Chevreul, a French chemist whose early work revolutionized the manufacture of soap and candles, named it “glycerin.” This name came from the Greek word "glykys," meaning sweet.
In 1836, Théophile-Jules Pelouze, a French chemist, was able to determine its specific molecular formula. In case you’re wondering, it’s C3H8O3. Then, in 1872, another French chemist and mineralogist named Charles Friedel managed to synthetically create glycerin inside a laboratory, using another substance called propylene.
In 1846, Ascanio Sobrero, an Italian chemist, treated glycerin with a mixture of nitric and sulphuric acid, creating nitroglycerine. What’s that you ask? Well, it’s an explosive liquid (AKA: the active ingredient in dynamite), which the great Alfred Nobel (yup, that Nobel) would later stabilize as an explosive for blasting rock and mining. Crazy, huh?
In the 1800s, glycerin was mainly used for personal care and medicinal use, as it can help with conditions like constipation and those that cause increased eye pressure. Nowadays, you can find glycerin as an ingredient in many skincare and hair care products.
What makes glycerin such a wonderful ingredient?
For starters, it’s a great humectant.
Actually, lemme rephrase that: Glycerin is the best humectant. And this isn’t just my personal opinion either. In a 2016 study,(1) of high-profile humectant ingredients like urea, panthenol, hyaluronic acid and others, glycerin came out on top and was crowned “the most effective humectant.” This is why it truly deserves the title of the OG humectant.
So, what’s a humectant anyway?
Essentially a humectant is a substance with the ability to capture and retain hydration, while also helping to preserve the overall properties of the product. Think of it like a magnet, but instead of metal, a humectant attracts water from the air into your skin. There are many different ingredients that can do this and you can find these moisturizing agents in beauty products such as serums, lotions, shampoos and more.
Here’s an interesting fact: Glycerin is a Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF). This means it’s a substance that your body naturally makes to maintain adequate skin hydration. It mostly resides in the stratum corneum (AKA: the outermost layer of the skin, or the skin barrier). Glycerin’s ability to draw water to the skin from within the body, in addition to pulling water to the skin from the atmosphere is why glycerin holds an edge over other humectants.
According to a 2005 study,(2) the levels of glycerin in our skin seem to directly correlate to skin hydration levels. Specifically, the more endogenous glycerin that the stratum corneum holds, the more hydrated the skin is, and vice versa. These findings are in line with the findings of a 2003 study. In this study, researchers demonstrated that topical glycerin can normalize skin hydration in skin that lacks aquaporin-3 (AKA: Water channels that transport water across cell membranes).(3)
More than just a simple humectant, glycerin also plays a big role in keeping our skin healthy.
A study from 2008(4) revealed that glycerin also improves the skin barrier function and skin mechanical properties. It does this by making sure that the “mortar” (AKA: The mixture of substance that fills in the gap between the dead skin cells) isn’t too concentrated or diluted. It also keeps the cell membranes and intracellular lipids in the stratum corneum healthy and thriving. Plus, it can protect your skin against certain types of irritation, such as harsh active ingredients and over-washing.
Due to its superstar qualities, glycerin has also been used in dermatology to help treat some skin conditions as well.
According to a 2019 study,(5) glycerin can also contribute to treatment of atopic dermatitis (AKA: eczema). In this study, 30 participants with mild to moderate eczema were randomly sorted into two groups. One group of participants were treated with narrow band UVB rays. The other group was treated with 85% glycerin. After one month, the researchers concluded that both groups showed statistically significant improvement after treatment. This means that using glycerin, either in low concentration (20%-40%) or high concentration (85%), could serve as a comparable and cheaper alternative to phototherapy treatment (which can be expensive).
That’s not all glycerin has to offer!
It’s also known to have anti-viral, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties are so potent that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves glycerin products for wounds and burns.(6) Of course, you can’t just use any regular products with glycerin to treat these conditions, but rather, you need to use products specifically formulated to do so. But still, that’s some pretty compelling evidence of just how wonderful glycerin is.
Who is glycerin good for?
Hydration is key to healthy skin, so pretty much anybody can benefit from glycerin. Best of all, because it’s an NMF and already exists in the body, there’s a very, very low chance that it will cause any trouble to your skin.
While glycerin is good for just above everybody, the individuals that can benefit the most from this wonderful ingredient are those with dry or extremely dry skin. This is thanks to its wonderful ability to draw water into the skin from deep within the body and from the environment. However, I’d recommend that you top it off with an occlusive layer in order to seal in all that hydration, thus preventing any extra transepidermal water loss.
Glycerin in Graydon Skincare products
As I mentioned, most Graydon Skincare products are formulated with this highly beneficial ingredient.
We’ve made sure to add an optimal amount of glycerin to our Fullmoon Serum and four moisturizers: Skin Stuff, Phyto Clear, Berry Rich and Putty. Each of these moisturizers has been formulated with a balance of humectants, emollients, and occlusives, so that they can both hydrate the skin and keep it hydrated for a long period of time!
Pro Tip: If you use Fullmoon Serum, I recommend adding a layer of Superfood Serum on top. Or better yet, combine them to create our Serum Luxe skin smoothie! Superfood Serum will act as an occlusive and seal in the hydration from Fullmoon Serum!
Glycerin is also in Face Glow, which has been voted “Beauty Shortlist Awards 2021 WINNER.” Nobody wants a cakey makeup look, and yet so many of the foundations and concealers on the market are just SO dry. This is why I included our superstar ingredient in this tinted moisturizing skin primer. It gives you that perfect “no makeup” makeup look, all while keeping your skin hydrated and happy!
And let’s talk about our hair care duo, Matcha Mint Shampoo and Matcha Mint Hair Smoothie for a quick sec! These products also contain glycerin because your hair and scalp need hydration too! By keeping your hair hydrated, you can define your waves or curls (shoutout to everyone with types 3 and 4 hair), reduce breakage and help hair grow longer.
And last, but certainly not least, you’ll find glycerin in our Hand Sanitizer, because clean hands shouldn’t mean dry hands!
Glycerin is a powerful humectant that helps to hydrate the skin by drawing moisture from the atmosphere and also from within the body. It’s been shown to improve the skin barrier function and help with the treatment of atopic dermatitis. Glycerin’s antiviral, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties are acknowledged by the FDA.
You’ll find this superstar ingredient in many personal care products, including most of the Graydon Skincare lineup.
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Hair care varies depending on texture and type, but there are general hair washing guidelines that are beneficial to everyone. Click here to learn the basics.
(1) Sethi, Anisha et al. “Moisturizers: The Slippery Road.” Indian journal of dermatology vol. 61,3 (2016): 279-87. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.182427
(2) Choi, Eung Ho et al. “Is endogenous glycerol a determinant of stratum corneum hydration in humans?.” The Journal of investigative dermatology vol. 125,2 (2005): 288-93. doi:10.1111/j.0022-202X.2005.23799.x
(3) Hara, Mariko, and A S Verkman. “Glycerol replacement corrects defective skin hydration, elasticity, and barrier function in aquaporin-3-deficient mice.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 100,12 (2003): 7360-5. doi:10.1073/pnas.1230416100
(4) Fluhr, J W et al. “Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions.” The British journal of dermatology vol. 159,1 (2008): 23-34. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08643.x
(5) Youssef, Randa et al. “Glycerol 85% efficacy on atopic skin and its microbiome: a randomized controlled trial with clinical and bacteriological evaluation.” The Journal of dermatological treatment, 1-7. 6 Jan. 2020, doi:10.1080/09546634.2019.1708246
(6) “Classification of Wound Dressings Combined with Drugs.” FDA Executive Summary, Prepared for the Meeting of the General and Plastic Surgery Devices Advisory Panel, September 20-21, 2016 https://www.fda.gov/media/100005/download