Glycerin in Skincare: Is It Safe?

Not everyone diligently checks the ingredient lists on the backs of their product bottles and packages.  However, even if you just casually glance at the back of a bar of soap, you might notice this extremely common skincare ingredient: glycerin.  Glycerin (alternatively spelled “glycerine”) is considered safe and effective in a variety of products, including those that go on your skin, and some things that you may consume, like pharmaceuticals and some processed foods.  But, what exactly is it, and what function does it serve?  In this article, we’ll briefly discuss the function of glycerin in skincare.

GlycerinWhat is Glycerin?

Glycerin is essentially a clear liquid that completely dissolves when it comes into contact with water.  It is one of the by-products that comes from the process of making soap, especially from animal fat.  However, glycerin is also naturally found in vegetables, and many cosmetic companies prefer to derive their glycerin from plant-only sources.  Glycerin is a humectant, which is a substance that attracts and bonds with water molecules.  Like many other humectants, it also has emollient properties.  Emollients are substances that moisturize your skin and help keep the problems of dry skin (itching, flaking, etc.) at bay.  So, glycerin works to not only moisturize your skin, but also lock in the moisture and keep it within the upper layer of the skin. 

Why Do Products Contain Glycerin?

Since glycerin is a by-product of making soap, why do some soaps include it?  What does it do for the product?  The answer is, glycerin can do quite a bit to improve a cosmetic product.  Firstly, as an emollient humectant, it helps keep your skin very moisturized.  This is one of the reasons why it is found in many moisturizers and lotions, as well as put back into soaps.  However, because it attracts and bonds to water, it also helps carry other beneficial ingredients from the product into your skin to be absorbed.  For example, if your soap product contains aloe gel, glycerin can help your body get the full benefits from the aloe.  Glycerin is not the only humectant out there – in fact, sugars including honey, amino acids, and even the collagen that naturally occurs in your skin are all humectants.  But, glycerin is relatively easy to produce and is extremely common, making it a good candidate for mass-produced cosmetic products.

Does Glycerin Have Side Effects?

Emollients are essentially safe and have no side effects by themselves.  However, there may be extremely rare cases of glycerin sensitivity.  If you do experience an allergic reaction to a product containing glycerin, be sure to tell your doctor of all the ingredients included in it.  It’s very possible that you may be allergic to another ingredient in the product.  And, while glycerin itself can be included in food, there’s no guarantee that something else in the product may not be poisonous.  So, if you do consume a cosmetic product containing glycerin, be sure to call the Poison Control Hotline.

Glycerin is a natural ingredient that is used in many cosmetic products, and can be very beneficial to the user.  Once you know more about the ingredients in your skincare routine, you can make more conscientious choices about what you want to use on your body.