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Glycerin: Does It Really Moisturize the Skin?

glycerin bar soap
April 28, 2013 Reviewed by Marta 39 Comments

The other day I spotted a brand called Yu-Be that claims to a number-one-best-seller in Japan with little more than glycerin as the active ingredient. Now, I regard glycerin as the cosmetic equivalent of wearing a T-shirt in winter: It's better than nothing, but not exactly a heavy gun in terms of protection. Still, there was something about Yu-Be that stopped me in my tracks. Then Mary Beth left left a comment on a review of a Tilvee cream saying she avoids glycerin at all costs. I checked Truth In Aging's posts and found that they could be summed up as contradictory. I was going to have to find out more about glycerin.

Now here's what's confusing about glycerin. The most commonly stated claim about glycerin is that it helps the skin attract and retain moisture. Then the next thing that you'll read is that glycerin draws moisture from your own dermis up to your epidemis. Your skin might feel moisturized, but you have just borrowed from Peter to pay Paul and ultimately it will get dryer. I also found plenty of references claiming that in order for glycerin to attract water from the atmosphere, humidity must be higher than 70%. Glycerin may work in Singapore (when I was there, humidity was 96%), but isn't going to be much use in a dry New York winter. My T-shirt analogy was beginning to hold up.

The Truth About Glycerin

But where was the hard evidence to back up all these claims? Well after several hours of digging around, clinical research seems to back up the idea that glycerin is friend not foe.

One of the most impressive studies was conducted by Appa et al on 394 patients with severely dry skin. 16 moisturizers were tested against two high-glycerin creams over a five-year period. The glycerin won hands down and resulted in an increased thickness of the corneocytes. This is backed up by other research. For example, in a placebo-controlled, double-blind study at the Friedrich Schiller University Department of Dermatology in 2008, researchers investigated the effects of glycerin on atopic dermatitis on human subjects who were treated twice daily for four weeks. The patients receiving the glycerin showed significant improvement in the hydration of the outer layer of skin, and the skin's normal protective barrier function was restored.

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A blend of glycerin and dimethicone got the thumbs up another study which found that epidermal thickness increased, barrier function improved and melanin intensity decreased. The researchers concluded that "even nonxerotic, photoaged skin may appear younger, benefiting structurally and functionally from routine use of moisturizers containing dimethicone and glycerine" (source).

If you need more convincing, consider that glycerin has been shown to provide a protective barrier, help the skin cells mature properly and aid bruised and swollen skin.

There's no two ways about it, though: glycerin does make skin feel much softer. So something must be going on. In turns out that recent studies have shown that glycerin helps degrade the corneodesmosomes that hold skin cells together. The end effect of this degradation is more consistent desquamation (shedding of the outer layer of skin) and ultimately smoother-looking skin. The thing is, I'm not sure I really want to degrade my corneo-whatsits.

Glycerin in Yu-Be's Soft Touch

Yu-Be's soft touch is enhanced by adding in glyceryl stearate, which is made by reacting glycerin with stearic acid, a fatty acid obtained from animal and vegetable fats and oils. This creates a film over the skin that will feel soft to the touch. It is possible that it does prevent moisture loss by forming a barrier.

Glycerin can come from palm or other plant oils, but also from petroleum. Unfortunately, we are rarely given the source by cosmetic makers.

Having said all of this, Yu-Be's moisturizer isn't bad for $16. In addition to aforementioned, it has vitamins E and B, as well as anti-inflammatory licorice.

Read more:

• Is Glycerin Good or Bad for Your Skin?

• Five Best Moisturizers of 2013

Ingredients in Yu-Be Moisturizing Skin Cream: Glycerin, Water, Isopropyl Myristate, Stearic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Triethanolamine, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Glycyrrhetinic Acid, Camphor, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Hydrogenated coco-glycerides, Stearyl Alcohol, Polysorbate 80, EDTA, Methylparaben.

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  • October 6, 2016

    by Linda

    Hi I stumbled across this article and found it very interesting I live in the uk on the pennines where it can be particularly cold and windy my skin is suffering at the moment from pimples which I never had before but was advised feom my doctor that due to early menopause this can happen. I am really interested in trying out glycerin and wondering is this the glycerin that you would purchase from a local pharmacy.

  • February 16, 2016

    by Sue

    Personally, I love pure glycerin on my face, lips, chest and hands. I'm 55 with somewhat normal skin at this point. I've tried many facial moisturizers, some expensive and some really expensive and I find myself reaching for my $2.99 4oz bottle of glycerin. It gives my face a nice glow, I think I look healthy and younger, my makeup goes on great and looks great. I keep it in the bathroom cabinet and smooth it over my slightly damp face. It's winter here in NE, so I also use an ultrasonic humidifier next to my bed at night so that the vapor falls upon my face. BTW I don't look 55.

  • February 12, 2016

    by k

    I've been using glycerine for about a month already .....I have tried almost everything for my really bad dry flaky skin I also have acne so I always felt that that all this dryness was the cause of more breakouts..seriously after using glycerine after putting some sunscreen my skin is so soft and looks healthier n I am actually not breaking out anymore I'm so happy I tried this it's really helping out my acne and my dry skin !!!!!

  • February 5, 2016

    by TINKER

    I dissolve a tablespoon each of Dead Sea Salt & Epsom Salt in warm water in a 250ml spray bottle then add a bit of glycerin to it. It has helped the KP on my thighs & my skin is so smooth everywhere else! :-)

  • February 2, 2016

    by y.nunez

    Thanks Tim! And thanks for this article.

  • January 24, 2016

    by Olena

    Glad I stumbled upon this article.. It explains why my skin was overproducing so much oil back when I tried to moisturize with Glycerin alone. It made my acne-prone skin go absolutely crazy! (Like 8 years ago)

  • November 21, 2015

    by Carole Boone

    I make all natural body products and will use Glycerin with my body oil, Almond Oil with an essential oil and people love it. I only use about 5%.

  • October 17, 2015

    by a@t.com

    I have suffered with severe dry skin my entire life. The best is pure glycerine straight after a hot shower to aid in absorption, followed by body lotion over the glycerine. Mixtures do not work.

  • September 14, 2015

    by Mikki

    Actually you do want degradation of your corneodesmesones (corneo= stratum corneum= top layer of skin, desmesomes= glue that holds cells together) as essentially what that means is it aids in exfoliation. We WANT to exfoliate dead skin cells this is what results in that fresher, smoother looking skin. Cheers

  • March 22, 2015

    by Tim Williams

    Glycerin alone, applied to skin, is extremely drying and irritating - because, as stated in the article, it grabs water molecules from wherever it finds them. The scientific terms for this behavior are "hygroscopic" or "deliquescent".

    However, if the glycerin is already "wet" (saturated with water), it has no need to "pull" more from other places - it will simply "hold on" to what it has already.

    This is why glycerin has two faces. Used pure and undiluted, it's the opposite of a moisturizer - it's a powerful dessiccant. However if it's part of a lotion or cream (which is, fundamentally, a suspension of fats in water), then it becomes a powerful moisturizer, keeping the water on the skin and stopping the air from snatching those water molecules away.

    So it's great as an ingredient; just never use it alone.

  • February 2, 2015

    by Missy

    Artist- only that brand uses the acid and other fats, which are added to the glycerin. Other brands might use them too. They add it to the glycerin, it isn't in the glycerin

  • January 31, 2015

    by By Artist Chiquita. E

    Thank you for the Lab information.

    I wanted to use Glycerin but im very suprised that Glycerin is made with stearic acid, a fatty acid obtained from animal and vegetable fats and oils.


    Have a nice day.



  • January 30, 2015

    by John

    I've always used Glycerin on models and have always had them comment the next day that their feet, hair, etc. seemed softer, so have always wondered the truth. I also use it as fake "sweat", like in the Pussy Cat Dolls video (Buttons). I used glycerine mixed with water for the lead Nicole. Great effect!

  • December 26, 2014

    by sandra

    My job gives me dry skin and irritated hands. I use aqueous cream and add lavender oil for healing and glycerin for moisturizing. Its pennies to make and it is the only thing that keeps my skin good
    Ps. I have also been allowed to use it on a resident in a home for her pressure sore which healed it completely in a couple of days.

  • December 1, 2014

    by John

    I'm a fan of glycerin and this kind of provides me with assurance, but that Yu-Be stuff is a no no. Parabens anyone?

  • August 16, 2014

    by Jon

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned napca. I use the twin lab one with aloe Vera. It's the only thing that works for me. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19469932

  • July 1, 2014

    by Lakpriya

    I am a die hard fan of Glyserin. I had a long history of very dry skin. I used to apply layers and layers of moisturizes to get rid of dry skin. But when I found Glyserin I found the cure for dry skin, I wish that I found it earlier. Hope a lot of people finf it helpful.

  • June 11, 2014

    by Matt

    Hi Marta,

    A great blog on Glycerin. Thanks for sharing all your research with me/ us.

    Perhaps I can take the liberty of adding my own experience with Glycerin, which may help your other readers.

    Everyday, for years, I have taken a teaspoon of Glycerin first thing in the morning after my coffee. I was advised as a child to take it by a Doctor in India to keep any aches & pains away.

    Now, as a 38 year old, I never get ill, have wrinkles, nor do I ever get any aches or pains in my joints. Recently, after a local operation on my face, my present Doctor was pleased & surprised to see just how quickly my facial scars had healed. Two months after the operation you cannot even see them.

    Now, I am not saying Glycerin is the one thing that has kept me invincible, but I`ll tell you this, I would never, never stop taking it. And, unlike the Yu-Be cream from Japan, it only costs £1.30 a bottle.

    Matthew St John Higgins

  • May 14, 2014

    by jenny

    am using the kapa pure glycerine 100% from palm n in just these 4days l have done this,ma skin has this nice glow,no more dry skin spells ,soft.l mixed alittle with ma lotion Easy white on the side to see how the combination would do n l think its rewarding.on full account,on the side l mixed abt 5spoons easy white,5spoons wonder oil and 2covers of kapa glycerine from kenya.....The feeling is gd...am addicted to wonder oil so l cant do away with it........after shower in the night,l apply glycerine but in adiluted form with water...Glycerine is gd cse ma very dry skin has suddenly become moisturized and much softer......

  • May 13, 2014

    by Jade

    Hello. Thanks for your opinion. Its informative. I just want to say I've had experiences where glycerin helped rid me of my persistent acne and dry chapped skin. I think its not for everyone but a lot of people can benefit from it. Also, one of the previous comments on this was that a skin care practitioner tried to cure her patients of acne and that their discontinuance of creams containing glycerin did the trick. I don't know about that but I'd suggest she looks at the other ingredients in said creams. Something else could be the culprit. I for one have only good experiences with it.

  • May 10, 2014

    by Christie

    I have had dry skin all of my life, and I have tried everything to moisturize, but nothing ever worked. my skin was flaking and everything, but i found some liquid glycerin and I love it!!! My skin is so soft!!!! Lovelovelove!!

  • February 14, 2014

    by Val

    I would be very appreciative to Phillychick if she would share with me how to mix the glycerin with aloe and coconut milk. I have patches of dry areas and this seems to be something that may help with those areas.
    Thank you

  • September 25, 2013

    by caiolynn

    I am okay with plant based oils but animal based oils? Ugh, no thanks!

  • September 20, 2013

    by Phillychick

    I guess different strokes for different folks. I had severely dry skin from the time I was young up until I was 25. I am now 31 and after using glycerin (organic vegetable), I have not had any dry skin in the past 6 years. I mix glycerin with aloe and coconut milk and my skin is as soft and smooth as a baby's bottom. I am often mistaken for being 7-8 years younger than my real age. I also know people in their 80's who swear by glycerin and rosewater and they look fabulous. I just can't get use to the rosewater smell lol. SO try it and see if it works for you.

  • August 3, 2013

    by Courtney

    After doing hoards of my own research, I appreciate this article. I am not sure I can agree with the study cited because I just don't see those results with any of my clients who have been using glycerin/dimethicon based products. I am exactly like Amber in the comments in that I personally have to stay farrrrr away from glycerin. I was interested in using it in my products (natural vegetable glycerin, of course), but I started polling more people about their acne, and soon discovered that even shampoos and conditioners with glycerin were what was causing acne. I had my clients quit those and the last bits of acne I had been helping them fight were gone. I know that studies can often show what a researcher wants them to show, and it's possible that I have just ended up with every glycerin-allergic person in my practice by default. But there are lot more of us out here than are accounted for in any study.

    But thank you SO much for this thoughtful AND researched AND putting your personality into this. You write very similarly to me and I can tell you're serious about helping people understand what they are using! XOXO

  • July 12, 2013

    by holly

    PS FYI, I don't advocate dimethicone myself (seeing your recommend of mixing dimethicone with glycerine). Also, there may be mixed results in your research on glycerine possibly due to petroleum-based glycerine vs. vegetable glycerine. This is by no means a scientific fact, just surmising. And I'm biased toward natural, plant based products....

  • July 12, 2013

    by holly

    Hi, I skimmed this article and appreciated that there is a distinction between vegetable glycerin and that made from petroleum. I dug a little deeper in my research and went to the health food store and made sure to get the vegetable glycerine. I'm attempting to go "all natural" in my skin care and makeup, but before I purchase any more products, I wanted to refresh my memory on "glycerine": good? bad? what? I've used rosewater and glycerine in the past and this article helped me solve the problem I needed. Thanks!

  • June 10, 2013

    by Marta

    Hi Amber, since you also emailed us at customer service, we'll email you back from there with some recommendations after we have done some research.

  • June 9, 2013

    by amber

    Dearest Marta, My name is Amber. I am 31 years old and have very dry skin, changed after having a baby last year, and I am in dire need of help from someone so wise and knowledgeable. I started having a reaction to soaps and lotions about 3years ago and after all was said and done (took a while to fig it out) I am unable to use ANYthing that contains glycerin. Shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, dish soap, cleansers, moisturizers! You can only imagine the agony of label reading and the very, very limited selection I have in all areas of the afore mentioned products. Not to mention I became allergic to all nuts in my early twentys. You seem to know your stuff and have the resources for researching skincare. if you have any knowledge or would be willing to look into hydrating, anti-aging skincare; cleansers, eye creams, moisturizers, etc., that contain zero glycerin and ZERO nut products (I know I'm making it almost impossible) I would be Eternally Grateful! If you know anyone who needs recommendations for anything from shampoo to dish soap I can help. Thanks so much! Amber (currently use Skinceuticals cleanser and yonka moisturizer, only one or two per line that are glycerin and nut-free, none have an eye cream I can use, I'm 31, I need an eye cream....used one before the whole nut allergy, glycerin sensitivity). Thank you so much!

  • May 29, 2013

    by Martina

    Glycerin Draws moisture onto itself. So if you put glycerin on your face while your chillin' out in a humid environment the glycerin would pull the moisture from the air onto your skin. If your environment is dry and has little moisture in the air, glycerin would become desperate and pull out water from your own skin. The secret is not to put straight glycerin onto your skin but dilute it with water so your skin will be amazingly soft with now worries of a dry dermis. Glycerin would be happy because you have provided it water and your skin will be happy with the moisture from glycerin. How do I know this? I put glycerin in my hair and use the same principle.

  • February 8, 2013

    by Dori

    Draws moisture from the dermis up to the epidermis? Not sure where you got this information! I am a licensed esthetician and know it to be a fact that glycerin draws moisture from the AIR, not the dermis. I think this article is misinforming and wrongfully bashes this awesome non-greasy humectant.

  • November 23, 2012

    by Angelique Keil

    Hi Marta,
    I have very sensitive skin and have only been able to use one product on my face. Recently however the company closed and I am out of moisturizer. After reading about Yu-Be it was surprising that they shared a lot of the ingredients so I will give it a try.
    Thanks, there's hope for me yet!

  • December 30, 2010

    by Barrie

    "nonxerotic, photoaged skin"? The latter sounds bad. The former...interesting!

  • December 30, 2010

    by Julie Kay

    Everything old is new again, and I'm here to prove it! Happy New Year... ~jk

  • December 29, 2010

    by marta

    Hi Julie, the comment is a year old because I took my old post on glycerin and rewrote it based on the new research and then reposted it.

  • December 29, 2010

    by Julie Kay

    Interesting article, Marta! Equally interesting is my comment (above): I didn't put it there... and it's a year old! But if I could of; I would of. Hands! Definitely. ~jk

  • December 29, 2010

    by Glycerin- does it really moisturize the skin Dermatitis

    [...] the original post: Glycerin- does it really moisturize the skin [Translate] Tagged with: active • brand-called • cosmetic • dermatitis • [...]

  • December 15, 2010

    by Suiskin Hydro Marine Aqua Drop Mask Review « May our skin grow beautiful, as we grow wiser.

    [...] 1. Glycerin – Glycerin is used as a lubricant and humectant in a variety of personal care products, and as a cosmetic bonding agent for makeup. Simply stated, glycerin attracts water to skin and helps skin to feel smoother and softer. However, studies have found that it not only attracts water to the skin, but also helps skin cells mature properly. According to a study done by The Medical College of Georgia, Glycerin works as a signal to help direct skin cells through their four normal stages of maturity. In the endless cycle of skin-cell production, the youngest cells move up from the deepest layer and switch from replicating as their main function to eventually becoming mature surface cells that spit out lipids to help form the skin’s protective barrier. Read more here!, here [...]

  • January 11, 2009

    by JulieK

    But what best used for, Hands? I'm thinking hands. ~jk

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