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Glycerin — “a naturally occurring alcohol compound and a component of many lipids. Glycerin may be of animal or vegetable origin,” says the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit corporation.

Understanding Glycerin

Says the US National Library of Medicine, “Glycerol or glycerin is a colorless, odorless, viscous liquid that is sweet-tasting and mostly non-toxic. It is widely used in the food industry as a sweetener and humectant [or, preserver of moisture] and in pharmaceutical formulations. Glycerol is an important component of triglycerides (i. e. fats and oils).” What does that mean?

In short, glycerin[1] plays a key role in the cells of fats and oils. Conversely, it can also be derived from fat and utilized in hundreds of products! The US National Library of Medicine has a list over 82 pages long listing products varying in texture, uses, odors, and material that contain glycerin!

While the technicalities of glycerin abound, the main idea of discussing its use in cosmetics is its role as a lubricant. Glycerin has unique properties that enable it to act as a guard for moisture preservation. How so?

The Personal Care Products Council highlights that glycerin is one of the safest to use in “cosmetics and personal care products such as soaps, toothpaste, shaving cream, and skin/hair care products to provide smoothness and lubrication. It is also a well-known humectant that prevents the loss of moisture from products so they don’t dry out as quickly.”

Glycerin is found in many lotions. But, why?
The embankment curbs the rapid waters of a river, just like glycerin confines your skin’s moisture.

A Sentinel of Moisture!

How should you understand what this product does? In short, imagine this scenario: A healthy river flows with rapid waters, supporting trees, wildlife, and surrounding homes. For decades, its banks contained the organized chaos of the downhill stream. As the sands breakdown, so do the grounds bounding the waters, and so the estuary breaks free. Losing vital nutrients, the surrounding wildlife and nature begin to suffer. What would you do to contain the stream?

Most likely, an adhesive comes to mind. Perhaps applying a product similar to glue could bolster the aging banks. Maybe re-applying the paste could reinforce the pillars of the embankment.

The moisture in your skin is the flowing river —well, not literally. But, the idea is clear. As you age, your skin loses elasticity, collagen, and its ability to contain moisture. So, applying lotions and oils, yes, can reinvigorate your skin and return moisture. But, to keep it all locked in, you’ll need a glue-like product. That is where glycerin plays a vital role!

Glycerin is the adhesive that curbs the moisture in your skin. That is the very definition of a humectant.

Learning More

But, after water, where should glycerin be listed on your bottle of lotion? What about fragrances—how do they affect its efficacy? For more information, speak to a doctor or a dermatologist, they’ll be fully equipped to answer all of your burning questions!

[1] While glycerin and glycerol are interchangeable with minute differences in their definitions, in this article we’ll refer to the product as glycerin.



The information provided herein has been reviewed for accuracy, but cannot be guaranteed to be free of infallalacy. The information herein does not qualify as a diagnosis nor does it substitute a consultation with a licensed physician.

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PUBLISHED: 20170307
UPDATED: 20200226

Post Author: Dr. Mirza

With over 15 years of experiences as a licensed physician, Dr. Muhammad Mirza is very knowledgeable in cosmetics. Having specialized in neurology, our doctor knows exactly how to contour cosmetic products to your needs perfectly. Dr. Mirza takes his knowledge and shares it on his website, in his offices, and across various other platforms.