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Also called glycerol or glycerine, glycerin is a humectant that’s present in all natural lipids (fats), whether animal or vegetable. It can be derived from natural substances by hydrolysis of fats and by fermentation of sugars; it also can be synthetically manufactured, which is usually the case with modern-day skincare products.
Glycerin is a skin-replenishing and skin-restoring ingredient, meaning it is a substance found naturally in skin, helping to establish normal balance and hydration. It’s one of the many substances in skin that helps maintain a healthy look and feel, defending against dryness and working to maintain skin’s moisture level. Essentially, glycerin is a master at hydration, and works best when combined with other replenishing and emollient ingredients.
Some people wonder whether using products with glycerin takes too much water from skin when there isn’t enough humidity in the air. This can occur with pure glycerin (100% concentration—an amount that’s never used in skincare products). Any humectant (including glycerin) used in pure form can increase water loss by attracting water from the lower layers of skin into the surface layers when the climate is too arid (low humidity). For this reason, glycerin and humectants are typically used in concentrations of 5% or less and always combined with other ingredients to soften skin. In fact, glycerin combined with other emollients and/or oils is a fundamental cornerstone of most moisturizers.
References for this information:
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, August 2016, ePublication
British Journal of Dermatology, July 2008, pages 23-34
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, June 2007, pages 75-82
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2003, pages 7,360-7,365
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!