This common—but efficacious—ingredient should be in any winter skincare routine

Chances are, you'll have used this ingredient many times

glycerin - woman wearing sunglasses and a black winter coat - gettyimages 1779065815
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to hydrating skin ingredients, there are a few that really standout as star players. One of those ingredients is glycerin. There's a high chance if you've used any hydrating moisturisers or cleansers recently that glycerin is on the ingredients list. 

It's one of the most commonly recommended ingredients to help with dry skin and is exactly what winter-skin can benefit from.

But what is glycerin? And why is it so great? We asked two skin experts to find out, then rounded up some of the best products containing glycerin. 

What is glycerin? 

Let's start off with the basics of exactly what glycerin is. "Glycerin is a naturally-occurring compound in the body," says Dr Sonia Khorana, a GP with special interest in dermatology. When used in skincare, it's an ingredient derived from plants. "It works as a humectant, which means that it attracts moisture from the air into the skin, from the top layer known as the stratum corneum down into the deeper layers of the skin known as the dermis," explains Dr Ash Soni, plastic surgeon and founder of The Soni Clinic

You might have also seen glycerol on your ingredient list. Anything formulated with 95% glycerol or more is listed as glycerin. This essentially makes them the same with the main difference being that glycerol is more concentrated than glycerin. You can find glycerin in moisturisers, serums, cleansers, masks, body wash, SPF, lip balms and many more products. 

Why is glycerin so great for the skin? 

There are many reasons glycerin is commonly used in skincare—it boasts many benefits. "It’s main job is to hydrate and support the skin barrier’s function as it prevents water loss in the skin," Dr Soni says. "It protects against stressors that cause irritation due to its barrier function, and improves and strengthens the moisture part of our barrier." Improved barrier function equals less irritation, redness and flaking. 

Preventing this loss of moisture from the skin "makes it appear softer, plumper and more dewy," explains Dr Khorana. "Glycerin also has a low molecular weight, which means it can penetrate better into the skin and is more easily absorbed than hyaluronic acid," she adds.  

If that wasn't enough, glycerin is safe for all skin types and is non-comedogenic (meaning it doesn't clog pores). "There are no known interactions, so it pairs well with lots of other ingredients," and it means you can use it multiple times in your routine a day. 

Can glycerin be used for all skin types? 

As mentioned before, yes, glycerin can be used for all skin types. In fact, it's great for everyone. Dry skin can benefit from its deeply hydrating properties, as can oily- and acne-prone skin (which still needs moisture FYI) thanks to being non-comedogenic. "It is known to also help in certain skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema," Dr Soni says. 

His top tip is to "apply to damp skin both at morning and at night, which will help retain the moisture." 

How does glycerin differ from other hydrating ingredients? 

Despite being a "superstar hydrating ingredient", Dr Khoranaa says it's not given the same amount of attention as other hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid. "It's not trendy or new, but has been used in cosmetic formulations for more than 50 years," she adds. 

That could be perhaps because "glycerin shares some similar properties of hyaluronic acid, and each have their own advantage to improving skin health and hydration," says Dr Soni. Noting that glycerin protects the skin barrier more than hyaluronic acid does, and "will aim to restore the balance of the skin more optimally, thus having a slightly enhanced effect." 

In addition to being hydrating, glycerin also has "antimicrobial properties, making it a natural preservative. It is cheap, accessible, and effective with virtually no potential for irritation or sensitivity."

Beauty Contributor

Tori is a freelance beauty journalist and contributor for Marie Claire. She has written for various titles, including Allure, Glamour, Elle, Refinery29, Brides, and more. Currently training to be a nail tech, Tori is a total nail enthusiast and always has time to talk all things nail art. When she’s not writing about beauty and testing products, Tori can be found walking her rescue dog Pip, drinking great coffee, and eating as many croissants as humanly possible.