Glycerin Benefits for Dry Skin, Dandruff and Thinning Hair

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Glycerin Benefits for Dry Skin, Dandruff and Thinning Hair


Glycerin - Dr. Axe

If you’re looking for a new ingredient to boost your natural skin care routine, you may want to consider glycerin. Research demonstrates that topical use of this compound can improve dry skin conditions and even boost epidermal barrier function (a key aspect of optimal skin health).

As an emollient, it can help moisturize, protect as well as soften the skin. It can also help discourage irritated, flaky or itchy skin.

You may already use a natural product that contains this ingredient, such as glycerin soap. If you’re not already incorporating it into your skin care regimen, there are some reasons why you may want to consider doing so.

At the same time, glycerin may cause some side effects, such as potential blistering among some people.

While glycerin is seeing a surge in popular use in its pure form, it frequently appears in cosmetics, especially moisturizers and lotions.


What Is Glycerin?

Also called glycerine or glycerol, glycerin is a clear, colorless, odorless, sweet-tasting liquid that is non-toxic.

What is glycerin made of? This natural compound can come from animal fat or vegetable oils, such as palm, soybean or coconut oil.

It can also be made synthetically from propylene. Glycerin structure (C3H8O3) is composed of three carbon molecules, eight hydrogen molecules and three oxygen molecules. It is a key component of triglycerides and phospholipids.

Glycerin is a humectant, which is considered a type of natural moisturizer that brings water into the outer layer of your skin from deeper levels of your skin as well as the air. As a result, glycerin is used in many skin care products alongside occlusives, also moisturizing agents, in order to help retain the moisture that’s drawn into the skin.

In addition, glycerol is sometimes used in food and beverages as a solvent, sweetener or humectant. It can also help preserve food and beauty products.

Products that commonly contain this ingredient include face washes, skin creams and lotions, skin serums, skin toners, soap, mouth washes, cough medicine, processed meats, soybean products, condiments, commercial baked goods, and even e-cigarette liquid and antifreeze.

Pure liquid glycerin can be purchased online or at many drugstores. You can find brands that are not derived from animal fat at that relatively low price, too.

Glycerin vs. Vegetable Glycerin

Glycerin and vegetable glycerin are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences.

Glycerin is derived from animal fats, vegetable oils or synthetic processes. Vegetable glycerin is always derived from plant-based sources, including soybean, coconut or palm oil. It’s considered not only a purer option compared to animal-based or synthetic versions, but also climate friendly.

Vegetable glycerin tend to be used more commonly in cosmetics, food and pharmaceuticals — where higher levels of purity are expected. In addition, those who have allergies or ethical concerns tend to prefer vegetable glycerin over animal-based versions.


1. Skin Health

As a humectant, this compound attracts water to itself. Studies indicate that glycerin helps prevent moisture loss and can improve skin dryness.

A 2008 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology highlights the following potential skin benefits of glycerin: boosts skin hydration, better skin barrier function, protection from skin irritants and even “acceleration of wound-healing processes.”

In addition, it is often recommended for use on some of the most stubborn dry patches, such as hand and foot calluses.

A 2016 study compared glycerin to alpha hydroxy acids, hyaluronic acid, sorbitol, propylene glycol and butylene glycol, and urea cream. It graded out as the “most effective humectant” for hydrating the top layer of the skin.

2. Hair Care

Glycerin is often used in shampoos and conditioners, as it can help retain moisture in the hair. This moisturizing effect can help make the hair both softer and more manageable. It is especially suitable for people with dehydrated, coarse or thinning hair.


A 2017 study found a moisturizing hair product with a 5 percent glycerin solution could draw water from the environment into the scalp and provide hydration. Hydration is key to hair strength, as moisturized hair helps prevent breakage.

3. Dandruff

A published study in SKINmed Journal investigated how effective a moisturizing leave-on lotion containing a high concentration of glycerol (10 percent) and other known scalp-benefitting agents (saturated fatty acid and sunflower seed oil) was to reduce dandruff over an eight-week treatment period with three applications per week.

Results included a significant reduction in the dandruff, including better water barrier function and hydration, over the span of the trial. The skin benefits for the scalp did subside after a week or so.

Glycerin also possesses anti-inflammatory properties to help relieve an itchy scalp.

4. Oral Health

Glycerin appears in some oral care products, like mouthwashes and toothpaste, in order to help maintain moisture in the mouth and prevent dryness. In one study, swishing a concentration of 50 percent to 75 percent glycerol for three to five minuted was considered ideal for the use of dental plaque control.

How to Use

If you’re interested in trying it, look for natural products that contain this moisture-boosting ingredient. From toner to face cream, you can easily find a product that contains this ingredient for one or more steps of your routine.

If you use glycerin on your face or scalp, remember that it’s very important to dilute before using directly. If you don’t dilute glycerin, it can greatly irritate your skin or scalp … and be sure to not allow it near your eyes or mouth.

Want to use glycerin for the face? First, dilute. A common formula for diluting glycerin is 1 part glycerin to 4 parts water.

Second, wash your face with a face cleanser and rinse. Third, use a cotton pad and soak it with the glycerin solution. Blot your face and allow it to absorb into your skin for a few minutes.

Lastly, gently rinse of the glycerin solution with water.

Rather than water, sometimes rose water is paired with glycerin for additional skin benefits.

Risks and Side Effects

Is glycerin safe? Most emollients like it can be used safely and effectively without unwanted side effects.

If using for the skin, scalp or mouth, it’s imperative to use a diluted version because blistering can occur. Whether you make your own solution or a glycerin-containing product, be sure that glycerin is an ingredient rather than using pure glycerin.

However, burning, stinging, redness or irritation can occur from any topical product. If any of these symptoms persist or become worse, seek medical attention.

Experiencing a serious glycerin allergy is typically considered rare, but seek immediate medical care if you exhibit signs of a serious allergic reaction.

Final Thoughts

  • Glycerin (also called glycerol or glycerine) is a colorless, odorless, sweet-tasting liquid that is non-toxic.
  • What is vegetable glycerin? It is derived from non-animal sources, such as coconut, soybean or palm oil. This compound can also come from animal fat or be made synthetically.
  • You can use it for skin to prevent dryness or improve skin that is already dry and/or irritated. You can also use glycerin for hair to boost moisture levels and prevent dryness.
  • It can be found in many natural beauty products, and it can also be used to create homemade products, such as soap.

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