What is Glycerin?
The Number of beauty products that rely on glycerin is mind numbing. Anything from moisturizers, face masks, conditioners, cleansers, soaps, shampoos, to body lotions and this is just listing a small handful. In fact, there are over 1500 reported uses for glycerin in the world today. All these products rely on the naturally moisturizing properties of glycerin to offer protection to skin and hair. Glycerin is found within all natural fats, either plant or animal based, and while it is found within our own skin cells as well, it can also be produced synthetically to be added to many different products.
Glycerin, is a humectant, which mean it pulls moisture from elsewhere into itself. This characteristic is so powerful, that if you left 100 percent pure glycerin open to the air, it would eventually begin to pull moisture from the air and become only 80 percent glycerin and 20 percent water. Its powers of absorption are phenomenal. It has become a vital ingredient to many moisturizing skincare and beauty products because of this moisturizing ability. It is capable of mixing well with water and with alcohol but not with oil. As soon as its concentration is lowered through combining with other ingredients (to a point of 10 percent), it creates an extremely strong and protective barrier for the skin against the external environmental.
Where did it come from?
This clear, sticky substance was discovered over two hundred years ago in 1779 by a Swedish scientist named K.W. Scheele. It was actually an accidental discovery as he was heating up a mixture of olive oil and lead monoxide, but it wasn’t until over a hundred years later that it was suddenly realized that this leftover from the soap making process was beneficial. Soap makers were typically left with gallons of the stuff on their hands, and had nothing to do with it. That was until in the early 20th century, when soap makers started using it in other skin and beauty products they carried. Thus, they were able to reduce their waste, and increase the moisturizing potential of their other products. And, a new industry was born!
The Benefits of Glycerin
Okay, we know the basic benefit that glycerin provides is excellent moisturization and protection when applied to the skin in a diluted skin care product, but what else can it do?
- Protects skin from external environment
- Protects dry and damaged hair
- Conditions hair
- A natural exfoliant
- As well as Glycerin as an oral supplement…
Glycerin has been found to be especially effective for oily skin tones, and it is therefore a primary component in acne cleansers. While it has been known to sooth damage skin, it also is able to absorb excess moisture (oil) from the surface which can be easily washed away.
In the proper concentrations, glycerin is extremely safe to use and non-toxic, even on sensitive skin. It is always recommended to let glycerin stay on the skin for a limited amount of time if it was used as a cleanser, face mask or other non-permanent skin care product. When glycerin is a component of moisturizer or body lotion, it should be sufficiently diluted with other powerful moisturizing ingredients that it can be left on the surface, and allowed to fully absorb. It has been shown in laboratory studies to allow a healthy maturation of skin cells, by allowing the young cells to properly mature and move to the surface level of skin, while removing the older dead cells. This is thought to potentially offer relief to people with skin irritations such as psoriasis.
Although many people focus on the topical applications of glycerin, its medicinal applications should not be forgotten. It has long been used as a constipation resolving suppository, but research is demonstrating that it has some much more surprising benefits as well. This includes potential to increase the endurance of athletics, if given as a supplement prior to physical activity and during the 1960’s scientists discovered that oral glycerin supplements reduced the pressure and associated pain of glaucoma.
A Word of Caution
While there are many benefits of glycerin, it needs to be used with care and with caution. In high concentrations, or if used in its purest form, it can actually draw moisture out of the skin, and in the worst cases cause blisters. In unnecessarily high concentrations, glycerin will pull moisture from wherever it can, which unfortunately will include the under layers of the skin – the dermis. In normal concentrations and under normal circumstances, glycerin will only tend to pull excess moisture from the humid air, and form a protective layer on the epidermis. You should never apply glycerin directly to the skin if it is in any concentrations above 10 percent. In order to reap the best benefits out of it, it must be mixed with occlusive emollients.