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Anti-inflammatory, barrier recovery

Important Chemical Components:

Simple polyol with three hydroxyl groups derived from triglycerides

Origin Classification:

Glycerin is a natural ingredient and organic forms are available. Synthetic, laboratory-made forms are also used.

Personal Care Category:

Humectant, moisturizer

Recommended for the following Baumann Skin Types:

Is a superior choice for dry skin types but is appropriate for all 16 types (DRNT, DRNW, DRPT, DRPW, DSNT, DSNW, DSPT, DSPW, ORNT, ORNW, ORPT, ORPW, OSPT, OSPW, OSNT, and OSNW).


Glycerol provides the molecular skeleton of all animal and vegetable fats known as triglycerides. It is derived from the saponification of fats. Throughout this chapter, the terms “glycerol” and “glycerin” (also spelled as glycerine and referred to more often in the literature as glycerol) will be used interchangeably; glycerin is the designation most familiar to consumers (and the one used here more often in relation to topical products). Glycerol is a potent, nonvolatile trihydroxylated humectant. When the body consumes fat stores (triglycerides) to produce energy, glycerol and fatty acids are released into the bloodstream. The glycerol component is converted to glucose in the liver, thus providing energy for cellular metabolism. Natural glycerol is obtained hydrolytically from fats and oils during soap and fatty acid manufacturing, and by transesterification (an interchange of fatty acid groups with another alcohol) during the production of biodiesel fuel.1 Synthetic glycerol refers to material obtained from nontriglyceride sources.

Glycerin exhibits hygroscopic ability very similar to that associated with natural moisturizing factor (NMF).2 NMF is found within keratinocytes in the stratum corneum (SC) and is composed of amino acids, lactate, urea, citrate, and sugars. It can absorb large quantities of water (i.e., hygroscopic) even when humidity levels are low. This allows the SC to maintain a sufficient hydration level even in dry environments. Numerous ingredients have been used in moisturizing products to mimic NMF activity; glycerin is one of the primary ones.

The topical application of glycerin is considered a useful component in treatment regimens for various cutaneous conditions, including bedsores, bites, burns, calluses, cuts, rashes and, occasionally, psoriasis. It is well known to protect against cutaneous irritation.


The name glycerol is derived from the Greek word glyko, meaning “sweet.” Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered glycerol in 1779. Since then it has been included and used widely in topical skin cosmetics, with approximately 160,000 tons of glycerol sold annually in the United States alone.3,4 Glycerol is one of the most versatile and valuable chemical substances known and is considered the most effective humectant ingredient in the personal care industry (Table 25-1).5,6 It has long been used as an active as well as excipient ingredient in skin care products. Procter and Gamble (P&G) started producing glycerin around 1858, about the time they started producing consumer products. Today, P&G Chemicals is one ...

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