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The better skin hydrator: Glycerin vs hyaluronic acid

The short answer: It may depend on your skin type! Allow Curology’s experts to explain.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 29, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Glycerin and Hyaluronic Acid
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 29, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

When it comes to achieving glowy, moisturized skin, glycerin and hyaluronic acid are two ingredients that often take center stage. 

But is one better than the other?

Whether you're dealing with dryness, seeking an extra boost of moisture, or simply curious about the science behind skincare, we’re here to equip you with the knowledge you need to make informed choices for your skin’s well-being. So, here we’ll delve into the realm of hydration and explore two powerhouses in the world of moisturization—glycerin and hyaluronic acid—and how you can determine which might be best for your skincare needs. Let’s start with a quick reintroduction to these two ingredients.

(Image Source)

What is glycerin? 

Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is a versatile compound that serves various purposes in different industries and appears as a colorless or brown-colored liquid.¹ In skincare and cosmetics, glycerin has gained popularity due to its many beneficial properties.

Glycerin is often used as a:²

  • Humectant

  • Hair conditioning agent

  • Skin protectant

  • Skin conditioning agent

The safety of glycerin as a cosmetic ingredient has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, which concluded that glycerin is safe for use in cosmetics within specified practices and concentrations.³

Glycerin’s versatility and hydrating capabilities make it a popular ingredient in skincare products, as it can contribute to the overall health and moisture balance of your skin.

Glycerin for your skin 

Glycerin offers numerous benefits for the skin. When applied topically, glycerol-containing products can significantly improve skin conditions characterized by abnormally dry skin and impaired epidermal barrier function, such as atopic dermatitis.⁴

One of the key advantages of glycerin is its ability to enhance skin hydration. It works by increasing the hydration of the outermost layer of your skin, known as the stratum corneum. By improving hydration, glycerin helps to strengthen your skin’s barrier function, which plays a crucial role in protecting the skin from environmental factors and preventing moisture loss.⁵

Beyond hydration, glycerin also contributes to enhancing the mechanical properties of your skin. The improvements in hydration and barrier function result in increased elasticity and resilience of the skin. Additionally, glycerin has been shown to protect the skin against irritating stimuli, accelerate wound healing, and have antimicrobial effects, providing an additional layer of protection.⁶

What is hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid—often utilized for both healing and aesthetic purposes—is a naturally occurring substance found in joints and skin, specifically in connective tissue. Hyaluronic acid is used widely in the medical field and preparations are available in various forms, including topical, ocular, and injectable formulations. Hyaluronic acid works by attracting and retaining water molecules, which helps to maintain moisture levels and promote hydration in the treated area. This hydration effect can be particularly beneficial in improving joint function, reducing inflammation, and enhancing the appearance of your skin.⁷

Hyaluronic acid for your skin 

Hyaluronic acid offers several benefits for your skin, including anti-wrinkle properties, improved skin hydration, and collagen and elastin stimulation.

Anti-wrinkle and anti-aging 

Hyaluronic acid-based formulations have proven to be effective in combating wrinkles and signs of aging. Studies have shown that hyaluronic acid-based formulations, particularly those utilizing nano-hyaluronic acid, offer significant benefits in reducing wrinkle depth. The use of nano-hyaluronic acid has been observed to decrease wrinkle depth by up to 40%.⁸

Improved skin hydration 

Hyaluronic acid is renowned for its ability to improve skin hydration. As a potent humectant, one gram of this acid can bind up to six liters of water!⁹ This ability to attract and retain moisture is great for helping enhance your skin hydration and promoting a revitalized complexion. Studies have highlighted the central role of hyaluronic acid in maintaining skin hydration and elasticity.¹⁰ By supporting your skin’s moisture barrier, it may aid in improving your overall skin health and appearance.

Collagen and elastin stimulation 

Studies have shown that HA can promote collagen synthesis, which plays a key role in maintaining your skin’s firmness.¹¹ Additionally, HA has been found to enhance the production of elastin, a protein that is responsible for your skin’s elasticity and ability to bounce back.¹² Increased elastin production can lead to improved skin elasticity and potentially a more youthful appearance.

What is the main difference between glycerin and hyaluronic acid? 

The main difference between glycerin and hyaluronic acid lies in their molecular size and how they interact with your skin. Glycerin is a small molecule that can be absorbed by your skin’s surface.¹³ When applied, it can penetrate your skin and attract moisture from the environment, helping to hydrate your skin from within.

On the other hand, hyaluronic acid can come in two forms: high molecular weight (HMW-HA) and low molecular weight (LMW-HA).¹⁴ While LMW-HA can penetrate the skin and go into its deeper layers, HMW-HA is used in cosmetics to make products more viscous and provide stability. HMW-HA results in maintaining hydration in the upper layers of the skin and decreasing moisture loss, ultimately helping to make the skin appear more plumped and smooth.¹⁵ Understanding this difference can help you select the most suitable product based on your individual skincare needs and preferences.

Choosing between glycerin and hyaluronic acid

Plot twist: You don’t have to choose! Using both glycerin and hyaluronic acid together can be beneficial for hydrating your skin. One study demonstrated that a combination of glycerin and hyaluronic acid results in significant improvements in skin hydration for up to 24 hours, while also enhancing skin barrier function.¹⁶

So if you’re looking to maximize your skin hydration and improve your skin's barrier function simultaneously, incorporating both glycerin and hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine can be a suitable approach.

It’s important to note that individual skin types and preferences may vary. Some folks may find that using one ingredient alone provides sufficient hydration, while others may benefit from the combined effects of both glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Experimenting with different formulations and observing how your skin responds can help determine the best approach for your specific needs.

When in doubt, it’s always best to consult with a dermatology provider for the best skincare advice. We’re here to help!

Hydrate your skin with Curology 

If you’re looking for an effective way to nourish and hydrate your skin, the Curology Rich Moisturizer is a great option that can give your skin the hydration it deserves. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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curology bottle

Designed by dermatologists, this moisturizer is formulated to restore your skin barrier without clogging pores. Try it today!

FAQs

Is glycerin the best moisturizer?

Glycerin is a moisturizing ingredient known for its hydrating properties and various skin benefits.¹⁷ However, the “best” moisturizer is subjective and depends on individual factors. Everyone’s skin type, concerns, preferences, and specific needs vary, which is why it’s important to consult a dermatology provider for personalized recommendations.

What is better than hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid is an effective hydrating ingredient, as is glycerin. However, ingredients that might be considered superior to these options depend on your individual preferences and needs. Consult a dermatology provider for personalized advice on the most suitable options for your specific skin requirements. They can assess your skin and provide expert guidance on the best hydrating ingredients and products for you.

Does glycerin build collagen?

There's no direct evidence to suggest that glycerin, or glycerol, specifically contributes to the production or building of collagen in the skin. Glycerin is a humectant, meaning it helps retain or preserve moisture in the skin, and it has various beneficial effects on the skin’s hydration, barrier function, and wound-healing process.¹⁸ However, the direct stimulation of collagen production is not typically associated with glycerin.

Who should not use glycerin on the face?

Glycerin is generally considered safe for use in cosmetics.¹⁹ However, it’s important to note that individual sensitivities or allergies can vary. If you have specific concerns or conditions, it’s always a good idea to consult a dermatology provider for personalized advice.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. PubChem. Compound Summary for CID 753, Glycerin. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2023, June 24).

  2. Becker, L.C., et al. Safety Assessment of Glycerin as Used in CosmeticsInt J Toxicol. (November 2019).

  3. Becker, L.C., et al. Safety Assessment of Glycerin as Used in CosmeticsInt J Toxicol. Ibid.

  4. Fluhr, J.W., et al. Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions. Br J Dermatol. (July 2008).

  5. Fluhr, J.W., et al. Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions. Br J Dermatol. Ibid.

  6. Fluhr, J.W., et al. Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions. Br J Dermatol. Ibid.

  7. Walker, K., et al. Hyaluronic Acid. StatPearls. (2023, March 7).

  8. Jegasothy, S.M., et al. Efficacy of a New Topical Nano-hyaluronic Acid in HumansJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (March 2014).

  9. John, H.E. and Price, R.D. Perspectives in the selection of hyaluronic acid fillers for facial wrinkles and aging skin. Patient Prefer Adherence. (2009, November 3).

  10. Masson, F. Acide hyaluronique et hydratation cutanée [Skin hydration and hyaluronic acid]. Ann Dermatol Venereol. (April 2010).

  11. Juncan, A.M., et al. Advantages of Hyaluronic Acid and Its Combination with Other Bioactive Ingredients in CosmeceuticalsMolecules. (2021, July 22).

  12. Bukhari, S.N.A., et al. Hyaluronic acid, a promising skin rejuvenating biomedicine: A review of recent updates and pre-clinical and clinical investigations on cosmetic and nutricosmetic effects. Int J Biol Macromol. (December 2018).

  13. Ventura, S.A. and Kasting, G.B. Dynamics of glycerine and water transport across human skin from binary mixtures. Int J Cosmet Sci. (April 2017).

  14. Bravo, B., et al. Benefits of topical hyaluronic acid for skin quality and signs of skin aging: From literature review to clinical evidence. Dermatologic Therapy. (2022, October 21).

  15. Draelos, Z.D., et al. Efficacy Evaluation of a Topical Hyaluronic Acid Serum in Facial Photoaging. Dermatology and Therapy. (2021, June 26).

  16. Milani, M. and Sparavigna, A. The 24-hour skin hydration and barrier function effects of a hyaluronic 1%, glycerin 5%, and Centella asiatica stem cells extract moisturizing fluid: an intra-subject, randomized, assessor-blinded study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2017, August 11).

  17. Fluhr, J.W.,et al. Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions. Br J Dermatol. Ibid.

  18. Fluhr, J.W.,et al. Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions. Br J Dermatol. Ibid.

  19. Becker, L.C., et al. Safety Assessment of Glycerin as Used in Cosmetics. Int J Toxicol. Ibid.

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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