When you're fighting dry, winter skin, you want the best moisturizers around; we're talking the juiciest ingredients you can get your parched, cracked hands on. That's why you'll want to look for glycerin in all your skin-care products.
"Moisturizers typically contain three types of ingredients," Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai in New York City, tells Allure. There's occlusive moisturizers, which help to form a protective barrier over the skin to lock in moisture. Then there's the emollients, which smooth any rough edges on the cellular level. "Most emollient materials are oils that repel water," Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist, tells Allure. "They can improve the way skin feels but don't actually moisturize."
And you can't forget about humectants, like glycerin. "Glycerin is a colorless and odorless liquid that comes from plant sources," explains Romanowski. "It is a humectant, which means it has the property of attracting water to itself."
Yeah, that's right. It's a moisturizer that actually attracts more moisture. "Glycerin is essentially like a sponge that pulls in water to the outer skin layer," Dr. Zeichner explains. "It can attract water from the deeper skin layers or even the air in humid environments." It also helps slow the evaporation of water from your skin to help foil that chronic winter dryness, adds Erin Gilbert, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. In short, it's a skin secret weapon.
What glycerin means for your skin-care products
Because glycerin attracts water to itself, using products with the super hydrator leaves your skin with an "overall moisturizing and smoothing effect," says Dr. Gilbert. It can be a powerhouse moisturizer mixed with other emollients or even on its own. "One of the tricks I do is mix Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream and add some extra vegetable glycerin" — which you can find online — "to it and put it on my hands and feet before I go to bed," Dr. Gilbert says.
It's especially effective on your most stubborn rough spots, like callouses. "The glycerin can actually signal your superficial skin cells to mature more rapidly," she says. Translation: a speedier route to soft skin.