Even if you don’t consider yourself a skin-care connoisseur, you’ve probably heard of hyaluronic acid. In the past few years, it has become one of the most famous ingredients in the cosmetics industry, beloved for its ability to plump and moisturize the skin. It can be found in dozens of popular, dewy-inducing serums, from Glossier’s Super Bounce (beloved by makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes) to Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Hyaluronic Serum (which basically every celebrity is obsessed with, from Bella Hadid, to Kim Kardashian West, to Victoria Beckham).
But what if I told you there was a cheaper, lesser-known, ultra-moisturizing ingredient that works just as well as hyaluronic acid? Enter glycerin, hyaluronic acid’s budget-friendly sister. Much like HA, glycerin is a humectant, meaning it attracts and retains water. And its low molecular weight means it’s able to penetrate extra deep into the skin. I called dermatologist Dr. Shereene Idriss to ask if she felt glycerin held up to hyaluronic acid, and she went a step further and said she prefers it — it’s an unsung skincare hero that, she says, is better at increasing skin hydration, minimizing water loss, and protecting the skin from irritation. (Because it’s so conditioning, the ingredient can leave your skin feeling a bit sticky afterward. As someone with ultra dry skin, this has never bothered me — but if you have an oilier skin type it’s something to consider.)
Despite all of this, you’ll seldom see glycerin advertised as the star ingredient that it is. According to Dr. Idriss, this is simply because it is not as well known to consumers as hyaluronic acid, which has already gone extremely mainstream. (This is also why hyaluronic acid products tend to be pricer than glycerin-based ones.)
Below, a list of my and Dr. Idriss’s favorite glycerin-incorporating products. Scoop them up now before everyone catches on.
Dr. Idriss says this gentle cleanser from Vanicream is excellent for anyone with dehydrated, dry, or sensitive skin — the inclusion of glycerin means it’ll cleanse without stripping.
This moisturizer from Paula’s Choice is beloved by many (Kelani recently raved about it in her Vogue Beauty tutorial) for its lightweight-yet-effective formula that replenishes the skin without leaving a thick, greasy film behind. The formula is a blend of glycerin, omegas 3,6, and 9 (for strengthening the skin’s barrier) as well as passion fruit and guava extracts (for soothing and calming inflammation).
This moisturizer (which beauty Redditers like to say is a dupe for Drunk Elephant’s Protini Cream) combines peptides, shea butter, and glycerin, all of which work together to nourish, repair, and deeply hydrate the skin. I happen to agree with the Redditers: much like Drunk Elephant’s Protini cream, this moisturizer manages to seriously quench my parched skin, leaving it conditioned and silky-smooth.
This “Baby Cheeks” toner-slash-cleansing water from Versed uses coconut water, glycerin, and algae to infuse the skin with hydration and moisture while it simultaneously removing any dirt or grime. This is one of my favorite products for a quick post-workout cleanse.
Makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes and Ru Paul’s All Star runner up Naomi Small love Glossier’s Super Bounce for a reason: it really does add an immediately noticeable surge of moisture to a dry or dehydrated complexion. This formula uses a blend of glycerin and hyaluronic acid — the humectant duo works together to target all the layers of the skin. This is a wonderfully hydrating serum with minimal stickiness — it’s an excellent choice for someone who wants to incorporate a low-fuss, moisturizing serum into their routine.
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