This old-school ingredient is a dry skin saviour – 11 products to add to your winter arsenal

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Dry skin can be uncomfortable and may even cause irritation. Meet glycerin, the skincare ingredient hailed for its moisturising properties. Here’s everything you need to know about this well-loved ingredient.

If your skin has felt worse for wear as the temperature has dropped or you often find flakey patches thanks to your combination complexion or if you just have a dry skin type, glycerin is an ingredient you should add to your skincare routine. Hailed as the key to keeping skin hydrated, it was also once named the third most popular skincare ingredient around, sitting behind water and fragrance. So what exactly does it do and how does it fit into your current routine? Here, two skincare experts explain all…

What is glycerin?

“Glycerin is a humectant moisturiser (the other name is glycerol). It exists naturally in the top layer of our skin (stratum corneum) and its function is in keeping the skin moisturised,” explains Dr Shaaira Nasir, consultant dermatologist at sk:n.

“In skincare, it works by attracting water from the air and from the deeper layers of the skin. It is a colourless and odourless substance originating from vegetable oils and animal fats or it can be synthetically produced. In skin care, it tends to be derived from plants. Of all the humectants, glycerin is reported to be the most effective in increasing skin hydration.”

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What are the key benefits of glycerin?

“The key benefit of glycerin is that it hydrates the outer layer of the skin called the stratum corneum,” says Dr Shaaira. “It works by improving the skin’s barrier function and forms a protective barrier against irritants. It has also been shown to accelerate wound healing and helps with the penetration of other skincare ingredients.”

What skin type is best suited to glycerin?

“The best thing about glycerin is that it is lightweight and gentle, so it can be used by all skin types, whether you have oily, dry, or combination skin,” says Dr. Joyce Park, dermatologist and bareMinerals Global Dermatology Ambassador. “It is also non-comedogenic, so it doesn’t clog your pores, which may worsen acne.”

Can glycerin irritate the skin?

“Glycerin is considered a hypoallergenic substance, meaning that allergic reactions or irritations to this substance are extremely rare. Glycerin is also a non-comedogenic substance and therefore will not cause breakouts.

Where does glycerin fit in your skincare routine?

“Glycerin can be found in a variety of products, but it is most often found in cleansers and moisturisers where it helps to gently hydrate your skin at each step of your skincare routine,” says Dr Park.

Dr Shaaira adds: “Its main use is in moisturising the skin as it is able to draw and lock in moisture into the top layer of the skin.”

  • Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Moisturiser

    A cult favourite for a reason, this daily moisturiser is fragrance-free and infused with hyaluronic acid to hydrate without irritation. Quick absorbing, it’s great under make-up or worn alone.

    Shop Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Moisturiser at Sephora UK, £10.35

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  • Weleda Skin Food

    Beloved by celebrities and social media users, Weleda Skin Food has been elevated from a winter cream to a year-round slugging option. 

    A blend of chamomile, calendula, oils and waxes, the rich cream is designed to help repair dry, stressed-out skin. If this feels a little thick, try Skin Food Light for the same benefits with less viscosity. 

    Shop Weleda Skin Food at Sephora UK, £6.15

    buy now

  • The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA

    If you feel your skin is suffering from the ravages of central heating, cold wind and moving between the two, this affordable cream contains amino and fatty acids as well as triglycerides, urea, glycerin, saccharides, ceramides and hyaluronic acid to layer in hydration and repair the healthy functioning of your skin barrier.

    Shop The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA at Boots, £5

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  • Bioderma Atoderm Cream

    A brilliant, deeply moisturising body cream, I keep this on hand for regular use. Fragrance-free, it doesn’t irritate my eczema-prone skin but absorbs surprisingly quickly, meaning I can get dressed or hop into bed without much dry time.

    Shop Bioderma Atoderm Cream at Boots, £13.87

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  • Eucerin Dry Skin UreaRepair Plus

    A favourite of dermatologists and skincare enthusiasts, this foot cream contains urea and ceramides – two of the most powerful ingredients to repair intensely dry, cracked skin. Layer this on and then pop a pair of socks on before bed – it will deeply nourish your skin while you snooze. 

    Shop Eucerin Dry Skin UreaRepair Plus at Boots, £8.25

    buy now

  • Drunk Elephant Beste No.9 Jelly Cleanser

    A non-stripping cleanser, this Drunk Elephant gem rids skin of make-up, dirt, environmental debris (like pollution) and SPF. For very dry skin, use this as your second cleanse following an oil cleanser or cleansing balm.

    Shop Drunk Elephant Beste No.9 Jelly Cleanser at Space NK, £27

    buy now

  • Tatcha Violet-C Radiance Mask

    Gentle enough for sensitive skin but packed with hardworking ingredients, this new hydrating mask from bestselling brand Tatcha resurfaces skin to improve texture, tone and brightness. 

    Shop Tatcha Violet-C Radiance Mask at Space NK, £65

    buy now

  • Plantastic Nourishing Shea Butter Hand Cream

    One to pop in your handbag, this Beauty Pie shea butter hand cream contains glycerin, aloe vera and antioxidants to repair, hydrate and protect the skin from future stress.

    Shop Beauty Pie Plantastic Nourishing Shea Butter Hand Cream, £20

    buy now

  • Paula’s Choice Skincare Water-Infusing Electrolyte Moisturiser

    Travel-sized for streamlined washbags, this moisture-balancing cream is designed to be used as the last step in your nightly skincare routine. Light in texture, it’s ideal for normal, dry, combination and oil skin types.

    Shop Paula’s Choice Skincare Water-Infusing Electrolyte Moisturiser, £14

    buy now

  • Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Cream

    An award-winning cream that make-up artists swear by, it contains a combination of moisture-attracting and anti-inflammatory ingredients to hydrate and soothe dry winter skin.

    Shop Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Cream at Cult Beauty, £49

    buy now

  • Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Renewal

    A powerful mask to brighten and even out skin tone, Biossance have added hyaluronic acid, glycerin, squalane and triglycerides to replenish thirsty, freshly-exfoliated skin.

    Shop Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Renewal at Space NK, £38

    buy now

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