Parsing product labels and determining which skincare ingredients to use can seem as if it requires a chemistry degree, especially when you’re faced with ingredients that seem to offer similar benefits. Take glycerin and hyaluronic acid, for example. You’ll find both in hydrating skincare products, making the reasons to reach for formulas with one over the other unclear unless you really familiarize yourself with each ingredient.
Here, we’re offering a guide to glycerin vs. hyaluronic acid so you can decide which (if not both) deserves a spot in your skincare routine. Read on for everything you need to know about using glycerin and hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine.
What Is Glycerin?
Before you can pit one ingredient against another or sing their shared praises, it’s important to understand them individually. Let’s start with glycerin. Glycerin (also known as glycerol) is a naturally-occurring sugar alcohol. It was first discovered in 1783 as a natural by-product of soap manufacturing. Though glycerin can (and often is) derived from lipid-rich plants and natural sugars (like molasses), it can also be chemically synthesized.
Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum
Glycerin has a wide range of applications and is frequently used as a softener in food, as a natural preservative in medicine, and as a moisturizer in skincare products. This includes our best-selling Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum. The efficacious serum contains 15% glycerin (as well as shiso leaf extract) to help hydrate and plump dull skin. It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used daily to revive skin for a smooth, healthy-looking appearance.
What Is Hyaluronic Acid?
You don’t have to keep your finger on the pulse of the skincare industry to know hyaluronic acid is a massively popular ingredient. It’s a naturally-occurring substance that already exists in your body and is found in the skin; it helps retain water and is responsible for hydrating your body’s soft tissue. Consider this impressive statistic and its popularity becomes clear: A single molecule of the ingredient is capable of holding up to 1000 times its weight in water.
Vital Skin-Strengthening Hyaluronic Acid Super Serum
Because of its hydrating properties, hyaluronic acid is commonly found in moisturizers and serums, especially anti-aging formulas . If introducing your skin to this ingredient is on your agenda, we recommend Vital Skin-Strengthening Hyaluronic Acid Super Serum. It’s formulated with 11kDa hyaluronic acid—our smallest form of HA—which can penetrate through eight skin surface layers.* The serum works by strengthening skin to help it resist signs of aging while boosting radiance and smoothing fine lines. It’s clinically-demonstrated to improve skin texture by 41% and visibly reduce fine lines by 27%.**
*Based on a clinical study of 25 panelists measuring the penetration of the full formula via tape stripping. **Based on a 4-week clinical study on 58 subjects tested in urban and polluted environments.
What Is The Difference Between Glycerin and Hyaluronic Acid?
As we covered, hyaluronic acid and glycerin share the fact that they’re hydrating ingredients. They are also both humectants, meaning they help skin retain moisture. Humectants work by drawing water from the air to hydrate and soften the skin. Studies show that glycerin is the most effective humectant for increasing skin barrier moisture. While it doesn’t penetrate the dermis, it contributes to hydration of the stratum corneum, which is the top layer of the epidermis.
It’s worth noting that too much glycerin can give the skin a sticky or tacky feel. To minimize this effect, glycerin is often combined with other lightweight hydrating ingredients, like dimethicone.
Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, has a lightweight, almost water-like texture. In addition to hydrating, hyaluronic acid benefits include plumping the skin and minimizing the appearance of age-related concerns, such as wrinkles. However, conventional hyaluronic acid molecules are too large to give skin long-lasting hydration. As such, only products with small hyaluronic acid molecules will provide the full range of benefits.
Ultimately, glycerin and hyaluronic acid are both effective moisturizers with myriad applications in skincare. Keep reading to learn which of these powerful ingredients is best for your skin type.
As the most hydrating humectant, glycerin is a natural choice for dry skin types. Studies show that glycerin also helps improve skin moisture barrier function, which can help boost the skin’s defenses against dehydrating environmental irritants.
You’ll find glycerin in our cult-classic Ultra Facial Cream, which also contains natural emollients, including olive-derived squalane. This best-selling formula boasts a lightweight texture and absorbs quickly for non-greasy, 24-hour hydration. It more than doubles hydration—even in skin’s driest areas—for a softer, smoother appearance. Use it as your go-to moisturizer day and night for a visibly healthier appearance.
Oily or Acne-Prone Skin
Since glycerin can be tacky or sticky in high concentrations, hyaluronic acid is a better option for those with naturally oily skin. Incorporate a hydrating serum into your daily routine for lightweight moisture that won’t weigh down the skin. We recommend Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum, which is formulated with lightweight hyaluronic acid and brightening vitamin C. This top-rated formula instantly boosts radiance while improving the appearance of skin texture over time. With regular use, it visibly minimizes the appearance of enlarged pores—a common concern for oily skin types—for smoother-looking, glowing skin.
Irritated or Sensitive Skin
If you have sensitive skin or experience irritation, reach for glycerin. Research indicates that glycerin benefits the skin moisture barrier, which is often “weak or damaged” in those with sensitive skin types. Glycerin creates a defensive barrier against environmental irritants, making it ideal for those with damaged or reactive skin.
To cleanse sensitive skin without worsening irritation, we recommend Ultra Facial Cleanser. This best-selling face wash contains glycerin, avocado oil, and olive-derived squalane and helps dissolve dirt and oil without stripping the skin.
When fine lines and wrinkles are a concern, it’s hyaluronic acid that you should turn to. As you age, your skin produces less hyaluronic acid on its own, which leads to wrinkles and other signs of aging. On the flip side, when applied topically, HA can reduce the depth of wrinkles, as well as improve skin elasticity and firmness.
Those with aging skin can benefit from moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid, like Super Multi-Corrective Anti-Aging Face and Neck Cream. The fast-absorbing cream addresses the most visible signs of aging on the face and neck. While using the cream, 93% of consumers saw a reduction in wrinkles and said their skin felt smoother.*
*Results based on a 12-week consumer test of 53 panelists in the U.S.
Normal or Combination Skin
If you have normal or combination skin, there’s no need to pick glycerin or hyaluronic acid—in fact, you can use them simultaneously. Our top-rated Ultra Facial Toner contains both of these powerful hydrators, along with avocado oil and squalane. The alcohol-free formula helps remove dirt and debris without stripping the skin for a hydrated, balanced appearance. Pair it with Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream to condition skin with lasting 24-hour hydration. The non-comedogenic formula absorbs into the skin easily for a smooth, shine-free finish. It’s the best of both worlds.
Next: Sometimes, it’s not a matter of which ingredients to use, but which to use together. Learn about one popular pairing from our article, How To Use Hyaluronic Acid and Vitamin C Together In Your Routine.