Can You Use Glycerin to Whiten Your Skin?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What is glycerin?

If you buy any skin care products, including lotion, creams, and soap, you likely already know about glycerin. It’s a common ingredient in many beauty and skincare products, primarily because of its ability to smooth and moisturize skin.

Although many products contain glycerin, some people prefer to use glycerin in its pure form.

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Pure glycerin is a colorless, odorless liquid made from animal or vegetable fat, although some cosmetic companies use synthetic glycerin.

How can glycerin benefit your skin?

Glycerin is great for the skin because it acts as a humectant, which is a substance that allows the skin to retain moisture. It can increase skin hydration, relieve dryness, and refresh the skin’s surface.

It’s also an emollient, which means it can soften skin. This is great if eczema or psoriasis leave you with rough or dry patches.

Glycerin also has antimicrobial properties, which means it can protect the skin from harmful microorganisms.

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Many supporters believe it can also repair skin and speed the wound-healing process.

Can glycerin whiten skin?

Glycerin is best known for its ability to moisturize and protect the skin. Although it isn’t well known as a skin whitener, some people claim that glycerin contains skin whitening properties.

However, there is little if any research supporting its use for this purpose.

Some of these claims might be due to its exfoliating properties.

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When applied topically, glycerin’s humectant properties can improve hydration in the outer layer of the skin. This leads to softer skin on the top layer, which makes exfoliation easier.

Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells. Removing these skin cells might help brighten a dull complexion and improve the appearance of dark spots, scars, and age spots.

How should you use glycerin?

While using glycerin on its own can moisturize and exfoliate your skin, some proponents claim that combining glycerin with other ingredients can also whiten the skin.

However, there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims.

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Using glycerin in combination with other products, such as lemon and rose water, may help revive dull, dry skin or soften your skin for easier exfoliation.

These ingredients work well together because glycerin provides hydration and moisture, while rose water acts as an astringent. It not only cleanses but also tightens your pores and tones your skin.

Meanwhile, the acidity of lemon juice might improve discoloration and uneven pigmentation.

Keep in mind, though, that there’s no evidence to support the claim that any of these ingredients will lighten your skin.

Make your own serum
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Try making your own serum:

  1. Combine 5 drops of pure glycerin with the juice of 1 lemon and 20 milliliters (mL) of rose water.
  2. Pour the mixture into a small bottle or a spray bottle.
  3. Apply the liquid to your face daily, using your finger or a cotton swab, or apply as a mist for a healthy glow after applying makeup.
  4. Store the serum in the refrigerator.

Anyone wanting to use pure glycerin on their skin should consider using pure vegetable glycerin. Many supporters believe this is a better option than animal- based or synthetic alternatives.

Is glycerin safe to use on skin?

Glycerin is typically safe to use on the skin, and many people use cosmetic products containing this ingredient without issue. However, most of these products aren’t intended for use as a skin whitener.

Whichever way you use glycerin, there’s always a risk of irritation, particularly if you’re allergic to it.

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Always do a patch test before using cosmetics containing glycerin for the first time. Apply a small amount to a small area of skin, wait 24 hours, then check for a reaction.

If you’re sensitive to glycerin, signs of a reaction include:

  • skin redness
  • swelling
  • itching

If you have an allergic reaction, you may develop hives and tenderness.

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Even if you’re not sensitive to glycerin, you might be sensitive to another ingredient in a skin care product.

If you’re planning to make the serum using the recipe above, check whether you have an allergy to any of the other ingredients. An allergic reaction could result in skin irritation like dryness, redness, peeling, or flakiness.

Using lemon on your skin can also increase your sensitivity to sunlight, putting you at risk for sunburn. Avoid using lemon for several days before any planned outdoor activities and before going out in the sunshine.

Find out more about using lemon on the skin here.

The takeaway

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Glycerin is great for helping your skin retain moisture, repairing damage, and protecting your skin from infections.

But while glycerin can improve overall skin health, it isn’t intended to whiten or lighten skin, nor is there evidence supporting its ability to reduce hyperpigmentation.

Glycerin does, however, contain exfoliating properties. By removing dead skin cells, it might be possible to lighten the discoloration that acne, scars, or age spots cause.

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