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I'm Verna,
Your Curly-Haired Friend.

Curly hair is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. It could be super-defined one day and a frizzy concoction the next day – and it's never exactly the same from one head to another. Our mission is to equip you with the necessary tools for restoring and maintaining healthy locks and celebrating the hair you were born with! 

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Curl care

With extensive experience in the beauty industry, I specialize in writing for curly hair care brands, websites, and magazines.

Not only do I have curly hair, but my children, friends, family members, and even friends who are professional curly hairstylists, each with their unique curly textures.

 You get the point :) 

I also partner with a friend who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry and works as an R&D Chemist, ensuring our content is scientifically accurate and help us navigate through the misinformation around curly hair care. 

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Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Verna Meachum

Glycerin is often hailed as a curly hair nemesis, especially during summer. But whether this is accurate or not is up for debate. When considering products that include glycerin, you may ask, what is glycerin, and is it good for your hair? 

Glycerin for hair has pros and cons. It is good because it helps your hair retain moisture while adding softness and smoothness. This is especially helpful for curly hair that requires extra hydration. But too much glycerin can also make the hair greasy and lead to build-up.

To provide a trustworthy perspective on glycerin and hair, I’ve partnered with my friend who is a hair scientist and cosmetic formulator.

Together, we delve deep into the effects and mechanisms of glycerin on hair, ensuring you have the information you need to consider its inclusion in your hair care routine.

Now Available!

Snatch my comprehensive list of glycerin-free curly hair products from the shop.

Glycerin in Hair Products 

Image of the word glycerin highlighted with a magnifying glass hovering over it for Glycerin for Hair: What You Need to Know blog.

A glance at the ingredient list of any hair care product will show you a recurring ingredient: glycerin. It is a simple, naturally occurring organic polyhydric alcohol and one the most common, frequently, and abundantly used ingredients in personal care formulations for skin and hair products. 

Folks have debated glycerin’s merits in the curly hair community for years. Whether glycerin is good or bad for curly hair comes up often. The answer, it turns out, is a little bit of both. 

Simply put, glycerin is a humectant. That means that it can attract and retain moisture, and why glycerin is often used in products designed to hydrate the hair.

Its wide range of usage is because of its multifunctional benefits and different roles in each formulation. 

It is an excellent moisturizer, humectant, solubilizer, rheological modifier, and even sometimes stabilizer in a formulation.

Glycerin is also an inexpensive ingredient and is readily available. Besides cosmetics, glycerin has various chemical applications in different industrial sectors.

In this article, we further explore this fantastic ingredient, some basic information, its role in curly hair care formulations, and how to get the best out of glycerin in your hair care regimen.

What is Glycerin? 

In scientific terms, glycerin is a simple organic molecule with three hydroxyl groups attached to the carbon chain. Its chemical structure is shown below. 

Image of a glycerin chemical structure.

It has a slightly sweet taste and is a viscous liquid that easily dissolves in water. Glycerin is manufactured at a large industrial scale, mainly as a by-product of saponification (soap making, where vegetable fat or animal fat is hydrolyzed using sodium hydroxide).1 

The glycerin molecule is highly hygroscopic. That means it attracts water molecules from the air. This inherent property defines the characteristic features of glycerin and its applications. 

Glycerin is known by other names, such as:

  • Glycerine (British English) 
  • Glycerol 
  • Propane-1,2,3-triol 
  • 1,2,3-Propanetriol 
  • Propanetriol 
  • 1,2,3-Trihydroxypropane 

Safety of Glycerin in Skin and Hair Care Products 

Glycerin has been around for centuries. There are no known adverse effects or safety hazards for skin and hair care consumers, which is great.

Curly hair folk are primarily concerned about how well it does or doesn’t work for hair care. The safety of glycerin has never been a considerable concern. 

It can be added in concentration levels ranging from 2.0% to high up to 50% of the formulation (maybe even higher), depending upon the task and nature of the product.

Glycerin is a green and vegetable-derived naturally occurring ingredient with no adverse impact. 

Glycerin’s safety and toxicology have recently been reviewed in the International Journal of Toxicology, and experts found it safe in present-day cosmetics. Therefore, it is perfectly safe to use.

Key Benefits of Glycerin on Hair 

When looking into ingredients for hair care products, people most often look at the benefits. Each component should either benefit the overall result or be an essential element for the formulation. 

Glycerin has several benefits for your hair, such as: 

  • It is an excellent moisturizer for your hair.
  • It improves your hair moisture level. 
  • It addresses the issue of dryness.
  • It combats flaking and redness. 
  • It has an ideal safety profile with low toxicity. 
  • It enhances the formulation stability as it lets the product dry. 

How Does Glycerin Work for Hair? 

Image of a drop of glycerin for Glycerin for Hair: What You Need to Know blog.

Glycerin is a humectant having good water-binding ability and holding capacity. This feature is due to three hydroxy groups attached to the carbon chain. 

Glycerin binds water molecules via hydrogen bonding. The magnitude of water molecules binding glycerin molecules depends upon osmotic pressure and humidity level (availability of water molecules in the air). This characteristic property is exploited in hair care formulations. 

Other examples of humectants are: 

Glycerin-containing products (shampoo, conditioner, mask, or gel) attract water molecules, raising the hair’s moisture level. This moisture boost in hair fiber varies and depends on multiple factors. 

The water-holding capacity of hair varies with hair condition, protein level, porosity, damage, and external humidity level.

Porous hair fibers have a large pore size at the cuticle layer, and thus more moisture levels can penetrate the hair structure.  

Glycerin for Hair: Is it Good or Bad? 

Image of glycerin in a bottle for Glycerin for Hair: What You Need to Know blog.

Water is the key to hair life. Glycerin could be good for your hair, yet it may also have a negative impact. 

Its efficacy depends upon hair conditions and external weather conditions. Glycerin significantly improves hair moisture and helps address skin and hair dryness.

Hair dryness can indict significant damage like brittleness and loss of luster and becomes difficult to style and manage. 

Hair water uptake occurs via a dynamic balance system where adsorption or desorption varies with different humidity conditions. It is a “Two Way Traffic.”

Hair absorbs or may desorb water depending on the surrounding humidity. Moderate water absorption by hair improves health, quality, and outlook. 

However, an excess of anything is bad. High levels of glycerin may cause excessive water uptake, making hair swell and increasing its diameter.

More moisture in hair fibers breaks the hydrogen bond of keratin protein, thus, under high humidity conditions, making hair weak. 

Damaged hair fibers are more prone to this problem and are known to suffer severely. This is due to higher porosity and more space for water molecules to fill.

People with pre-damaged hair should take extra care to reduce the use of glycerin products. 

How to Use Glycerin for Hair Care 

You can incorporate glycerin into your hair care regime in a few ways. Here are some examples: 

  • Add a little glycerin to your conditioner in a 1:5 ratio (if not already present).  
  • Use ingredients like egg and avocado, and apply a natural hair mask for 20-30 minutes. 
  • Apply glycerin directly as an oil treatment for 30 minutes before washing your hair. 
  • Mix it in a 1:1 ratio with a cup of water in a spray bottle for a nourishing hair spray. 
  • Get store-bought products containing glycerin, like hair mists and styling cremes. 

The Cons of Using Glycerin on Hair 

Adverse effects or cons are usually present with any great product or ingredient. That also goes for glycerin. Here are some ways glycerin can negatively impact your hair: 

  • Excess or overuse use can lead to damaged hair. 
  • It can cause greasiness and build-up. 
  • Hair and scalp can become dry and flaky. 
  • It can make hair look weighed down. 
  • Overuse can lead to frizziness from excess moisture. 

How Glycerin Affects Hair During Summer and Winter 

Image of a 7 day weather forecast for Glycerin for Hair: What You Need to Know blog.

Your hair responds to glycerin and behaves differently during summer and winter. The two seasons have different temperatures and humidity levels, and both factors influence the hygroscopic activity of glycerin. 


During summer, glycerin is an excellent choice for hair hydration therapy. The humidity is generally around 50-65 %RH level, thus having a balanced moisture level in the air.

A mixture of glycerin and natural oils or butter boosts the hair’s moisture content, lubricity, and tactile properties. 


In winter, the air is dry, with low temperatures and humidity. Frosty windy conditions may also be present. Glycerin may not be a good option for your curls under these conditions.

It would attract water molecules inside the hair and scalp cells instead of drawing them from the air. 

That means more water molecules outflow from the hair surface, making hair and scalp even drier. Glycerin should be avoided in cold winter conditions (especially for curly and damaged hair).

Emollients and oils are better for preserving the internal moisture level, lubricating the surface, and minimizing water loss. 


Glycerin is an excellent remedy for dry and damaged hair. It is inexpensive, readily available, and a plant-sourced naturally occurring humectant that improves hair moisture levels.

Care should be taken under different conditions. Hair circumstances and external humidity conditions must be considered. 


1. Christoph, R.; Schmidt, B.; Steinberner, U.; Dilla, W.; Karinen, R., Glycerol. In Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, John Wiley & Sons: 2003.
2. Becker, L. C.; Bergfeld, W. F.; Belsito, D. V.; Hill, R. A.; Klaassen, C. D.; Liebler, D. C.; Marks Jr, J. G.; Shank, R. C.; Slaga, T. J.; Snyder, P. W., Safety assessment of glycerin as used in cosmetics. International journal of toxicology 2019, 38 (3_suppl), 6S-22S.
3. Loden, M.; Maibach, H. I., Dry Skin and Moisturizers: Chemistry and Function. Taylor & Francis: 2005.
4. Leyden, J. J.; Rawlings, A. V., Skin Moisturization. CRC Press: 2002.

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