I started using vegetable glycerin as a leave-in moisturizer a couple of months ago. At around the same time, someone from the natural hair community told me that glycerin thickens hair. I honestly didn’t believe her.
The thing is, I naturally have very thick hair and I couldn’t imagine having to deal with added thickness. So I took it up as a challenge, and seven months down the line I have something to report.
What is glycerin?
If you carefully read the composition of many hair and skincare products, you’ll find that 90% of them contain glycerin.
So, what is glycerin and why is it used in these products?
Glycerin was discovered by German scientist Karl Scheele in 1779.
This is one of the varieties of polyhydric alcohol, which can be in the form of a colorless viscous liquid or crystals.
The very first glycerin was obtained by heating olive oil with iron oxide added to it.
The solution had no color, no smell, and its distinctive feature was a sweet taste.
Because of this sweet taste, the name “glycos” was coined from ancient Greek, which translates to “sweet”.
How many types of glycerin are there?
There are two main types of glycerin: synthetic and natural glycerin.
Technical or synthetic glycerin is mainly used in paint and varnish production, instrument making and other industries that are not directly related to the effect on human health.
Synthetic glycerin has a low purity degree (80-85%) and a large number of impurities, that is why it is suitable only for technical purposes.
For medicine, cosmetology, and food production purposes natural glycerin is used.
This type of glycerin is obtained from natural fats, usually vegetables.
The quality of the resulting product is improved by distillation with the addition of water vapor.
As a result of this process, distilled glycerin with a purity degree of 95-99.7% can be obtained.
Using glycerin as a hair moisturizer
Glycerin is a great humectant.
A humectant is usually described as a “magnet” that attracts water.
These are moisturizing agents that are known for their ability to retain moisture.
Glycerin, for instance, is a heavy humectant than can pull moisture from the surrounding environment into the hair and retain it.
For the last seven months, I’ve been mixing vegetable glycerin with water in a spray bottle and use it as a daily spritz.
It’s the first time I’m using glycerin as a hair moisturizer in my adult life.
My mum used it on my hair when I was a kid under the age of ten (before relaxers took over.. lol).
Based on the benefits I’ve been seeing in the last few months, I guess my mum’s generation understood that glycerin was a great solution for hair dryness.
I have low porosity hair and I’ve been struggling with keeping my hair moisturized.
I’m glad to report that the perpetual dryness seems to be gone.
For the first time since my first big chop, my hair is able to retain moisture and it feels so soft.
My mane is also so smooth.
Can we use glycerin for thinning hair?
Apart from the moisturizing benefits, glycerin helps in strengthening the hair, leading to less formation of split ends.
The strengthening nature of glycerin also helps prevent further hair breakage.
This is good for people dealing with thinning hair.
Since I started using glycerin, I have experienced less hair breakage. This is not the same as saying that glycerin thickens hair.
My hair thickness has not changed at all in those seven months.
I think since glycerin also causes a general improvement and strengthening of hair, some people might tend to think that glycerin thickens hair.
Moreover, glycerin is also used for hair growth. Again, this should not be used to mean that glycerin thickens hair.
Another great benefit of glycerin is its ability to deal with dandruff.
Applying glycerin on your scalp can help to get rid of dandruff. It’ll also help soothe a dry scalp by creating a cooling sensation on the scalp.
Glycerin effectively addresses the itching and irritation caused by dandruff.
Glycerin mix for natural hair
This awesome ingredient can be mixed with water and many other products to make a leave-in moisturizer to be used as a daily spritz.
To do this, add glycerin in water. Since glycerin is a heavy humectant, my preferred ratio is 1:5 (glycerin: water).
You can also add rose water and/or aloe vera juice in the spray bottle to make a great moisturizing mix.
Glycerin is also very effective in enhancing hair growth when it’s mixed together with some essential oils.
You can also make hair shampoo from glycerin, olive oil, and soap chips.
Another type can also be made using glycerin, chamomile, and soap flakes.
Homemade shampoo with glycerin will moisturize your hair.
You’ll also be sure that the cleansing mix is made of natural products that cannot dry out your hair.
You’ll also be saving some bucks since the cost of producing this shampoo is a fraction of the cost of store-bought shampoos.
Does glycerin make hair frizzy?
Well, it’s not all roses when it comes to glycerin use on the hair.
If you are in a climate that is very hot and humid, glycerin will absorb a lot of moisture from the surrounding environment.
This will cause your hair to swell, raising the cuticle and disrupting your curl pattern, creating frizzy hair.
Moreover, in a very dry climate, glycerin draws the moisture out of your hair so as to help balance the moisture in the surrounding environment.
You should limit your use of glycerin during winter since cold air tends to be quite dry with low to no humidity.
Your hair is at risk of dehydration if glycerin pushes moisture out of it.
This can lead to hair damage and even breakage.
Hair experts advise that people who have semi-permanent hair dye should be careful.
This is because, as glycerin penetrates the hair cuticle, it strips away any present chemical colors.
On the other hand, if you have permanent hair dye, then there is no cause for worry.
Apparently, the color particles are much smaller so glycerin is not able to strip the color away.
Other uses of glycerin
The following are some of the other ways that glycerin is used.
Glycerin in cosmetology
Since glycerin can absorb moisture from the environment, it is actively used by manufacturers of moisturizing cosmetics.
Glycerin is a well-known humectant that moisturizes and softens the skin.
It creates a thin film on the surface of the skin that doesn’t allow water to evaporate from it.
Glycerin is suitable for all types of skin and rarely causes allergic reactions.
Therefore cosmetics with glycerin are widely used all over the world.
But such cosmetics have some limitations. If the air is very dry, glycerin begins to absorb the moisture of the skin, making it even drier thus causing irritation.
A similar effect is caused by a high glycerin content in cosmetics – it should be no more than 7%.
Glycerin in medicine
The purest glycerin which has passed the distillation process is often used in medicine.
The pharmacies sell food glycerin that is used to reduce intracranial and intraocular pressure.
Among other things, it has antiseptic properties, so it is part of the balms for wound healing and skin repair.
Glycerin is used as a solvent for various substances; it replaces water for the preparation of highly concentrated medical solutions.
Glycerin in food
When it comes to food, glycerin is often hidden behind the name “food stabilizer E422” or simply “food glycerin”.
This food supplement is officially recognized as harmless and approved in most countries of the world.
It can be found in almost every confectionery and bakery product. Glycerin improves the consistency of the dough and the product becomes more voluminous.
Glycerin in agriculture
Seeds, seedlings, and trees are treated with glycerin to protect against pests and accelerate growth.
Glycerin in the tobacco industry
Glycerin softens the taste of tobacco, gives it a pleasant aroma and regulates humidity.
Recommended brands of vegetable glycerin (for hair)
Glycerin is highly recommended for people who struggle with moisture-related challenges.
We should also go for a moisturizer that has glycerin as one of the first few ingredients.
This humectant helps our hair to retain moisture and leaves it soft and smooth.
However, it’s not true to claim that glycerin thickens hair. After my seven-month experiment, I can confirm that my hair did not thicken at all.
Finally, depending on your surrounding environment, glycerin can work against you.
Please remember to minimize its use during humid weather conditions your hair might end up in a frizzy mess.