How to Use Glycerin for DIY Beauty

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Glycerin’s in a lot of skincare products because it’s an awesome humectant moisturiser that can grab onto water and hold it to the skin. It’s also very cheap to buy at the supermarket ($9.35 for 200 mL at Coles in Australia, $6-7 for 473 mL/16 fl. oz on iHerb or Amazon).

Glycerin for DIY Beauty

What can you do with it? Here are some (low-effort) suggestions:

Make a moisturising nail polish remover

Most nail polish removers have this issue where they either work very well but dessicate your cuticles, or they’re kind to your skin but take forever to dissolve nail polish. This acetone-glycerin mix blends the best of both worlds: acetone will dissolve your nail polish like no one’s business, and glycerin will stop it from stripping away moisture. Here’s my recipe for a gentle but effective DIY glycerin/acetone remover.

Make a hydrating toner

Glycerin is found in tons of toners thanks to its ability to hold onto water, which can revive dehydrated skin. Plain water will normally dehydrate your skin because it makes your skin more permeable, then when it evaporates it makes your skin drier than before. Adding glycerin stops this from happening. The only problem with this is that glycerin/water combos need preservatives if you leave them for more than a few days, because glycerin is very good food for bacteria (if it’s above ~50% glycerin content it’s a bit like honey so bacteria can’t survive…but it’s also sticky and thick like honey so it isn’t pleasant to have on your skin all day).

For a simple water/glycerin spray you can mix distilled water with glycerin in a 10:1 ratio (use less glycerin if this is too sticky). If you don’t want to remake your toner every few days, you’ll have to add a tiny amount of a preservative such as Germaben II.

A way of getting around using a preservative is to mix water and glycerin in your hand every day right when you’re about to use it. After cleansing your face, pat it dry with a towel. Then put one drop on your hand and add a splash of water. Pat it all over your face for immediate hydration. If you live in a dry climate, seal it in with a moisturiser containing occlusive ingredients.

Put glycerin in DIY serums

You can also add a drop or two of glycerin to your DIY vitamin C serum to add a hydrating boost. The low pH will help control bacteria so it’ll last a little longer, and you have to remake the serum at least once a week anyway due to vitamin C degradation.

Use glycerin to boost your moisturisers

If you have a cream that isn’t quite as hydrating as you’d like, you can mix a drop of glycerin into it in your hand right before you apply it. This way you don’t have to worry about whether or not the glycerin is messing up the preservative system of the rest of your product. Be warned though: a small amount of glycerin goes a long way, so there’ll be a bit of trial and error before you’ll get the right balance between sticky and hydrating.

Add glycerin to clay masks to stop dehydration

Clay masks are great for sucking out oil, but they can also be dehydrating. Glycerin helps your skin hold onto water while letting the oil leave. I find it especially good for mixing into an Aztec Clay Mask. A few drops along with vinegar or citric acid/water makes a big difference!

Hair treatment

I haven’t tried this myself, but you can add a teaspoon of glycerin to your shampoo to keep your scalp hydrated while washing, and you can spray a mixture (1:4 glycerin/water) into your hair to make it softer and to define curls. Be warned though – it can cause frizziness!

DIY eyeshadow foiling medium

If you want to make your eyeshadows really pop, or if you have a loose eyeshadow powder that you’re not coordinated enough to use normally, mixing it with water and glycerin as a foiling medium might be your answer. The swatches below are of a loose eyeshadow, from left to right on bare skin, over a primer and with DIY foiling medium (1:3 glycerin/water).

Glycerin eyeshadow foiling medium

What are your favourite uses for glycerin? Let me know in the comments!

How to Use Glycerin for DIY Beauty

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31 thoughts on “How to Use Glycerin for DIY Beauty”

  1. What a great article! I made your DIY vitamin C serum using some Ascorbic Acid powder I had bought in bulk a while back. I’ve kept the powder dry and in a dark place, so I’m guessing it’s still good. It tastes good when I get a little on my lips! I like your serum “recipe” very much. Then I added the glycerin and didn’t like it as well because I probably added too much and it became a little sticky. I was wondering … Can the vitamin C DIY serum be added to a 12% glycolic acid AHA lotion (store bought) or would that inactivate the vitamin C? Thanks for all the great guidance you give!

    Reply
    • It should work! Or you could dissolve the vitamin C straight into the 12% glycolic AHA lotion (do it in small batches though it case it messes up the preservative system).

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  2. Also wanted to say that I’ve been reading your blog for years and find it intelligent, funny, and wonderfully relevant. I’m all the way over here in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and the internet makes it possible for me to benefit from the knowledge of a bright PhD in Australia! You gotta love that!

    If you’re ever in California giving a presentation, I’d love to hear you!

    Reply
  3. Goodness, I love your blog! You have such an original perspective. Thanks for the great article- not just a regular beauty blog!

    Reply
  4. I always use a 1-2% glycerine & manuka honey in my lip gloss, along with 2% lecithin + lanolin, to emulsify & get it to stay on.

    Reply
  5. Hi,

    I have some orange blossom water (cosmetic grade) – can I use some of that instead of water for the diy toner? Would be nice to use that up, but it’s far to strong smelling to use pure…

    Reply
  6. Hi Michelle,

    I want to make a hydrating toner and bought glycerine and some of the Germaben II from Amazon. Do you know how much Germaben we might want to add? The bottle I got is a little vague concerning usage. I can ask the seller, but thought you might know.

    Thanks,
    Karen

    Reply
    • Followup: the seller on Amazon was not too helpful. They said Germaben II is actually not meant for liquid preparations. They claimed they would ask their supplier and get back to me, but never did. I emailed them again a couple of times over the next month or two, but they never gave me an answer.

      Reply
  7. How fast does glycerin expire? I bought a 200ml bottle of 85% glycerin solution a couple years ago, and it has an expiration date which was last year! I used it to make a hydrating toner/mist similar to the one in this blog post, but I haven’t dared to do so anymore, because I fear that it might be swarming with bacteria by now… ?
    Should I throw it out, or is it a completely baseless claim, like as if honey would expire too?

    Reply
    • Nope! There’s a study where it increased skin hydration in a dry climate when applied alone in water (without any occlusives etc.).

      Reply
  8. Hello everyone ! I DIY my clay mask. I mix clay ( the Color depends on your skin type : green, pink, white, red, etc) with distilled water, 10% of glycerin and a preservative that likes water formula such as grapefruit seed. I let the mask sets 10min about 3times a week. It works wonder! I also have a rose floral water that I use after cleansing I add 10% of glycerin and keep it in the frig. I’m still looking for good formulation to keep my skin hydrated. I have a dehydrated combination skin, I know now thanks to you Michelle , so I’m very happy I’ve found you ❤️
    Enjoy your day!

    Reply
    • Céline, grapefruit seed isn’t a preservative. It’s merely an antioxidant. You need a genuine preservative to preserve anything’ll. Grapefruit seed won’t do it.

      Reply
      • Hello, yes it is, a natural one, such as vitamine E for oil based formulas. I stored my clay mask in a glass jar for weeks and it didn’t turned on any colour nor bad smell. You should try grapefruit seed extract is a well known preservative, I use it for ages.
        Enjoy the day !

        Reply
        • Actually Céline, Binky is correct. Grapefruit seed and vitamin are not preservatives, they are antioxidants. A preservative prevents bacteria from forming and taking over a product. Antioxidants are not capable of doing this. They can prevent raw oils and butters from going rancid quickly, in addition to their skin benefits, but in a formulation containing water they will not prevent bacteria or fungus from growing.

          The reason your clay mask may not have spoiled is likely because clays tend to be more alkaline. Also, just because something doesn’t smell or look bad doesn’t always mean it’s good. Bacteria and fungi are microscopic organisms and often wreak havoc covertly before showing themselves.

          Reply
  9. Thank you for this post! I’m just wondering if there is any other way to minimize bacteria growth in the spray other than buying a preservative… Would keeping it in the fridge extend its usability by a few days at least, or even weeks? Or, would adding an acidic ingredient enable this? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Lowering the pH to around 3 will help, as will keeping it in the fridge. I don’t think keeping it in the fridge will preserve it for longer than a few days though!

      Reply
  10. I love to DIY with glycerin and always look for it in the first 5 ingredients lists. To boost a hydration serum right after a shower Hado Labo Premium, iUnik Beta Glucan Serum and Propolis Vitamin Serum, a dose of niacinamide and glycerin. Apply to damp face then seal with moisturiser or sunscreen. I add it to face sprays. I add it to my matcha masks. My DIY fail has been trying to include it in a shower oil grrr!!

    Reply
  11. This is incredible. So looking forward to picking up glycerin, I dread using clay masks because it’s so drying on my skin, adding glycerin to the mask might just be what I need to avoid drying my skin out.

    Reply
  12. Thank you so much for this! It’s like you’re a mind reader, I was just thinking if mixing glycerin into stuff yourself was a viable thing to do. Happy to hear it’s doable, but I have cosgard/geogard 221 on hand as a preservative – hopefully it’ll be a decent alternative?

    Reply
  13. Hi Michelle,
    If you mix glycerin with water in your hand to use on your face, could the water be tap water or should that also be distilled water?
    And when you use glycerin and water mixed in your hand, or in a small bottle (the ratio you mentioned) do you know what ph that mixture has?

    Reply
    • Either should be fine, glycerin doesn’t affect pH unless it contains acidic or basic impurities so it should just be similar to the pH of the water.

      Reply
  14. What do you think about glycerine as a gentle cleanser. Ive seen it being touted as having some cleansing properties. I like to put some on my face before I jump in the shower, and let my face soak up the moisture from the shower before rinsing it off. My guess is it isn’t as cleansing as an oil or surfactant based cleanser, but I’m wondering if you had any insights on its efficacy in this way.

    Reply

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