Hyaluronic acid and glycerin on a pastel background


Choose Your Fighter: Hyaluronic Acid VS Glycerin

by @sabletoothtigre
Nov 4, 2020


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Wetness is the essence of moisture and moisture is the essence of beauty. While Zoolander hasn't aged terribly well, that one credence remains eternally true (as well as mermen). But how are we to be our dewiest selves? Well, there are many roads to moisture but a few common humectants will get you there a lot quicker and easier. Who are they? Hyaluronic Acid and Glycerin. You'll find these both in lots of skincare products and while HA has been having its heyday as a champion ingredient in the most hi-lo of products (like the $7 The Ordinary HA+B5 serum and the $300 Dr. Sturm Hyaluronic Acid serum), glycerin has been a mainstay behind the scenes, humbly doing the work without the fancy shout-outs.

Both are humectants—meaning they attract and trap water. However, on a molecular level, glycerin is a much smaller sized molecule so it can penetrate deeper into skin and more easily be absorbed. Hyaluronic Acid forms that cushion-y layer on skin, that creates that nice plump feeling you want in dewy skin. Hyaluronic acid's larger molecules work better sitting on top of skin as a hydrating cushion, so what you're getting is a more superficial effect. Glycerin, however, helps skin to better retain hydration overall, minimizing water loss and even calming irritation.

For someone like me with dehydrated skin, I CRAVE humectants. I need them, I want them—I want to be able to bounce nickels off my cheeks because they're so plump. And for a long time, I had been worshiping at the HA altar. I mean, it's been alright. But it wasn't "curing" my skin dehydration, really. It was mostly just keeping it from getting worse. And that's when I thought to reach for glycerin. Not like straight up 100% glycerin (which you can buy quite cheaply at the grocery store but should not be putting on your skin because that concentration can actually draw water out of your skin, which is the opposite of what you want) but products with glycerin within the first 3 ingredients.

After using hyaluronic acid toners and serums for so long, I decided to give glycerin a more discerning try and focus on incorporating those products into my routine to see if they fared better.

Hyaluronic Acid

OK, so I'm well experienced with these guys, The Ordinary's being one of my go-tos for so long. Also a big fan of the Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Toner. I'm not super particular when it comes to HA because, generally, it's the same ingredient all around, so one product with it (if that's the main ingredient) isn't necessarily more powerful than another, unless multi-sized molecules are incorporated. And even so, they only get so small, ya know?


For that thicc hydration, I actually have found that focusing on glycerin-based skincare products has been paying off. One especially is Faace's Tired Face Mask. It's a gel that sinks into your skin when you pat it in, leaving behind a plump albeit slightly tacky texture. The tackiness goes away once I apply moisturizer on top, btw. It kind of makes my skin feel like it does after I do a sheet mask without the mess/wait, which is a bonus. CosRx's Propolis line is also very hydration and calming focused and it features glycerin (with sodium hyaluronate towards the end of the ingredient list) in a much lighter-feeling formula. The Propolis Synergy Toner is a great pick if you have dehydrated but perhaps oily skin.

The Verdict:

To be honest, I think a combo of both is the most effective approach. I mean, why pit them against one another as one being superior to the other? Sure, if I absolutely had to choose, I think I'd go for glycerin, but the way things are going, more skincare products heavily feature hyaluronic acid as a main standout ingredient, while products with glycerin kind of use it as either a supporting character or blend it with lots of other actives so it's not necessarily the star. Take that information as you will. I fully supporting teaming them up, though.

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