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Is Glycerin Bad for Hair?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This article is part of a response posted to a question asked by one  member on the online web forum. I have started the post from the most pertinent point. Originally posted by Marah Mizrahi.

Like Curl Nikki stated glycerin is hygroscopic. Meaning it takes moisture from the atmosphere. So yes, it can help the hair stay moisturized because it’s bringing moisture to your hair. Glycerin is helpful to many people to combat dry hair and glycerin itself is not drying. So when people say, “glycerin is drying”..that’s sort of a misnomer. Hence why she says, ” This is sort of true, but not really”.

In a technical way of looking at it think of it like this: Humectants, like glycerin, can work by absorption (where the substance being collected or removed actually penetrates into the other substance) or through adsorption (where the substance being collected simply sits on the surface).

Curly Nikki, is focused on the ABSORPTION aspect of glycerin in her article. And she’s absolutely correct in it.

Now here’s why other people are correct about glycerin being “drying” in a sense:

Thought process behind why people opt not to use Glycerin in colder months:

Other people are correct as well though because in the Winter months (and sometimes the Fall) when it gets cold the air often becomes drier and there may be little or what feels like no moisture in the air.

For instance, in your house when it’s cold like most of us you probably turn your heat on so it can stay warm. Other places like businesses and schools do the same thing. So those places are constantly being heated and that air can often feel dry. You know how your skin can feel dry in the winter especially when you are inside a very well heated building ? Well it’s because of the lack of moisture in the atmosphere you are in.

While glycerin does attract water molecules from the air and help with moisturization, it can be a problem if there is little or no moisture in the atmosphere for it to utilize. If glycerin is in your hair in a drier’s still going to do its primary function: Draw moisture (attract water molecules). Which means it would be taking the moisture from your hair because it has no other place to get those water molecules from if the air in the atmosphere is particularly dry.

So basically the thinking is: in the Winter months when things seems to get dry inside an environment, if one is using glycerin in their hair and that glycerin doesn’t have a steady source of water molecules to attract from the will “turn” or as some people like to say: “It dries my hair out”. Why ? Because glycerin will still do its job which is to “draw moisture”, but it just will draw that moisture from your hair instead of the atmosphere by the process of adsorption instead of absorption. The hair will often feel greasy but not moisturized.

These people are focused on the ADSORPTION effects of glycerin. And they are absolutely correct to be concerned about it especially in colder months.

So technically, Curly Nikki, and the other folks are both correct in the different uses of logic when it comes to glycerin.

Now here is the catch to all this: POROSITY. Porosity is basically how easily water and other matter can diffuse back and forth through the cuticle layer and into or out of the cortex of the hair.

Humectants, like glycerin can cause a problem for people with hair that has higher porosity if they are used improperly. For instance, If a person has hair with a higher porosity is using a humectant like glycerin constantly and are around areas where their hair does absorb tons of moisture in excess this can lead to the hair becoming “overly saturated” with moisture. If the hair with high porosity becomes “overly saturated” on a regular basis it can lose its normal elasticity. This can be a terrible problem because a lot of breakage can occur to the hair when it’s manipulated by combing, brushing, rubbing, etc.

So while glycerin is hygroscopic and is great to help with moisture in general.. getting the best benefits from using it in the hair depends on a few things. They are: the proper usage of it in general (meaning knowing when and how to use it), the porosity of the hair (meaning how easily water goes in an out of the hair shaft), and the atmosphere/environment in which it’s used (meaning is the air dry, there is  a lot of moisture around, etc).


Hope this helps,


29 Comments leave one →
  1. Saturday, July 12, 2014 5:15 AM

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  2. Monday, July 7, 2014 8:32 PM

    It’s nearly impossible to find experienced people about
    this subject, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about!

  3. Friday, July 5, 2013 7:53 PM

    Can you help me understand something a little better? Not sure yet if this is a coincidence so far but I have been experiencing hair breakage which I attributed to wearing braids and buns because every time I put them in, the breakage got worse and worse. When I read about midshaft breakage (mechanical breakage), braiding hair when it’s wet was a major culprit and that is something I was doing all the time. So when I stopped doing all protective styling at all I did notice a decrease, however this was not the end of the story. My hair is not high porosity according to my strand test. It reads as low porosity. However for some reason my hair behaves more like high po hair in some cases and I am not sure if that is because it had been damaged. However someone on naturally curly told me that she attributed her midshaft splitting to glycerin. When she stopped using products containing glycerin her hair greatly improved. Being that my strand tests indicate extremely low porosity, I am trying to understand why it is that When I stopped using glycerin products and glycerin itself, it seemed to finally nip the problem in the bid, especially after I clarified. Could it be that glycerin overly moisturized my hair, being that I have “mixed” fine hair and perhaps it was too moisturizing. Where I live at this time, the humidity is very high. Could it be that my hair was over moisturized? I still put a lot of conditioner and products on but without glycerin, and so far my hair seems to be fine. If you have any insight as to why it may negatively affect low porosity hair I would appreciate it. Thank you.

  4. Michele permalink
    Friday, June 28, 2013 4:46 PM

    Thank you so much for this very detailed and easy to understand explanation of glycerin!

  5. Monday, May 27, 2013 11:46 AM

    Normally I don’t learn article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, very nice article.

  6. Monday, May 13, 2013 8:14 AM

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