Glycerin is a much loved ingredient within the natural hair community for a number of reasons. It has a thick consistency, and a little goes a long way. Sometimes it can stand on its own and be used for multiple steps in the typical textured hair regimen. And the experts agree.

What glycerin looks, smells, and feels like 

Glycerin is clear, has no odor and feels like a sticky, runny custard once applied from the hands to the hair. It is an organic compound made from vegetable fat, and is considered a food-grade thinning agent, totally dissolving in water.

It is easily absorbed into medium to high porosity hair and provides shiny curl definition that can last days after washing and styling. For this reason, glycerin is often at the top of the list in curly hair detanglers, moisturizing hair milks, cleansing conditioners, and curl definers. Glycerin is also an effective remedy against dry, scaly scalp. 

This is because naturally curly hair tends to be drier at the ends, due to the scalp's natural oil production not being able to travel down the entire strand as easily as it would on straight hair. Glycerin lubricates curly hair, giving it more slip and moisture.

What the experts say about it

Marsha Coulton, founder of Curl Junkie, says “I wouldn’t say glycerin is a miracle ingredient because it’s all in the proportions and combinations, but it is one of the most useful ingredients. If you use too much, it can be too heavy and feel like an oil in your hair, [but] if you use too little, you don’t get the effect you're looking for." 

Celebrity hairstylist Frédéric Fekkai praises glycerine because "it helps smooth the hair to reduce frizz and helps keep the flexibility of the curls." John Davis of AG Hair Cosmetics seconds this notion, stating the ability the ingredient has to "encourage curl" definition and lock in moisture. 

Chaz Dean, founder of Wen by Chaz Dean, swears by glycerine in his products that the curly haired community loves. “I try to get people to embrace their natural curls, and glycerin aids in defining, hydrating and separating the curl.” Dean says. “I am full force on glycerin and anything that is moisturizing and hydrating to the hair because you are then able to embrace what you innately have in your texture.”

Farouk Systems VP of Research and Development, Ali D. Ghannad, says glycerin helps his product formulations. "If I have a product that is thick and I need to put something to decrease the viscosity or thickness, I may use glycerin because it doesn’t hurt my product but helps by being moisturizing," he says. "If you use too much, though, your hair becomes tacky or sticky.”

Who should use products containing glycerin?

  • Frizzy hair
  • Fine, low density hair
  • Unnaturally coarse (heat or color) damaged hair
  • Type 3c-4c curl textures
Glycerin is a natural humectant, naturally attracting moisture from the air into the hair, which allow coarser curl types to benefit greatly when using a glycerin product to layer or cocktail another. The amount of glycerin used in a product matters not only for coarse, type 3c to 4c curl types, but also for those with fine, low density hair. Naomi Mackenzie of BlackDoctor.org notes the importance of the climate of the environment someone lives in in order for glycerin to work to its full potential. "In a cold/dry environment you may want to stay away from the use of glycerin...This is not only counterproductive, but has a seriously negative impact on your strands. If you aren’t sure, your best bet is to make sure you are using the glycerin as a supplement to your moisturizing routine, not as the sole provider."

Glycerin is used in literally thousands of curly hair products that you have come to know and love, for its truly multipurpose qualities.

Do you like products with glycerin?