Glycerin (also known as glycerol) is commonly found in skin care products because it attracts water and helps skin stay moisturized.
Glycerin also makes skin look and function better by helping skin cells mature properly.
Drs Wendy Bollinger Bollag and Xiangjian Zheng discovered glycerin's role in skin cell maturation while studying phospholipase D, an enzyme that converts fats or lipids in the external, protective cell membrane to cell signals. They found that when phospholipase D pairs with glycerin it produces a distinctive signal that directs skin cell maturation.
The researchers believed that the glycerin is serving as a substrate to allow the skin to mature properly and, when you don't have enough glycerin in the skin, cells don't mature properly and that is why you get hyper-proliferative, thick skin.
They tested their theory on a mouse model which had been genetically manipulated to lack sufficient glycerin in its skin. When glycerin was given topically or orally to these animals, many of the skin problems resolved. Other water-attracting agents did not work so well, which gives the researchers more fuel for their finding that glycerin also plays a key role in normal skin cell maturation and proliferation.
They hope their findings will not only contribute to a better understanding of normal skin development but lead to more effective treatment in diseases such as psoriasis and non-melanoma skin cancers, that result from abnormal proliferation and maturation of skin cells.
Journal ReferenceXiangjian Zheng and Wendy Bollinger Bollag. Aquaporin 3 Colocates with Phospholipase D2 in Caveolin-Rich Membrane Microdomains and Is Downregulated Upon Keratinocyte Differentiation. Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2003) 121, 1487–1495.