Glycerin Alternatives: No, you DON’T have to use Glycerin for Improved Moisture
Many naturals complain about how glycerin behaves in their hair and how they must pay attention to dew points and whatnot in order to get a great twist out. But if you want that added ‘umph’, you have to use glycerin, right? Wrong.
Glycerin (aka glycerol, aka glycerine) is a viscous colorless liquid often used as a humectant in hair products. It is said to draw moisture from the atmosphere, making the hair super soft.
If you’ve used a product with glycerin in it, this ‘dew point’ effect is why your hair may be super soft when its raining, when its about to rain, or if you’re close to a body of water.
However, when it comes to my curly hair, that extra super-softness comes at the price of curl definition. Whenever I use a product with glycerin in it, AND its soft, my hair usually looks like a puffy cotton ball. The way to combat the loss of curl definition is to use glycerin in conjunction with a high-hold gel.
According to research from swiftcraftymonkey’s blog, Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice says that glycerin works better when used with an “occlusive” ingredient. Occlusives are ingredients which create a barrier on the skin or hair depending on where you’re using them.
Occlusives are things like dimethicone, cyclomethicone, petrolatum, beeswax, mineral oil as well as some of our fav ingredients like shea butter, jojoba oil, Squalene, and cetyl alcohol. But there’s a world of difference between petrolatum and Shea butter, though.
Anyway, I’ve been on the hunt for other ingredients which would take the place of glycerin to act as a humectant in my DIY mixes.
Probably the best (and maybe the most expensive) humectant is Hyaluronic Acid, but its used mainly for skincare. Apparently its being studied for use in hair.
So, what glycerin alternatives are good for hair? Well, that depends on what you care about most.
If you don’t want to deal with dew points and humidity, the best of the glycerin alternatives, imo, is Glycine Betaine (Beet sugar) extract. Its known as Vegemoist (IngredientsToDieFor.com). Its a food grade humectant, anti-irritant, and it helps with collagen promotion and elasticity improvement. For hair, its used as a moisturizer, detangler, conditioner and shine enhancer.
The best thing about beet sugar extract (Vegemoist) is that it adds hydration directly instead of trying to draw moisture out of the air around you. The “saccharides” makes it a good choice to use in any climate. In other words, you don’t have to worry whether its humid or not, or what the dew point is. Just use it.
The grade sold by ITDF is EcoCert approved, Kosher, NPA and NSF approved.
And yes I have actually used it repeatedly since its a water soluble powder which easily dissolves. I’ve sprinkled some in my lemon balm hair spritzer, which is basically Lemon Balm tea and a preservative.
I’ve used it in my normal flaxseed gel mix. I add it to about 2 TBSP of water and mix it into the finished flaxseed gel. It was pretty good. My hair was not nearly as crunchy as it is when I use regular flaxseed gel.
I didn’t use a high percentage, so while my hair was soft, it wasn’t as soft (or sticky) as when I use glycerin. I will test at a higher percentage sometime in the future, though.
I’ve also used it to make my mom one hell of a moisturizing leave in conditioning cream. I was impressed because it moisturized even when I put it on my dry, dry, dry curls.
Use this if you don’t want to worry about dew points, and need something which is easy to handle and will leave a very moisturized feel. It is my go-to humectant that works with everything.
If you want something that’s not sticky and a much better humectant than glycerin, then I recommend Sodium Lactate for skincare mixes, and I would only use it for skincare and not haircare. Sodium lactate is outstanding in adding softness and a hydrated feel to the skin. I’m not kidding. Skip this for your hair mixes.
It’s not sticky at all, unlike glycerin. Sodium lactate is actually a food grade material and was used for decades in the meat packing industry.
However, I think it may be one of those ingredients which draws moisture out of the air. Sodium lactate feels so incredible on the skin I’m going to use it anyway, regardless.
Use it in place of glycerin if you want a better, much more supple feel.
If you want something which is reportedly good for adding luster and reducing static buildup, you might wanna try Honeyquat.
Honeyquat (or Hydroxypropyltrimonium Honey) is found in many natural care products. Its a conditioning agent made from honey with moisturizing properties better than glycerin. Its water soluble and is used to improve combability of the hair by reducing static.
Unless I get a better quality honeyquat (I got mine from Soap Goods) or learn how to use it better, I will not be using it. Whenever I use it, my final product ends up with a weird, fishy type of smell. Yuck! I don’t know if my batch was old or what, but I’m loathed to try it again unless I get it from another wholesaler. Maybe I’ll try lotioncrafter.com
Sodium PCA is the sodium salt of pyroglutamic acid. Its clear, colorless and water soluble. Its used in creams, gels, lotions, conditioners, etc.
It has antistatic properties as well, which is thought to help keep the frizz to a minimum. I have no direct experience working with Sodium PCA. However, its another one of those ingredients which draws moisture from the air too.
Sodium PCA is found in a lot of products….and I mean, a LOT of products. However, there are concerns about it containing nitrosamines, which means it can form carcinogenic nitrosamine compounds.
So take your pick. There are some glycerin alternatives which will work very well depending on your final goal and what you may be able to overlook.