Personal care products like creams, lotions and soaps contain glycerol, a compound known to be a humectant. It attracts moisture and keeps skin feeling smooth and supple. It prevents dryness, too. This is why lots of products for the skin contain the compound. It is one of the safest and most useful chemical on earth, and is actually a by-product during soap making but commercial soap makers remove the substance in the soap mixture and use it in other products such as moisturizing creams and lotions. Medical College of Georgia has researchers saying that as much as glycerol offers skin benefits, the chemical may have therapeutic effects too.
Glycerol or glycerin is a sugar alcohol. It is a trihydric alcohol with three hydroxyl groups attached to each carbon atom. This molecular feature may better be left for chemists. The chemical has an important property which is hygroscopicity. This hygroscopic nature of the compound means that it attracts moisture or draws in water from the surroundings. This characteristic has become known in many industries particularly the cosmetics and skin care product industries.
There have been debates as to the effectiveness of the substance as a moisturizing agent. If it is indeed water-absorbing, it may pull in moisture from the air and even from the skin tissue itself. However, this hypothesis has never been validated.
There is a young hypothesis, on the other hand, that is under careful study and it has something to do with the role of glycerol in skin maturation process. It has been known in anatomy classes that the stages of skin growth start in the lower layers. Young skin cells move up pushing the old cells up where they die forming a protective outer layer. However, this process is not as simple as it looks.
Glycerol has something to do with the maturation of skin cells. This was what researchers found out recently. As you have known in your biology classes, each cell is enclosed by a lipid bilayer. This double phospholipid membrane serves as the protective covering of cells. The skin cells have additional layer for additional protection and this makes the skin a tough barrier.
An enzyme called phospholipase D has something to do with the process and it has been found out that glycerol combines with this enzyme to direct skin cell maturation. The combination produces phosphatidylglycerol, which is a lipid that activates enzymes necessary for cell differentiation.
It appeared that lack of this trihydric alcohol in the skin causes some problems such as thickening due to failure of the skin tissue to mature properly. A study subjected mice whose genes were modified such that they produce less glycerol. Another version of the study had mice whose lacked fats. Remember, the compound under investigation comes from fats. All these mice showed little glycerin, thus skin maturation was impaired. The result was mice with dry and thick skin.
The subjects of the study, which happened to be mice, were given glycerin orally. The skin conditions showed improvement. Mice given with other agents did not show improvements. This made researchers conclude that the water-loving compound has something to do with the development of the skin tissue.
The activation mechanism in skin cells is important, without which various skin conditions can occur. Skin disorders like psoriasis and skin cancer occur as a result of trouble in the maturation of the skin cells. In these cases, skin maturation is disrupted by continuous cell growth and this leads to abnormality.
Although this research is not basically aimed at possible treatment programs, it aims to understand the processes involved in the development of skin tissue. It is now known that glycerol has something to do with the maturation of skin tissue. What remains unknown is the exact participation of phosphatidylglycerol and what enzymes it activates. Another thing is how it activates those enzymes. This further research could be a breakthrough in dermatological study. It could open doors to more advanced treatment procedures for various skin diseases.