Packing for my most recent trip — my family’s late-summer Asbury Park beach vacation — I noticed I was feeling considerably less stressed than usual as I corralled my skincare products. I have sensitive and rather temperamental skin, and in the past, packing my skincare has meant a lot of product, including some prescription ointments for rosacea and other skincare concerns.
But this time around, envisioning my skincare for travel routine and getting all my liquids into a TSA-approved zipper baggy for my carry-on felt a lot more streamlined. I was also happy not to be packing anything prescribed and found myself asking “What’s changed about my skincare routine?”
I realized I’ve shifted to using — almost exclusively — glycerin-free skincare products, plus some great supplements that support my skin health through the ups and downs of travel.
What Is Glycerin?
If you’re in the habit of looking at ingredient lists on skincare products for travel and otherwise, you might feel like glycerin is in everything. Before getting into a routine with these products, I certainly did. And even as I started avoiding products with glycerin, I struggled to really nail down what it was.
I did my own searching but wanted to hear it from an expert, and eventually chatted with Dr. Alpana Mohta, M.D., a certified dermatologist and board member at BetterGoods.org, who told me glycerin
- Is a clear, odorless liquid that is produced from fats and oils that are byproducts of the soap-making process
- Is used in many skincare products because it has the ability to attract and retain moisture
- Can be derived naturally or synthetically
She went on to explain that “natural sources of glycerin include plants such as soy, coconut, and palm oils. Synthetic glycerin is derived from petroleum.”
Why Do I Hate The Way It Feels?
Dr. Mohta told me that some people dislike the feeling of glycerin-containing products on their skin because it’s a humectant, which means that as a result of its molecular structure, it draws moisture from the air, and potentially your skin itself.
“This can result in a sticky feeling on the skin. In addition, products that contain glycerin may not be suitable for use in humid climates because they can cause the skin to retain too much moisture, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.”
Ding, ding, ding! This explains why as a person with moister or oilier skin, I am not a fan of glycerin-containing products, especially when I’m hitting the road or trying to keep my cool and look put together getting through the airport, flights, and beyond.
Whether you already love glycerin-free skincare or want to try something new, here are the glycerin-free skincare products I won’t travel without — all 1.7 ounces or under so they can be packed in your carry-on bag.
Note: These are my unbiased reviews. I purchase all these products for myself at full price (or with a little help from Capital One Shopping!) and have never received any as trials.
This serum is my number-one must-have skincare product. I wear it every day. It’s the perfect alternative to traditional moisturizer with just four ingredients: electrolyzed oxygenated water, clay, Dead Sea salt, and hypochlorous acid, a wound-healing agent “known to help reduce blemishes, reverse markers of epidermal aging, protect against environmental toxins, decrease scarring, fight bacteria and cleanse the skin.”
I’ve been using this product for years and can say without reservation that it’s the best-feeling product I’ve ever put on my skin. Bonus: It comes in a packable 1.7-ounce bottle.
Pro Tip: Apply this serum before any sunscreen or makeup.
This gel is a new must-have for me. The ingredient list is impressive and includes an FDA-approved pain-, redness-, and inflammation-reducing compound, plus cucumber, aloe vera, spirulina, and dandelion.
Great for under-eye puffiness, blemishes, and even the odd scrape, when I use this gel on my face, I apply it to my just-washed (or misted) skin as a spot treatment, let it absorb for a few, then put on my 3 to 4 pumps of Oxygen Serum.
Pro Tip: Here’s your proof that none of these recommendations are sponsored. Skip Seaside’s Cytotone Waterless Cleanser. It smells like a urinal cake, and no lineup of properties or ingredients excuses that!
LUMION’s Miracle Mist leverages three of the four ingredients found in the serum: electrolyzed oxygenated water, Dead Sea salts, and hypochlorous acid. I love it as a pick-me-up after a few hours on a plane or in the sun and find that it plays nicely with sunscreen and even makeup.
It’s also a nice micellar water alternative, so pack your cotton rounds. This mist can be used to wipe off light makeup, sunscreen, or the sweat of a fun-filled day if your full face washing routine isn’t in the cards before heading for bed. Spritz, spritz!
Pro Tip: While the 3.4-ounce original-size Miracle Mist is TSA compliant, the Mini is much easier to pack and will easily get you through a weeklong trip or more. If you love this product, I recommend an original-size bottle for home, a Mini for on the go, and refill bottles to save money and reduce plastic.
I failed to pack this salve for our most recent vacation. My mistake. It isn’t part of my everyday skincare routine, but when I need it, I need it. Of course, I wound up with chapped knuckles after our flight (I have Raynaud’s, and my hands require TLC) and our 1-year-old developed a rash around her mouth while we were away, so I wished I’d thrown this little pot of cream in my toiletry bag.
Available only on Amazon as far as I can tell, I have used this 3-ingredient salve on
- dry lips
- chapped hands
- bug bites
- rashes (including diaper rash)
- hemorrhoids and fissures (unfortunate travel-related ailments for some of us!)
Pro Tip: This is also a great, super-soothing emollient eye cream. After one particularly icky allergic reaction, I washed my face, applied generously to my puffy and irritated eyelids, laid down for a nap, and woke up almost as good as new.
Whether or not you experience acne, you owe it to yourself to pack some of these hydrocolloid Spot Dots. They’re great used as directed for blemishes, but even better, they knock the edge off of itchy bug bites surprisingly well as they maintain soothing pressure over the itch so you can get on with your day.
Pro Tip: I’ve even popped these over small knicks on my hands and knees in place of a bandaid and appreciate that they go almost undetected.
If you haven’t experienced the healing (and very adhesive!) properties of hydrocolloid, now’s the time! As the name implies, Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots are good for spots, but these CVS Health Advanced Healing Hydrocolloid Bandages take the waterproof, “barrier to bacteria” experience to the next level by covering way more surface area.
As someone with sensitive, “in recovery” skin, I love knowing these bandages will “[seal] out water, dirt, germs and other external contaminants that can cause infection” and hang on for days, even through showers, swimming, and working up a sweat.
Pro Tip: If you have a larger area that needs protection during an upcoming trip, or will be engaging in any activities that could have you reaching for a larger bandage (rock scrambling always comes to mind for me!), consider packing some of these Hydrocolloid Gel Adhesive Pads. They come four to a pack and boast all the same properties as the bandages.
While I’m all about packing the right topical skincare products, I’ve come to appreciate the power of a few good supplements in supporting my skin health. For that reason, I don’t leave home without my Solaray magnesium glycinate, which I’ve been taking for years for a whole host of reasons.
Among tons of other benefits, it supports relaxation, which means better sleep and more regular bowel movements, and in turn, for me at least, happier skin.
Pro Tips: Magnesium is best taken before bed (and is a great melatonin alternative) as it can help relax you into sleep. It relaxes other parts of the body, too (it’s great for easing travel constipation), so I advise against starting with the full 4-capsule dosage, or you might end up running for the bathroom. Friends who’ve tried this supplement on my recommendation have confirmed! Start with a capsule or two and level up from there!
Seeing as skin and gut health are intimately intertwined, it’s no surprise that my skin’s benefitted from a good probiotic. Right now, I’m using Jarrow Formulas’ Saccharomyces Boulardii, which is great for travel as it doesn’t require refrigeration.
Pro Tip: A more affordable probiotic I also like is Swanson’s L. Reuteri Plus. Again, no refrigeration required.
Batched, tested, and bottled in Chicago, this is the ultimate in discreet, travel-friendly lube, with “no gluten, no glycerin, no alcohol, no parabens, no scents and flavors.” I never leave home without it. And whether you’re
- traveling with toys
- need something that’s safe with natural rubber latex or polyisoprene condoms
- want to protect your hair during swimming and/or tame flyaways (not kidding — Überlube was literally created for Sex, Style, Sport!)
- want to prevent chafing anywhere on the body during longer walks or hikes
- need a lubricant to help digitally ease travel constipation
you shouldn’t, either. The refillable travel case is environmentally friendly and roughly the size of a lipstick tube, making it supremely packable. Mine has never leaked a drop, and the no-stain formula (which I’ve never actually spotted on any fabrics) comes out in the wash.
Pro Tip: Pick from Überlube’s different case colors to match the rest of your travel toiletries.
Other Reasons To Avoid Glycerin In Skincare
Still on the fence? While glycerin and glycerin-containing products can be great for folks with drier skin, Dr. Mohta says you might consider avoiding glycerin in your travel skincare products (or being mindful of how it’s sourced) for the following bigger-picture reasons:
To Avoid Supporting Palm Oil-Related Deforestation
“Palm oil is a major driver of deforestation in tropical countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, where rainforests are being cleared to make way for palm plantations. This destruction of habitat contributes to climate change and puts pressure on already endangered species like orangutans and tigers.”
To Support Social Justice And Workers Around The World
“Palm plantation workers are often paid very low wages, and child labor is rampant. Women in particular face discrimination and sexual harassment.”
“When you buy a product that contains glycerin, you could be unwittingly supporting all of these negative impacts. To avoid this, look for products that specifically state that the glycerin they contain is from a renewable source like soybeans or coconuts. You can also support companies that are working to make their palm oil supply chains more sustainable.”