Glycerol, widely used as humectant, is known to protect against irritants and to accelerate recovery of irritated skin. However, most studies were done with topical formulations (i.e. emulsions) containing glycerol in relatively high amounts, preventing drawing conclusions from direct effects. In this study, acute chemical irritations were performed on the forearm with application of a 10% sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) aqueous solution under occlusion for 3 h. Then, glycerol aqueous solutions from 1 to 10% were applied under occlusion for 3 h. After elimination of moist excess consecutive to occlusive condition, in ambient air for 15 and 30 min, skin barrier function was investigated by dual measurement of skin hydration and transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Treatments with SLS solution under occlusion significantly increased TEWL and decreased skin hydration as assessed by capacitance measurements. The SLS irritant property was raised by the occlusion and the water barrier function as well as water content appeared impaired. Recovery with glycerol at low doses was remarkable through a mechanism that implies its hygroscopic properties and which is saturable. This precocious effect acts through skin rehydration by enhancing water-holding capacity of stratum corneum that would facilitate the late physiological repair of impaired skin barrier. Thus, glycerol appears to substitute for natural moisturizing factors that have been washed out by the detergent action of SLS, enhancing skin hydration but without restoring skin barrier function as depicted by TEWL values that remained high. Thus, irritant contact dermatitis treated with glycerol application compensate for skin dehydration, favouring physiological process to restore water barrier function of the impaired skin. Empirical use of glycerol added topical formulations onto detergent altered skin was substantiated in the present physicochemical approach.