Vegetable glycerin, also known as glycerol or glycerin, is a clear liquid typically made from soy, coconut, or palm oils.
It is odorless and has a mild, sweet taste with a syrup-like consistency.
Vegetable glycerin is particularly popular in the cosmetic industry, but it has other uses as well. It can also provide health benefits, ranging from skin health to better hydration and a strengthened gut.
This article examines the uses, benefits, and side effects of vegetable glycerin.
What is vegetable glycerin?
Glycerin is a sugar alcohol derived from animal, plant, or petroleum products.
Vegetable glycerin is the variant made from vegetable oils. It is said that it was accidentally discovered more than two centuries ago by heating a mixture of olive oil and lead monoxide.
But it only became economically and industrially important in the late 1800s when it was first used to make dynamite.
Vegetable glycerin is produced by heating triglyceride-rich vegetable fats, such as palm, soy, and coconut oils, under pressure or in conjunction with a strong alkali, such as bleach.
This causes the glycerin to separate from the fatty acids and mix with water, forming an odorless, sweet-tasting, syrup-like liquid.
Summary Vegetable glycerin is a slightly sweet, syrupy liquid made by heating vegetable fats under pressure or in conjunction with strong alkali.
Vegetable glycerin is widely used in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
For example, it is often added to foods to help oil- and water-based ingredients blend, sweeten, or moisten the final product.
It can also be used to prevent ice crystals from forming in frozen foods, such as low-fat frozen yogurt, ice cream, and other desserts.
Glycerin is a common ingredient in pharmaceutical drugs, including heart medications, suppositories, cough remedies, and anesthetics.
Additionally, you can find vegetable glycerin in toothpaste, as it helps prevent toothpaste from drying out or hardening in the tube.
Also, it is commonly added to soaps, candles, lotions, deodorants, and makeup.
Summary Vegetable glycerin has several uses. The most popular are cosmetics, pharmaceutical drugs and food products.
Vegetable glycerin is touted as a product with numerous health benefits.
However, only a few benefits are supported by science, and related studies tend to be few and far between. Note that more studies are needed on its health benefits.
The following benefits have the most research behind them.
Can hydrate the skin
Vegetable glycerin is a popular skin care treatment due to its hydrating power.
Research shows that applying glycerin to the skin can gradually improve its smoothness and flexibility. In fact, using creams that contain glycerin can increase skin hydration in as little as 10 days.
In one study, a cream made from glycerin was more effective than those made from silicone oil or hyaluronic acid in hydrating the skin and preventing moisture loss.
In another study, adding glycerin to a warm bath was more effective in improving skin moisture levels and protecting against skin irritation than a warm bath alone.
Can promote skin health
Vegetable glycerin can improve skin health by helping soothe skin irritation, protect against infection, and promote wound healing.
Studies show that applying glycerin-containing products can protect your skin from irritants and germs, as well as soothe sore or inflamed skin.
Additionally, vegetable glycerin can act as a barrier to protect your skin from the elements, including wind and cold.
Another study reports that vegetable glycerin may be more effective than a placebo in reducing itching sensations in people with eczema. However, it seems to have no effect on the stinging, itching, drying or irritation
Vegetable glycerin can provide some relief from constipation.
That's because it can draw water into your gut. This has a laxative effect, which helps digested food move through the intestine more smoothly.
For this reason, glycerin is often used as a suppository.
In one study, glycerin suppositories were significantly more effective in reducing constipation caused by pain medication than other types of laxatives.
In another, a glycerin enema was 16.5% more effective in relieving constipation than a liquid soap enema.
May increase hydration and athletic performance
Glycerin can also increase hydration, which can improve your athletic performance.
Dehydration can greatly impair athletic performance, especially when sweat loss exceeds 2% of your body weight.
A good strategy to avoid dehydration is to drink enough fluids both before and after. However, it may be impractical to drink during certain types of physical activity. In such a case, drinking a lot beforehand is key.
The problem with drinking large amounts in a short period of time is that a considerable portion of the fluid is usually lost through urine in the next hour.
However, in a meta-analysis, adding 2.4 grams of glycerin per pound of body weight (1.1 grams per kg) to the water you drank before exercise increased fluid retention by 50% compared to water alone. Glycerin can also lead to small improvements in athletic performance.
In another study, a glycerin drink was also more effective than water or a sports drink in improving hydration in athletes who lost significant amounts of water through sweat during exercise.
Summary Vegetable glycerin can act as a humectant, reduce skin irritation, protect against infection, and enhance wound healing. It can also help relieve constipation and promote hydration and physical performance. That said, more studies are needed.
Potential side effects
Vegetable glycerin is generally considered safe.
With that said, you may experience an allergic reaction if the vegetable glycerin is applied directly to your skin, so it is best to start with a small amount to see how your skin reacts.
When ingested, vegetable glycerin can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and excessive thirst in some people.
Since glycerin is a form of sugar alcohol that your body cannot fully absorb, consuming too much, either alone or through food, can also lead to gas and diarrhea.
Summary Vegetable glycerin is generally considered safe. However, there is the possibility of allergic reactions, headaches, nausea, thirst, and an upset stomach in some people.
Vegetable Glycerin is a clear, odorless, sweet-tasting liquid derived from vegetable fats.
It is added to foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals and can offer health benefits such as hydrated and resilient skin, relief from constipation, better hydration, and improved physical performance.
If you want to try vegetable glycerin, start with a small amount to see how it reacts.