Is All Glycerin Made From Vegetables? Types & Uses

Medically Reviewed on 11/8/2021
is all glycerin made from vegetables
Not all glycerin is made from vegetables. Glycerin is a type of sugar alcohol compound that is made from either animal fats or plant fats

Not all glycerin is made from vegetables. Glycerin is a type of sugar alcohol compound that is made from either animal fats or plant fats. It can also be artificially synthesized in a lab.

What are different types of glycerin?

There are two main types of glycerin:

  • Plant-based (vegetable oil): Natural glycerin is derived from oils and fats of coconut and palm. The plant oils are subjected to a combination of pressure, temperature, and water to form glycerin. Because of its organic composition, vegetable glycerin has a texture similar to syrup. This type of glycerin is vegan and suitable for consumption.
  • Animal-based (fat): Tallow (beef or mutton fat) is combined with water and heated to a thick consistency over medium to low heat. The mixture is then chilled overnight in the refrigerator. The hardened mixture is boiled to remove excess water or strained to remove impurities.

Glycerin and vegetable glycerin are often the same. When a product label says glycerin, it usually means it is made from vegetables. This is because vegetable glycerin is the most affordable and readily available to manufacturers. 

However, to ensure that a product contains vegetable glycerin, you can check with the manufacturer.

6 common uses of vegetable glycerin

Glycerin is an odorless, colorless, viscous, nontoxic liquid that is commonly used for the following purposes:

  1. Pharmaceuticals: Glycerin has a plastic-like texture when dried, which makes it ideal for coating pills and granules. Dried glycerol is also used to reduce the particle size of a medication powder. Glycerin is commonly found in cough syrups, ointments, expectorants, anesthetics, and lozenges.
  2. Preservative: In conjunction with water or alcohol, glycerin acts as a stabilizer and auxiliary solvent.
  3. Solvent: Glycerin aids in the uniform dissolution of one chemical into another. This comes in handy when making tinctures and distributing food coloring. It is commonly used to prepare herbal mixtures because it is both sweet and a solvent.
  4. Humectant: Glycerin's humectant and emollient properties make it useful for transferring moisture from one substance to another. It prevents ointments and lotions from drying out.
  5. Foods: Glycerin helps preserve moisture, prevents sugar crystallization, and adds bulk, smoothness, softness, sweetness, and texture to a range of foods and beverages. Glycerol gives the product its smooth, thick texture. 
  6. Skincare: Glycerin is an essential ingredient in many homemade skincare products, such as soaps, moisturizers, lotions, and masks. Glycerin has several evidence-backed uses, particularly for skin disorders such as dermatitis. It is used in salves and other skin balms because it helps retain moisture, softens skin, and aids in wound healing while allowing the skin to breathe.

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How safe is glycerin to ingest?

The FDA has certified the safety of glycerin to use in foods. When glycerin is ingested, it is absorbed quickly and completely in the small intestine. 

Glycerin is not a necessary part of a balanced diet, but it has not been shown to be harmful to human health when consumed in large amounts. As a result, no safe daily amount has been determined. Large doses of glycerin taken at once, however, may cause:

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Medically Reviewed on 11/8/2021
References
Image Source: Carol Yepes / Getty Images

WebMD. Glycerin Liquid - Uses, Side Effects. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-20275/glycerin-topical/details

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 753, Glycerol. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Glycerol. Accessed Nov. 2, 2021.

Sollid K. What Is Glycerin? Food Insight. https://foodinsight.org/what-is-glycerin/

The Soap and Detergent Association. Glycerine: an overview. https://www.aciscience.org/docs/Glycerine_-_an_overview.pdf