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What is Glycerin?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 21, 2024
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Glycerin is a thick liquid that is colorless and sweet tasting. It has a high boiling point and freezes to a paste. Glycerin's most common use is in soap and other beauty products like lotions, though it is also used, in the form of nitroglycerin, to create dynamite.

This liquid is popular in beauty products because it is a humectant — it absorbs ambient water. This means that it can help seal in moisture. Not only is it used in the soap making process, it's a byproduct too. Many soap manufacturers actually extract glycerin during the soap making process and reserve it for use in more expensive products. Some amount remains in every bar of soap, however, and additional may be added in order to produce a clear finish and extra moisturizing qualities. The extra also enhances the cleaning aspect of soap.

Glycerin can be dissolved easily into alcohol and water but not into oils. The pure chemical compound is called Glycerol, which indicates that it is an alcohol.

The fact that is also easily absorbs water from the surrounding air means that glycerin is hygroscopic. If some was to be left in the open, it would absorb water from the surrounding air until the liquid was eventually 20% water. A small amount placed on the tongue would cause blistering, because it is dehydrating. When beauty products containing this compound are used on skin that is well moisturized, it can help keep that moisture in.

Where glycerin comes from has changed over time. In 1889, for example, commercial candlemaking was the only way to obtain it. At that time, candles made from animal fat which served as the source. Extraction is a complicated process and there are various ways of going about it. The simplest way is to mix fat with lye. When the two are mixed, soap is formed and glycerin is then removed.

Glycerin has a variety of uses. It can be used to make dynamite, although it is not explosive alone, and it has to be processed before it can be used as an explosive. The compound is also used in prints and inks, preserved fruits, lotions and as a lubricant. It can also be used to prevent hydraulic jacks from freezing. Its antiseptic qualities permit its use in the preservation of scientific specimens.

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Discussion Comments
By anon969534 — On Sep 11, 2014

Is glycerine laxative safe for a pregnant woman?

By anon968364 — On Sep 02, 2014

Since Glycerin can be used for its healing properties, maybe it can be used to cure cancer?

By anon956138 — On Jun 11, 2014

How does glycerin affect the environment? Does it affect the environment negatively or positively? How does it affect our waters?

By anon942931 — On Mar 30, 2014

Glycerin is a great night moisturizer. It can replace these in your skin care regimen: Lip balm, foot cream, hand cream, face moisturizer.

By anon942930 — On Mar 30, 2014

I have read questions regarding Glycerin safe to apply on lips?

It is totally safe to use on lips, hands, feet, face, etc.

I apply it myself and if you brush regularly and apply Glycerin all day on your lips, every time it vanishes from your lips, you will notice great results just in a few days. However, do not use it to sensitive areas of the body. It is only for external skin.

By anon942928 — On Mar 30, 2014

Is glycerin is safe to use under the sun? Does glycerin serve as a sun block?

I have made a lotion using lemon juice, glycerin and rose water together and it is the best! But I am afraid of whether I can use it in summers directly under the sun?

By anon356667 — On Nov 27, 2013

I researched tongue and mouth sores. It said to dab with glycerin. It worked! Hope there's no side effects.

By anon356620 — On Nov 26, 2013

Can I use glycerin as a skin bleaching moisturizer so that I can lighten my skin?

By anon354802 — On Nov 11, 2013

Can you eat it?

By anon338777 — On Jun 17, 2013

My dad wanted me to make bubbles from a certain website and it says to use Vegetable Glycerin. My question is if vegetable glycerin and original glycerin are the same, and if they are, what can be a substitute?

By anon332396 — On Apr 28, 2013

Glycerin has been used for years as an herbal extraction method when left for several months in a warm environment. It is called a Glycerite.

Glycerites have preservation properties lasting over 20 years using botanical, animal and fish proteins to use for a fish bait. It looks promising.

By anon326116 — On Mar 20, 2013

What is the viscosity CP/CST of glycerin?

By anon322785 — On Mar 01, 2013

Sodium hydroxide reacting with animal fat does produce glycerin, but the important compound produced that gives soap its qualities is sodium stearate.

@post no. 44: Potassium Permanganate + Glycerin = Arson!

(delayed incendiary device)

Haven't mixed those together since I was 12!

By anon306514 — On Nov 30, 2012

Can glycerin be used on a cyst?

By anon266862 — On May 08, 2012

I have used some diffusers to bubble a gas into glycerol. After a time they become blocked, so I was wondering if anyone knows the best way of cleaning them.

I know glycerol dissolves into water and alcohols, but I am not sure about which alcohol and in which concentration the cleaning would be more effective without damaging the glass diffusers.

By anon263693 — On Apr 25, 2012

How much glycerin do I need to add to a plant spray I am making?

By anon262724 — On Apr 20, 2012

What happens if you preserve something with glycerin, like a tree leaf, then pour alcohol all over it? Does the glycerin dissolve, or return to 'liquid'?

By anon186376 — On Jun 15, 2011

Glycerin can be safely consumed. I read from a very reliable source that eye pressure can be reduced with no side effects from taking glycerin with juice or distilled water. Ignore the label: do not consume. The powers that be do not want people to know that there are healing properties in drinking glycerin and that old eye doctor's education manuals contained this information.

By anon184346 — On Jun 08, 2011

@1968: You can buy a Kosher plant based product.

By anon184344 — On Jun 08, 2011

This glycerin is an amazing product. Think of the possibilities. What about erectile dysfunction solutions? What about vasodilators in the brain for stroke sufferers?

By anon170518 — On Apr 26, 2011

what does this do in hand sanitizer? is this what makes it kill germs?

By anon166981 — On Apr 11, 2011

Can i eat this?

By anon161274 — On Mar 19, 2011

Why do we use glycerin with sandalwood for preparing paste? how does glycerin work with sandalwood and what are the benefits.

By anon159747 — On Mar 13, 2011

how about washing your face first and then using glyercin?


By anon138182 — On Dec 30, 2010

@bhammond: perhaps starch?

By anon125197 — On Nov 08, 2010

No, glycerin is an alcohol, not an oil.

By anon123322 — On Nov 01, 2010

Can glycerin be used to clean your tongue?

By davea0511 — On Sep 22, 2010

Glycerin pulls moisture into itself until it reaches equilibrium, and it will pull moisture from the skin to accomplish this ... that is what is happening when it feels "hot". That "hot" sensation is from the stimulation of the nerve cells in the skin as water is being depleted from the surrounding area and fluids are then replaced from deeper within the skin that are more ionic in nature.

Cosmetic companies claim this is a good thing, drawing nutrition from the deeper dermal layers, while many dermatologists feel it is a bad thing ... drawing important nutrients called "growth factors" from stromal cells.

If you use glycerin products that are fully hydrated then they will not feel warm or hot and they will retain their moisture. The molecule is too large to soak into the skin very deeply, but it can help seal in moisture, especially as it continues to absorb moisture from the air, but equilibrium states that it will not pull moisture from the air and impart it to the skin below so it's utility is to keep a moisturized face moisturized, not add moisture to it despite advertising claims.

By Elbasosa — On Aug 17, 2010

Is glycerin an oil? Please I need to know soon.

By Nagesh Rvr — On Jun 12, 2010

photassium permaganate+glycerin=?

By anon70906 — On Mar 16, 2010

does glycerin and rose water lighten dark spots due to sun damage and pimples? can i mix it with my face moisturizing cream twice a day?

By anon68951 — On Mar 05, 2010

there seems to be a lot of great questions, but very few answers?

I would like to know if this forum is active or just a hobby that is a what ever type?

By anon66461 — On Feb 19, 2010

is glycerin similar to sugar is liquid form?

how are they different? how are they the same?

By anon65576 — On Feb 14, 2010

What happens if you mix glycerin with olive oil?

By anon60076 — On Jan 11, 2010

You can make your own beauty lotion with glycerine. one part glycerine one part lemon or lime juice (fresh squeezed) if you want you can add rose water to it. amazing results in just couple of days!

You can keep this mix on room temp for many months.

By anon59845 — On Jan 10, 2010

I have pure glycerin I use on my face once in a while. It feels great because I love moisture. Is pure glycerin good for a moisturizer alone?

By anon58802 — On Jan 04, 2010

can glycerin be used to boost viscosity of bubble bath?

By anon54467 — On Nov 30, 2009

glycerin is natural! and it can be vegan or from animal. you can choose.

By anon54466 — On Nov 30, 2009

it shouldn't be used concentrated as it will have the adverse effect. in the right percentage it will draw moisture to the skin.

By anon54020 — On Nov 26, 2009

How would glycerin react to cementitious-based products such as stucco or plaster?

I want to retard the dry time in thin coats of plaster to add other colors of plaster over large areas and achieve a consistent burnishing to the finish when all phases of the application are complete.

Is this the right product to use or am I going to get poor adhesion?

By f4343 — On Nov 16, 2009

I would like to know the answer to question #6 2521 on glycerin? Thank you.

By anon52659 — On Nov 16, 2009

Can we use glycerin in tobacco zarda products? if yes tell me the quantity.

By anon52537 — On Nov 15, 2009

I want to use glycerin in face moisturizer, but its stickiness is undesirable. Can I use something to diminish the stickiness?

By anon44359 — On Sep 07, 2009

please can't i make a glycerin lotion myself, and if i can, what is the process?

By mowgli — On Apr 24, 2009

I recently bought a teeth bleaching product containing glycerin. Is this a good product?

By anon29044 — On Mar 26, 2009

I have dry, chapped & blistered lips. My doctor asked me to use glycerin. Are there any side effects with this?

By jbk — On Feb 09, 2009

can glycerin be used on your face including your eyes?

By bulldog2888 — On Jan 22, 2009

I have heard that mixing sugar & glycerin together is a good cure for pressure ulcer. what consistency would i mix?

By roslanukur — On Sep 05, 2008

Is it true that most glycerine are from pork?

By anon14856 — On Jun 25, 2008

glycerin is good for the skin. you can buy 100% vegetable glycerin also.

By coco — On Jun 13, 2008

I am interested if glycerin mixed with equal parts of water would be good for your face and neck?

By dhanvanti — On Jun 03, 2008

i want to know can glycerin be put on the face after a bath? is it good for skin or no without mixing with anything else? pls suggest if glycerin makes under eyes dark as it is hot in nature .

glycerin is warm for the face or it is cold or it is a chemical or natural?

By anon13709 — On Jun 03, 2008

as glycerine is hot to touch, can i can use directly on my face or mix with water after applying glycerine can i can use cream can you tell me whether glycerine is good for skin or it is bad does it vanish wrinkle and it is good around eyes area due to that does dark circle appears pls help me toward this question and is it good for hair.

By anon9961 — On Mar 17, 2008

Is there any form of glycerin that is guaranteed to be animal-product free and made completely with vegetable fat? If so, how can one tell on a product's ingredient list to ensure that there are no animal by-products?

By anon6303 — On Dec 23, 2007

Yes, glycerin is used by watercolorists. You can put a small amount on the squeezed paint to keep it from drying out on your palette if you're not painting for a while. Or with a drop of water on the "hard pan" watercolors that you put in travel paintboxes, to help them moisten up more easily when it's time to paint.

By anon5897 — On Dec 09, 2007

What is the BTU value of glycerin?

By EnviRon — On Nov 09, 2007

what is the effect of glycerin in the methanization process? we are producing biogas from the methanizer tanks in a composting facility. we would want to maintain a certain temperature to keep the methanogenic bacteria alive. will the addition of glycerin cause these bacteria to hibernate or deactivated?

By anon4752 — On Oct 30, 2007

can glycerin intoxicate you? is it animal derived too?

By anon3605 — On Sep 07, 2007

Is glycerin used by watercolourists?

If yes what for?

By anon3450 — On Aug 30, 2007

my question as embarrassing as is, some stores sell products with glycerin in such as flavored hot gel that people use on one another for intimacy purposes. Someone I know became very ill after having this applied on their body parts. To the point that he nearly passed out. Was it possibly another medical condition or did this lotion, which is hot to the touch, cause him to break into extreme sweat, get dizzy and almost pass out? If so, why sell the product.

By anon2923 — On Jul 31, 2007

My hands always seem to breakout with little water blisters that itch when I use a product containing glycerin. It doesn't happen all the time? I wonder if it depends on how much glycerin is in the product. This has been happening for years.

By anon2521 — On Jul 15, 2007

In soap making they said, "you can make your own soap using Glycerin "melt and pour soap." but I saw liquid glycerin ready in the store. Can you make soap with liquid glycerin? please help?

By anon2003 — On Jun 23, 2007

Can it be used on the scalp to promote hair growth ?

If yes, diluted or undiluted?

By anon1968 — On Jun 22, 2007

Just wanted to know whether or not glycerin comes from pork? or are some products that use glycerin use different "animals"?

By bhammonds — On May 29, 2007

I heard on the radio someone say that you can mix glycerine with something else (powdered, like baking soda or cornstarch, etc.) to make a paste that you can rub onto an old grease or oil stain on textiles (table linens, shirts) that will remove it. Does anyone know what the substance is that you mix with glycerin?

By anon788 — On May 04, 2007

I have a strange question. If Glycerin is sweet tasting, does it contain any sugar as in carbs? I take a liquid Vitamin B that has glycerin in it and I can't seem to find out if it has any sugar carbs in it. I am on a low carb diet.

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