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Glycerin – Everything You Need to Know About Glycerin, It’s Usage and Where to Get It

Updated on April 17, 2019

What Is Glycerin?

Glycerol or Glycerin is a naturally occurring chemical used as medicine. It’s a thin, colorless and sweet tasting liquid with a very high point and forms a paste when frozen. It is a popular beauty product because of its ambient water-absorbing property - “Humectant”.

Note: Glycerin can be dissolved readily in alcohol and water but not in oils which makes it a hygroscopic compound - (ability to absorb water from the surrounding air and dissolve readily in it). Its pure chemical compound state is called Glycerol which means it’s an alcohol.

How Is Glycerin Used? (Industry and Otherwise)

From food industries to skincare products down to construction companies, the usefulness of glycerin can’t be overemphasized. In fact, glycerin is one of the most widely used sweeteners, thickener, flavoring, antifreeze, and preservative.

Some of the major uses of glycerin may include but not limited to the under-listed:

#1. Saponification/Soap Making

Glycerin is used for soap making. Most soap manufacturers extract glycerin in the soap making process which is reserved for other expensive uses in the future making it a byproduct of saponification.

The moisturizing and clear finishing quality of every bar soap is evidence that some amount of glycerin remains in the soap to keep your skin tone and texture.

#2. Food Processing/Preservation

In the food and beverage industries, glycerin is used as a solvent, sweetener, humectant and preservative. In commercially prepared low-fat foods such as cookies, glycerin may serve as filler.

It’s also used as a thickening agent in liqueurs. Since it is 60% as sweet as sucrose and with approximately 27 kilocalories per teaspoon (higher than sugar with 20 kilocalories per teaspoon), it’s often used as a substitute for sugar. Most dental specialists confirm that glycerin is more resistant to plaque formation as it doesn’t feed nor support the growth of bacteria that form plague (compared to sugar).

Note: Glycerin can cause blisters when placed directly on the tongue because of its dehydrating properties.


#3. Medical/Pharmaceutical

In the medical or pharmaceutical industries, glycerin is used as an additive and preservative.

  • It serves a huge medicinal value as a laxative used rectally to irritate the anal mucosa which induces a hyperosmotic effect
  • Glycerin is one of the major products used for blood preservation by blood bankers to preserve red blood cells before freezing
  • It is used by opticians when handling severe cases of intraocular pressure of the eye to reduce the pressure within the eye temporarily before major operations or treatment
  • Glycerin is added to fruit juice to reduce the sweet taste
  • It can help to relieve angina pectoris as an aerosol spray or sublingual tablets
  • It’s taken by mouth for weight loss by obese people
  • It helps to improve exercise performance, replace body water loss after severe diarrhea or vomiting
  • It’s used by athletes to prevent dehydration
  • Glycerol intravenous infusion can be given to reduce intracranial pressure (pressure inside the brain) during a stroke, encephalitis, central nervous system breakdown or trauma, pseudotumor cerebri, Reye’s syndrome, meningitis, central nervous system tumor, and postural syncope (fainting while standing).
  • It can be applied to the skin directly as a moisturizer

#4. Electronic Vaporizers

In electronic cigarettes, glycerin is used to create vapor when combined with Propylene glycol by electronic vaporizers. When glycerol is heated with a heating coil to make Kanthal Wire (Atomizer), it produces an aerosol which gives the users nicotine.


#5. Automotive

Before the use of ethylene glycol as antifreeze by the automotive industries, glycerin was first used as an anti-freeze. It helps to lower the freezing point of liquids since it’s capable of forming a very high hydrogen bond with water competing with water-water molecules which disrupts the formation of ice. Recently, glycerin is being examined for us by the automotive industries.

#6. Laboratory

Glycerin is used in the laboratories as a common solvent for enzymatic reagents which are usually stored at temperatures below 0 °C considering the depression of the freezing temperature. It also serves as a cryoprotectant in the laboratory when dissolved in water to minimize damage to laboratory organism including mammalian embryos nematodes, bacteria and more stored in frozen solutions by ice crystals.

#7. Chemical Intermediates

Although glycerin isn’t an explosive alone, when used to produce nitroglycerin it’s combined with other chemicals to make gelignite, dynamite, and other propellers like cordite.

Filmmakers or industries use glycerol while taking water scenes to prevent the areas from drying out quickly. It can also be combined with water to create a smooth smoky environment which can be vaporized and moved into the room using ventilators.


Flowers preserved in glycerin
Flowers preserved in glycerin | Source

Glycerin is entirely safe for human consumption or use – Certified and approved by the USA FDA. Among its numerous benefits, it’s recommended you check out if this product is good for you before taking it in high doses.
Note: when taken by mouth, glycerin may cause nausea, bloating, headache, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, and thirst. Also, glycerol may not be entirely safe when administered intravenously as it can cause some red blood cells damage. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should also seek physicians’ advice before taking glycerin orally or intravenously.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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    • profile image

      Stephen Chavez 

      15 months ago

      I have a five gallon bucket of Glycerin that was used in the movie production is this the same type of Glycerin that can be used to make soap or tinctures?

      Is it safe on the body and or ingested?

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      18 months ago from UK

      My mother used to use glycerin mixed with other ingredients for hand care. She found it better than shop-bought alternatives.


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