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Vegetable glycerin

Uses, benefits and side effects

Vegetable glycerin, a clear liquid typically made from vegetable oils, is commonly used in cosmetics due to its potential health benefits. This article explores the various uses, advantages, and side effects of it.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Vegetable glycerin: Uses, benefits and side effects
Last updated on December 27, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on August 18, 2023.

Utilized in food, beauty, and pharmaceuticals, vegetable glycerin is renowned for its moisturizing properties, ability to combat constipation, and positive impacts on hydration and athletic prowess.

Vegetable glycerin: Uses, benefits and side effects

Often referred to as glycerol or glycerine, this transparent fluid predominantly originates from sources like soybeans, coconuts, or palm oils.

This naturally-derived substance is devoid of any scent and offers a mildly sweet flavor coupled with a viscous texture reminiscent of syrup.

Its acclaim primarily rests within the cosmetic world; however, the scope of its applications is vast. The health advantages of vegetable glycerin span from enhancing skin vitality to boosting hydration levels and fortifying gut health.

Dive into the comprehensive guide below to discover vegetable glycerin’s myriad applications, advantages, and potential drawbacks.

In this article

What is vegetable glycerin?

Glycerin is a sugar alcohol derived from animal products, plants, or petroleum.

Vegetable glycerin is a variant made from plant oils. It is said to have been accidentally discovered more than two centuries ago by heating a mixture of olive oil and lead monoxide.

But it only became economically and industrially significant in the late 1800s when it was first used to make dynamite.

Vegetable glycerin is made by heating triglyceride-rich vegetable fats — such as palm, soy, and coconut oils — under pressure or with strong alkali, such as lye.

This causes the glycerin to split away from the fatty acids and mix together 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 with strong alkali.

Common uses of vegetable glycerin

Vegetable glycerin is widely used in the food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industries.

For instance, it is often added to foods to help oil and water-based ingredients mix, sweeten or moisten the final product.

It can also prevent ice crystals from forming in frozen foods, such as low-fat frozen yogurt, ice cream, and other desserts.

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Glycerin is a common ingredient in pharmaceutical drugs, including heart medication, suppositories, cough remedies, and anesthetics.

Additionally, you can find vegetable glycerin in toothpaste, as it helps prevent the toothpaste from drying out or hardening in the tube.

Moreover, it’s 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.

Potential benefits of vegetable glycerin

Vegetable glycerin is touted as a product with numerous health benefits.

However, only a few benefits are supported by science — and the related studies tend to be small. Keep in mind that more studies are needed on its health benefits.

The following benefits have the most research behind them.

Vegetable glycerin can moisturize your skin

Vegetable glycerin is a popular skincare treatment because of its moisturizing power.

Research shows that applying glycerin to your skin may gradually improve its smoothness and suppleness. In fact, using creams containing glycerin may increase skin hydration in as few as 10 days.

In one study, a cream made from glycerin was more effective than those made from silicone oil or hyaluronic acid at hydrating skin and preventing moisture loss.

In another study, adding glycerin to a warm water bath improved skin moisture levels and protected against skin irritation more effectively than a warm water bath alone.

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Vegetable glycerin may promote skin health

Vegetable glycerin may improve skin health by helping soothe skin irritation, protect against infection, and promote wound healing.

Studies show that applying glycerin-containing products may protect your skin against irritants and microbes and soothe inflamed or wounded skin.

Moreover, vegetable glycerin may be a barrier to safeguarding your skin from the elements, including wind and cold.

Another study reports that vegetable glycerin may be more effective than a placebo at reducing smarting sensations in people with eczema. However, it appears to not affect stinging, itching, drying, or irritation.

Vegetable glycerin may reduce constipation

Vegetable glycerin may 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 your gut more smoothly.

For this reason, glycerin is often used as a suppository.

In one study, glycerin suppositories were significantly more effective at reducing constipation caused by pain-killing medication than other types of laxatives.

In another study, a glycerin enema was 16.5% more effective at relieving constipation than a liquid soap enema.

Vegetable glycerin may boost hydration and athletic performance

Glycerin may also boost hydration, which can improve your athletic performance.

Dehydration can significantly impair athletic performance, especially when sweat loss exceeds 2% of your body weight.

An excellent strategy to avoid dehydration is to drink enough liquids before and during exercise. However, drinking during certain types of physical activity can be impractical. In such a case, drinking plenty beforehand is vital.

The problem with drinking large amounts in a short timespan is that a sizable portion of the fluid is generally lost through urine in the following hour.

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However, in one meta-analysis, adding 1.1g/kg of body weight, or .5g/lb of body weight, to water drunk before exercise increased fluid retention by 50% compared to water alone. Glycerin may also lead to minor improvements in athletic performance.

In another study, a glycerin drink was also more effective than water or a sports drink at improving hydration in athletes who lost significant amounts of water through sweating during exercise.

Summary: Vegetable glycerin may act as a moisturizer, reduce skin irritation, protect against infection, and boost wound healing. It may also help relieve constipation and promote hydration and physical performance. That said, more studies are needed.

Potential side effects of vegetable glycerin

Vegetable glycerin is generally considered safe.

You may experience an allergic reaction if vegetable glycerin is applied directly to your skin — so it’s best to start with a small amount to see how your skin reacts.

When ingested, vegetable glycerin may 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 alone or through foods may also lead to gas and diarrhea.

Summary: Vegetable glycerin is generally considered safe. However, there is a possibility of allergic reactions, headaches, nausea, thirst, and stomach upset in some people.


Vegetable glycerin is a transparent, scent-free, and sweet-flavored fluid sourced from plant fats.

Commonly found in foods, beauty products, and medications, it boasts potential health perks. These include promoting hydrated, supple skin, easing constipation, enhancing hydration, and boosting physical endurance.

Considering incorporating vegetable glycerin into your routine? Begin with a minimal dose to gauge your body’s response.

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