• Derived from: coconut
  • Pronunciation: (\ˈglis-rən\)
  • Type: Naturally-derived
  • Other names: Glycerol

What Is Vegetable Glycerin?

Also called glycerol, vegetable glycerin is a clear, fatty liquid made from coconut, soy, or palm oil.[1] Naturally occurring in humans, animals, and plant matter, this ingredient mixes well with water and has a sweet taste.[2,3] 

When Was Glycerin Discovered?

German chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele first discovered and isolated glycerin in 1778 when he was saponifying olive oil with lead oxide. In 1813, French chemist, Michel Eugene Chevreul proved that fats are glycerin esters of fatty acids. He gave glycerin its name, based on the Greek word for “sweet.”[4]

What Does Vegetable Glycerin Do?

Vegetable glycerin is a skin conditioner that helps keep skin soft and supple. It is also found in thousands of personal care products, including moisturizer, body wash, shampoo, soap, mouthwash, styling gel, and makeup.[5]  Glycerin can also function as a solvent, adhesive, cake icing component, and even food plasticizer.[6] It is a byproduct of the soap, candle, and biodiesel industries.[7]

What Is Vegetable Glycerin Made From?

Most vegetable glycerin is a byproduct of soap manufacturing. In this process, vegetable oil is heated with a strong alkali such as sodium hydroxide (ie. lye). Manufacturers also produce it by heating coconut, soy, or palm oil under pressure with water so that the glycerin splits off into the water. Distillation isolates the glycerin.[8] 

Synthetic Production of Glycerin 

Synthetic production of glycerin may begin with allyl chloride, acrolein, propylene oxide, sugar, certain polyalcohols, fats, or epichlorohydrin. In one method, the manufacturer oxidizes allyl chloride with hypochlorite to produce dichlorohydrin, which it then converts to epichlorohydrin. The producer hydrolyzes the epichlorohydrin to yield a glycerin solution, then distills it to separate the water and glycerin. Glycerin is then refined to remove colors or odors. 

Another way to synthetically create glycerin is to oxygenate propene to acrolein, reduce it to yield allyl alcohol, and then epoxidate it with hydrogen peroxide. That creates glycidol, which is hydrolyzed to produce glycerin.[9]

Is Vegetable Glycerin Safe? 

The Cosmetics Ingredient Review has deemed the ingredient safe for use in cosmetics,[10]  the FDA has deemed glycerin as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), and Whole Foods has determined that the ingredient is acceptable in its body care quality standards.[11,12] Studies show the ingredient is not a skin or eye irritant or sensitizer.[13,14,15,16,17]



[1] Environmental Working Group
[2] Personal Care Council
[3] U.S. Department of Agriculture
[4] U.S. Department of Agriculture
[5] Environmental Working Group
[6] Personal Care Council
[7] U.S. Department of Agriculture
[8] American Cleaning Institute
[9] Personal Care Council
[10] Personal Care Council
[11] Whole Foods Market
[12] Food and Drug Administration
[13] Hine, CH, Anderson, HH, Moon, HD, Dunlap, MK, and Morse, MS. “Comparative toxicity of synthetic and natural glycerin.” A.M.A. Archives of Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Medicine. 1953;7(4):282-291
[14] Clark, CR, Marshall, TC, Merickel, BS, Sanchez, A, Brownstein, DG, and Hobbs, CH. “Toxicological assessment of heat transfer fluids proposed for use in solar energy applications.” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. 1979;51(3):529-535
[15] Weil, CS and Scala, RA. “Study of intra- and interlaboratory variability in the results of rabbit eye and skin irritation tests.” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. 1971;19(2):276-360
[16] El-Nagdy, A and Fahim, B. “Medicolegal aspects of occupational dermatitis survey in a foam rubber factory.” Journal of the Egyptian Medical Association. 1973;56(4-5):331-339
[17] European Chemicals Agency. ECHA - European Agency (56-81-5, Glycerol)

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