Vegetable glycerin, also called glycerol, is a clear, fatty liquid made from coconut, soy or palm oil. Glycerin occurs naturally in humans, animals, and plant matter; it mixes well with water and has a sweet taste.[2,3] 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 — it is based on the Greek word for sweet.
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, makeup and other items. In addition, glycerin can function as a solvent, an adhesive, a cake icing component and even a plasticizer in food. It is a byproduct of the soap, candle, and biodiesel industries.
There are several ways to make vegetable glycerin. Most is made as a byproduct of soap manufacturing. In that process, vegetable oil is heated with a strong alkali such as lye (sodium hydroxide). Manufacturers can also make 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. 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 converts to epichlorohydrin. It then hydrolizes the epichlorohydrin to yield a glycerin solution; it then distills it to separate the water and glycerin. The manufacturer then refines the glycerin 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.
We use vegetable glycerin in its organic form in several of our products as a moisturizer. The Cosmetics Ingredient Review has deemed the ingredient safe for use in cosmetics. Also, the FDA has deemed glycerin as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), and Whole Foods has deemed the ingredient acceptable in its body care quality standards.[11,12,13] Studies show the ingredient is not a skin or eye irritant or sensitizer.[14,15,16,17,18]