Living a fully vegan lifestyle is hard work. There are simply tons of ingredients we must avoid, not only in our food but also in personal care products, medicines and more. You can’t always tell at first glance whether an ingredient is vegan or not, especially if it has a chemical-sounding name.
Glycerin is one of those ingredients. Be careful when using or consuming anything containing Glycerin , because “Is Glycerin vegan?” is a complicated question. But, there is a way to tell for sure.
What is Glycerin found in?
Glycerin is absolutely everywhere, and chances are you come into contact with it on a daily basis—unless you never eat any pre-prepared foods or use any personal care products! It is estimated that there are over 1,500 specific uses for Glycerin.
Glycerin is the third most-common ingredient in cosmetics, according to a 2014 report. It’s used in skincare and hair products for its moisturizing properties. Other kinds of personal care products that can have Glycerin include: Toothpaste, mouthwash, shaving cream, and water-based personal lubricant.
You’ll also see Glycerin in some over-the-counter medications. It is used in some cough syrups for sweetness and texture. It’s also sometimes used as a tablet binding agent, or an ingredient that holds together the active ingredients in a pill.
Glycerin is also sometimes found in foods. It can be used as a sugar substitute, as it does not have an effect on blood sugar the way table sugar does. Or, it may be used to thicken reduced-fat foods. For example, a low-fat cake might use Glycerin in place of butter to help keep the same rich texture.
Glycerin also has a lot of industrial uses, though going into detail about these wouldn’t be too interesting to the average layperson. Glycerin used to be used as anti-freeze for cars before being replaced with more effective ingredients.
I know, the fact that Glycerin is in our food but also was used as anti-freeze in the past probably raises some alarm bells in your head. But, its automotive use doesn’t mean it’s a dangerous chemical.
It’s just that the molecular structure of Glycerin doesn’t let ice crystals form because it forms such strong bonds with water molecules. This same property is also what makes it so moisturizing.
What is Glycerin made of?
Glycerin is also known as glycerol or Glycerin. If you see these names on an ingredients list, it’s the same thing as Glycerin. Glycerin is odorless, colorless, nontoxic, sweet-tasting, and water-soluble, with a syrupy texture.
But, where exactly does it come from? In fact, it is very natural. Fats or oils contain Glycerin as part of their molecules. During the traditional soap making process, where fat is mixed with lye, the Glycerin breaks off from the rest of the fat molecule.
Then, salt is added to this mixture, causing the soap and Glycerin to separate so that the soap can be skimmed off, leaving only the Glycerin. According to Pioneer Thinking, this process for extracting Glycerin from soap was developed in 1889.
Soap-makers of centuries past used mostly animal fats, especially beef tallow. However, in modern times it is also common to make soap using plant-based oils. When Glycerin is derived from a plant oil, it is usually palm, soy, or coconut oil.
After animal fats and plant fats, the third way that Glycerin can be made is by synthesizing it in a laboratory. When they make it this way they might start with corn syrup, cane sugar, or the petroleum by-product propylene.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, this artificial type of Glycerin was inventede in 1948. However, soap-derived Glycerin remains more common, as it is cheaper to manufacture.
Whichever way Glycerin is made, the chemical make-up ends up being the same. However, even though an animal-derived Glycerin no longer contains animal fats or similar molecules, it is still not vegan, as it is still made through killing animals.
Is Glycerin vegan?
Basically, some Glycerin is vegan while some are not. When you see Glycerin on an ingredients list, how can you tell where it comes from?
If it is simply called “Glycerin “, then it could refer to any type of Glycerin . It could be animal-derived, plant-derived, or synthetic. As a vegan I always stay on the safe side and don’t eat or use anything that just says “Glycerin ” on the label without elaborating.
The exception to this is if the product comes from a vegan brand. If the ingredients list says plain old “Glycerin “, but the brand is vegan or the packaging says the product is vegan, you should be good to go. Of course you can always get in touch with the company to make sure.
So what about if the product does not advertise itself as vegan? Could it still be vegan? Well, in this case, the only way to be for sure is if the ingredients list specifically says vegetable Glycerin .
One other thing I will touch upon here is the subject of palm oil. I know that many vegans are against the use of palm oil because of the environmental impacts of that industry. Specifically, the fact that harvesting palm oil destroys orangutan habitat.
I have definitely met many vegans in my life who do not personally consider palm oil to be vegan for this reason, even though it is not directly derived from animals. So, if you are this “strict” of a vegan (I prefer the word passionate!), you may desire to avoid Glycerin because of the chance that it may be derived from palm oil.
When in doubt, try giving the company a call to find out where they source their Glycerin from. If their Glycerin is guaranteed vegan, then they have a guaranteed customer!
Is Glycerin bad for you?
Glycerin is an ingredient that is designated by the FDA as safe for food use. According to the Environmental Working Group, Glycerin is neither an environmental toxin nor a toxin to the human body.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database is known for its strict ingredient ratings. In my opinion, if the EWG says it’s not harmful, then it must really be an innocent ingredient!
Of course, this is not to say that you should consume unlimited quantities of Glycerin . According to Jessica Bruso at LiveStrong, Eating large amounts can have unpleasant side effects like diarrhea and dehydration, or, more rarely, nausea, vomiting, and headache.
As mentioned earlier, Glycerin is a type of sugar alcohol. This doesn’t mean it contains alcohol, it’s just the name of the type of compound. Sugar alcohols are notorious for giving you gas, though your mileage may vary.
Vegetable Glycerin is frequently made from palm, coconut, or soy. If you’re allergic to any of these plants, you may need to avoid Glycerin altogether, depending on the severity of your allergy.
One other thing to point out is that synthetic Glycerin is sometimes made from a petroleum by-product called propylene. I know some of you really dislike petroleum-based ingredients, so if this is a health concern for you, definitely avoid Glycerin unless it’s vegetable Glycerin .
So, as long as you don’t eat too much of it, and you’re aren’t allergic to the plants it’s made of, Glycerin is not bad for you. Glycerin is pretty much a naturally-occurring ingredient.
What are some of the benefits of Glycerin ?
Before we conclude I would like to share with you some of the health risks associated with drinking alcohol, which are the primary reasons why I myself stay away from it.
In addition, colorectal cancer was the principal alcohol-related cancer among men.
As a matter of fact, alcohol is now considered to be a cause of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colorectum, breast, and liver, and is linked to other cancers too.
What are some of the benefits of Glycerin ?
The syrupy texture of Glycerin makes it useful for a whole lot of things. As mentioned earlier, it’s common in foods. It is used as a sugar substitute, as a softener for baked goods, and as a stabilizer for ice cream, among other culinary uses.
Unlike sugar, Glycerin does not contribute to tooth decay.
Glycerin has a few medical applications. It is sometimes used as an emergency treatment for a glaucoma flare-up, and some other serious medical issues.
Although I brought up Glycerin ‘s laxative effect as a negative side effect earlier, in fact some people actually use it this way on purpose. It has the advantage of being a gentle and natural laxative.
Glycerin makes a great substitute for alcohol when it comes to medicinal herbal tinctures.
Lastly, Glycerin is very moisturizing and beneficial to your skin. It is a humectant, meaning it attracts moisture from the air onto your skin. It also pulls moisture from deeper layers of your skin up to the drier top layers.
Glycerin is mild, gentle, versatile, and it does not clog your pores. This explains why it is found everywhere in the realm of personal care products. Good thing it’s natural!
Some Glycerin is derived from animals, while some Glycerin is vegan. Make sure to check ingredients lists. If the label says vegetable Glycerin specifically, then you can be confident that it’s vegan. When in doubt, call up the company and ask them where their Glycerin comes from.