It’s safe to say that most people (vegan or otherwise) have, at some point, skimmed the back of food, cosmetic and beauty products and come across the mysterious ingredient of glycerin, but what exactly is it?
Without getting too technical on the matter, glycerin is a type of carbohydrate that’s known as sugar alcohol.
Although glycerin forms naturally in fermented foods and drinks like beer, wine, vinegar, and vegan honey, this isn’t where your shampoo’s glycerin is coming from.
Moisture-retention, preventing sugar-crystallization, adding smoothness, sweetness, and softness – the benefits that glycerin has on food and beauty products are huge, but does it align with a vegan means of living, consuming, and eating?
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at glycerin in all forms so you’ll have a clear idea of whether you need to avoid it, or not.
What Exactly Is Glycerin?
As we’ve already hinted at, glycerin is a thick and gelatinous sugar-alcohol liquid that is mostly odorless (don’t worry, you won’t get drunk from it).
Depending on where a certain product is manufactured, you may have seen glycol or even glycerol included on its ingredient list, however, these are one and the same with the ingredient glycerin.
The beauty of glycerin is that it can completely dissolve into water and other liquid products, and has a very low toxicity level.
Known as hygroscopic, glycerin absorbs water from the air, which is what makes it such a beneficial additive to food, and cosmetic products as it helps to preserve their moistness.
However, glycerin can actually be made using three different methods of production, which gets us to the crux of this article and your burning question, is glycerin vegan?
Vegetable Glycerin (Vegan)
Typically derived from either soy, coconut, or palm oil, vegetable glycerin is 100% plant-based and vegan-friendly.
To make glycerin, these plant-based oils must be put under the forces of pressure, temperature to cause it to split from the fatty acids and be absorbed by water.
As a result of its natural makeup, vegetable glycerin’s texture is relatable to a thick and syrupy oil.
Unlike animal-derived glycerin, vegetable glycerin is known for its sweet taste which makes it the preferred choice for candy and cake.
Synthetic Glycerin (Vegan)
Most people don’t know it, but there is also the possibility for glycerin to be made synthetically using a petroleum base, which is vegan-friendly by default, but nowhere near as natural.
There is some synthetic glycerin that is classed as food-grade and is present within the food industry, but this is on a much smaller scale than vegetable glycerin.
In general, synthetic glycerin is used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products as it is linked with high purity, zero odor formation, and a prolonged shelf-life of up to 24 months.
Animal Glycerin (Not Vegan)
For hundreds of years, animal-based glycerin was the glycerin of choice for all cosmetic, beauty, cleaning, and food products sold both here in America, and across the world.
Derived from the fat of beef, pigs, or mutton, tallow is the base ingredient that is used to make animal glycerin.
Thankfully, these days, most glycerin that is destined for human ingestion doesn’t contain animal tallow, with vegetable glycerin being the preferred ingredient.
Animal glycerin is more commonly featured in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, inks, paints, leather conditioning, adhesives, and lubricants for machinery and ammunition.
In the modern-day, there is now animal glycerin that is starting to be made without tallow, however, it is far from being classed as “vegan-friendly”.
How Can You Tell If A Product Uses Vegan-Friendly Glycerin?
With no industry standards on glycerin classification here in America, you really are at the mercy of the manufacturers as to which glycerin is present in their products.
This lack of clarification on the subject means that consumers need to be savvy enough to make their own informed choices when shopping.
Thankfully, companies that are in line with plant-based, vegan-friendly production methods generally go the extra mile to clearly state the origin of their product’s glycerin.
This may read “plant-based” glycerin, or simply “vegetable” glycerin – any indication towards the matter is enough to give a shopper confidence in what their buying isn’t derived from the fat of animals.
If a product simply states “glycerin” then this doesn’t necessarily mean that it uses animal glycerin, it’s just that the manufacturer hasn’t deemed the classification important enough to include.
If you really want to buy a particular product and you’re invested enough, there’s also the option to contact the manufacturing company directly to ask which glycerin is used in their products.
If you can’t be bothered going to these lengths (we don’t blame you if you can’t), then seeking out products that label their glycerin as plant-based or vegetable is the safest way forward.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Glycerin Good For Health?
Although it isn’t the first thing you think of when on the hunt for health, glycerin actually has a number of noteworthy health benefits to its name.
These include, but are not limited to, keeping the skin moist and soft, cleansing the gut, protecting the immune system, helping cuts and burns heal, and being a recognized contributor to anti-aging creams.
Can You Buy Pure Glycerin?
Taking matters into your own hands (literally), there is always the option of buying pure glycerin.
Readily available in places like Walmart, Whole Foods, Walgreens, Kroger, Target, and Safeway, pure glycerin can be bought in small and large quantities all over America.
If you swear by online shopping, you can also purchase it on Amazon, and eBay from reputable glycerin suppliers.
How Do You Use Pure Glycerin?
Pure glycerin can be used as a topical application on the human body in a number of ways.
For instance, you can use it to soothe cracked heels, treat mouth ulcers, as a skin toner, moisturize the skin, and even give your nails a brighter appearance.
Depending on how you plan to use glycerin, and due to its thick consistency, it can pay to dilute your pure glycerin into water, which makes it easier to apply.
Although glycerin is a controversial ingredient in the eyes of many.
Thankfully, these days, with more and more companies turning to plant-based alternatives, vegetable glycerin is fast becoming the most widely used glycerin in the world.
We hope this article has given you some clarity on the subject of glycerin, helping you to avoid the icky animal-derived stuff, and seek out greener, cleaner, plant-based products instead.