What Is Glycerin and Why Is It in Your Soap?

By Sher Warkentin in Natural Products

No matter how much you research your personal care products, there may be ingredients that occasionally leave you scratching your head. The word glycerin might look intimidating, but as you'll discover, when you spot the ingredient on a bar of soap, you can feel comfortable using it.

Years ago, my daughter received a science kit that contained a small bottle of glycerin as part of an experiment. She immediately asked, "What is glycerin?" and I had to confess that I wasn't sure, though it did invoke a mental image of explosives. We decided to look it up together. In addition to a history lesson in the invention of dynamite, we discovered that it's actually a very commonly used ingredient in personal care products and even food.

What Is Glycerin?

Glycerin, which is also listed on ingredients labels as glycerine and glycerol, is a nontoxic, odorless, and colorless liquid. It is used as an ingredient in a variety of things, including personal care products such as toothpastes and soap. Food products and pharmaceuticals also contain the commonly used ingredient. Glycerin is a humectant, which means it works to retain or preserve moisture either in a product itself or in your skin and hair.

Glycerin acts as a humectant in soap.

Where Does Glycerin Come From?

Glycerin found in natural personal care products is derived from several types of plants—or more specifically, plant oils. These plant oils can include canola, coconut, corn, palm, and soybean. Glycerin may be considered naturally derived when it is obtained from these plant sources.

Alternately, in some conventional products, glycerin can come from petroleum sources. In that case, the glycerin is typically created as a by-product in the production of biodiesel.

How Is Glycerin Processed for Use in Products?

There is nothing novel about glycerin as an ingredient in personal care products. It has been part of the soap-making process since the 19th century. When soap is made using animal fats or plant oils, glycerin is created as result of the splitting of these fats and oils. This occurs during the saponification process when fatty acids are combined with a strong alkali.

In order to be left with a highly pure ingredient that is safe to use in food, the glycerin undergoes a carbon bleaching process. The glycerin can also be distilled to increase its concentration.

Glycerin is a naturally derived ingredient in bar soap.

What Is the Purpose of Glycerin in Soap Products?

Glycerin is used as a humectant in soap products. In other words, glycerin helps to ensure that your skin will maintain its own moisture in order to protect it from damage caused by dryness. Instead of creating a barrier, humectants such as glycerin still allow your skin to breathe.

Washing frequently can leave your skin dry. While you want a cleanser that works, you also don't want to cause dryness that can lead to irritation. Choosing a natural bar soap that contains glycerin is gentle on your skin while helping to maintain your skin's natural moisture without the use of artificial colors, fragrances, or preservatives.

Choosing Products You Feel Comfortable With

When you see glycerin listed as a naturally derived ingredient on your soap, you can feel confident in your selection. In addition to being naturally derived, glycerin is on the Food and Drug Administration's list of ingredients that are Generally Recognized As Safe, and the Environmental Working Group lists glycerin with a 1-2 rating, which means that it is not considered an environmental toxin.

Each time I spot glycerin on an ingredient label, I remember my daughter's science kit. While I can't recall the details of the experiment, it ultimately ended in a big mess that required plenty of handwashing. The experiment itself might not have been memorable, but my daughter and I learned a valuable lesson about the ingredients in our soap and how they work to serve our skin.

Want to learn more about the ingredients that go into making your natural personal care products? Follow the Ingredients from Nature board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

Image Sources: Unsplash | Unsplash | Sher Warkentin

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.


Why It's Good

Knowing exactly what goes into your natural personal care products is important. Glycerin is a common ingredient in natural soap and helps to retain moisture in your products and in your skin.