Liquid Wonder – Glycerin

Roll! Camera! Action! The camera pans onto the Daughter- in- Law of a popular Hindi Serial, who bursts into tears. Take two… same scenario. And the same goes on and on for the rest of the day’s shooting. Ever wondered how these actors manage to shed so many tears at the drop of a hat, take after take, scene after scene? Well, the  magic lies in a small bottle filled with a colorless liquid, a few drops of which applied in the eyes produce these buckets of tears. The liquid in the bottle is none other than Glycerin, the instant tear jerker!  This is just one of the most frequently used benefit of glycerin, without which an actor’s makeup kit is incomplete.


Glycerin for Skin and Hair

Glycerin for Skin and Hair (Image credit: serezniy / 123RF Stock Photo)

Read on to learn more about this wonder liquid, its origin, properties, uses and benefits for skin and hair.


What is Glycerin?

What is GlycerinAccording to the New World Encyclopedia, “Glycerol, also known as Glycerin or Glycerine ……. Is a colorless, odorless viscous, sweet tasting liquid that is soluble in water and low in toxicity. It is found in nature in the form of its esters, which are known as Glycerides.” The word ‘Glycerin’ derived from the Greek word ‘Ghykeros’ which means ‘ sweet’, is listed as safe for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A by product of bio-fuel manufacturing, glycerin is technically made by altering the chemical composition of propane, and has been used for over a hundred years in the soap making industry, where it is used, along with other ingredients and aromatic oils.


Brief History and Origin of Glycerin:

Glycerin was, most probably, unheard of in ancient times, although the production of soap dates back to around 2,800 BC to the ancient city of Babylon. In 1550 BC, Egyptians used animal fat and vegetable oil to make soap.


Glycerol was first discovered in the year 1779, by an apprentice apothecary, Karl William Scheele who is also credited with discovery of other substances like tartaric acid, citric acid, lactic acid, among others. However, at that time glycerin was produced during the process of candle making (animal fats were used far making candle) as people did not know how to produce glycerin from soap. In 1889, a viable way to separate glycerin from soap was first implemented, by using fat and lye, which interact to form soap leaving behind a by product, ‘glycerin’. This is further distilled to remove impurities, to obtain pure glycerin.


Important Characteristics of Glycerin:
  • Properties of GlycerinNon Toxic: Safe to use both internally and topically.
  • Water Soluble: Glycerin dissolves completely in both water and alcohol  It can also dissolve many inorganic and organic substances, making it an important ingredient for many pharmaceutical companies.
  • Viscous: Highly viscous, (about 1500 times more than water) glycerin at normal temperatures and pressures is very thick and pours very slowly. This property helps in making a variety of food products that need body like candies and icing and also in the making of toothpaste.
  • Hygroscopic: Has the ability of absorbing moisture from the air.
  • Bio compatible: Glycerin is compatible with living tissue and can be used as an injectible or a filler inside the body without any adverse effects.
  • Safe in topical Formulation: Glycerin has been declared as safe to use topically even for sensitive skin types.
  • Lubricant: More resistant to oxidation and its moister retention property makes it an important ingredient in most lubricants.


Uses of Glycerin

The versatility of glycerin makes it an important ingredient in a wide range of applications and is used in the production of adhesives, cement, ceramics, cleansers, hydraulic fluids, lubricants, and polishes. It is also used in various industries like the food industry, cosmetics, explosives, pharmaceuticals, polymers and printing industry.  Listed below is a brief description of the use of glycerin in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry.


Uses of Glycerin in the Food Industry:

Glycerin has humectant properties, that is, it promotes retention of water, making it a good preservative, solvent and sweetener. Its non toxic and highly soluble nature makes it an ideal substance used in the making of a variety of food products.

  • Low in calories (approximately 27 calories per teaspoon), glycerin is 60% as sweet as refined sugars and is used as a substitute for table sugar.
  • It is used as a solvent for flavors (like vanilla) and food coloring.
  • It is used as an emulsifier in food additives, used to stabilize processed foods.
  • Cakes and candies get their moisture and softness from glycerin.
  • Shortenings and margarine contain glycerin.


Use of Glycerin in the Pharmaceutical Industry:

Glycerin is extensively used in the Medical and Pharmaceutical Industry, and is used to improve smoothness, to provide lubrication and as a humectant. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies glycerin as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).

  • Eye disorders: Glycerin is used to treat eye disorders such as glaucoma to help decrease pressure in the eye, or during an eye examination.
  • Cerebral Edema: Used in IV fluids, glycerin may be used to treat excessive intracranial pressure by drawing out excess fluid from the tissues in the body into the blood stream. It also prevents reabsorption of water by the kidneys, thus dehydrating the tissue which reduces blood volume, thereby reducing intracranial pressure.
  • Vasodilator: Nitroglycerin, a primary constituent of glycerin, is used to treat angina, a condition caused by constriction of blood vessels in the heart, and helps in dilating blood vessels to provide greater flow and oxygen to the heart.
  • Constipation: Glycerin helps in relieving constipation by acting as a softening agent and lubricant.
  • Cough syrups get their sweet taste and viscosity from glycerin.
  • Glycerin is also used as an ingredient in other pharmaceutical preparations including tinctures, ointments and creams, to retain moistness, and it also acts as a preservative.


Contraindication: The  overall risk of toxicity found in products containing glycerin is low. However, prolonged and excessive use of such medications might cause elevated blood sugars or fat levels in the blood.


Use of Glycerin in the Cosmetic Industry:

CosmeticsGlycerin is one of the main ingredients used in making beauty products and cosmetics because of its property to lock in moisture.

  • Used to make toothpaste, mouthwashes and other oral care products.
  • Its property of locking in moisture makes it one of the main ingredient in skin and hair care products.
  • Soaps containing glycerin are excellent for sensitive skin, including infant skin and is found in most infant skin care products.


Given below are a few quick- fix home remedies using glycerin which can be tried at home.


Benefits of Glycerin for Skin & Hair

Glycerin for Skin as a Moisturizer:

To keep your skin well toned, moisturized and hydrated, you can try the following:

  • Mix 3 tablespoons of glycerin with an equal quantity of rose water, and store in a bottle in the refrigerator. Use this regularly as an instant and effective moisturizer for your face, hands and feet. You could also add 1 tablespoon lime juice to this mixture if you have an oily or combination skin.
  • Mix 1 teaspoon of Vaseline, 1 teaspoon of glycerin and 1 teaspoon of Vitamin E Oil and apply all over face, hands and feet. Leave overnight.
  • Mix 3 tablespoons milk and 1 teaspoon glycerin and apply to face and leave overnight. Wash in the morning. This mix can be reused by storing in the refrigerator.
  • Mix 1 tablespoon glycerin to 10 tablespoons of water. Apply over hands and face and leave overnight.
  • Whenever you wash hands, add a few drops of glycerin to the water. You can keep a bottle of glycerin near the washbasin, so you won’t forget!
  • Mix 1 teaspoon honey to 1 teaspoon glycerin and 1 teaspoon olive oil and apply over face and hands. Wash after half an hour.
  • Mix glycerin to lemon juice and use as a moisturizer for your hands.
  • Mix glycerin and rose water and use it as a toner for your face.
  • Make a peel off mask using egg white, glycerin and honey. Apply on face and wait till it dries. Helps to tighten the skin and removal of dead skin and clogs.
  • Make a paste of 1 teaspoon glycerin, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon oatmeal and 2 teaspoons of milk or water. Apply on face as a mask, leave for 20 minutes before washing off with cold water.


Glycerin helps to remove blackheads:
  • Make a paste using 4 teaspoons of almond powder, 2 teaspoons of glycerin and 1 teaspoon of multani mitti (Fullers earth) and some water. Apply on blackheads and leave to dry. Rinse with cold water. [More: Home remedies for blackheads]


Glycerin for your hair

Following these simple home remedies will ensure long, shiny and strong hair:

  • Mix 1 part of glycerin to ten parts of water and a few drops of any essential oil and store in a spray bottle. Spray this on your hair after a shower. Keeps your hair well hydrated and prevents it from getting brittle and split ends.
  • Take 1 tablespoon of castor oil and beat well. Add to this, 1 teaspoon glycerin and 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and mix it with a mild herbal shampoo. Apply to the roots of hair and leave for half an hour before washing it off with cold water.
  • Add a few drops of glycerin in the hair conditioner.


Glycerin as a Lip Balm:


Caution: Using an excessive quantity of pure glycerin directly on your skin and hair, especially during during hot and dry weather can cause skin to lose its moisture and cause blisters on the skin and hair to become dry and brittle. Always use glycerin diluted with water the proportion usually being 10 parts of water to 1 part glycerin.


If used keeping the safety parameters in mind, glycerin is considered safe for use even in people having sensitive skin and for babies as well. Easily available at your local chemist, this wonder liquid is available in different sized bottles. So, go ahead and buy a bottle of glycerin today and experiment its diverse uses on your skin and in your hair.

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