Is Vegetable Glycerin Bad for You?
Edited and published by Wellness Monster Louise
Glycerin is a clear odorless liquid found in organic plant oils, such as coconut oil, palm, and soy oils which contain natural fatty acids. Glycerin is extracted from these plant sources through a process called hydrolysis. Vegetable glycerin is also found in animal-derived fats and obtained by mixing fats with lye. This process breaks down the fat molecules so that glycerol can be extracted. This latter procedure is commonly used when making candles and soaps. Vegetable glycerin is also made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as canola, cottonseed, and soybeans. However, these sources are often tainted. There is also a synthetic form of glycerin, which is a byproduct of corn syrup, sugar cane or propylene (a petroleum derivative). Pure vegetable glycerin is similar in appearances to clear oil but has a syrupy texture.
While vegetable glycerin is widely known its moisturizing effects in skin care products, such as soaps and creams, it is also used in a wide variety of applications in food products and pharmaceuticals, as an alternative to alcohol in herbal tinctures, and as a base in vaping.
The Benefits of Using Vegetable Glycerin
- When used in conjunction with other ingredients in skin products, vegetable glycerin helps to hydrate, moisturize, and protect the outer layer of the skin, creating long-lasting effects of smoother and softer skin, even after it was no longer being used. Vegetable glycerin also soothes skin inflammations and speeds the healing of skin irritations, rashes, fungal infections, burns, and wounds.
- Vegetable glycerin may be used in medicinal applications to help with health conditions, such as dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea, constipation (used as suppositories that draw water into the colon), or relieving eye pressure caused by glaucoma when taken as a supplement. Vegetable glycerin may also be administered intravenously by a physician to help to reduce intracranial pressure caused by encephalitis, meningitis, or stroke.
- Vegetable glycerin supplements are often used by athletes to increase performance, as well as to reduce body fat, but it is not yet known whether these benefits will actually be gained.
- Because vegetable glycerin is soluble in, both, alcohol and water the food industry uses vegetable glycerin as a solvent, a thickening agent, and a food sweetener. Pure vegetable glycerin tastes sweet like sugar. However, vegetable glycerin metabolizes differently than sugar and does not cause dental decay. But is vegetable glycerin really safe to ingest?
The Negative Effects of Using Vegetable Glycerin
- Vegetable glycerin is a form of sugar alcohol that the body cannot completely utilize. As such, it should be used in moderation. Symptoms of excessive vegetable glycerin consumption are excessive thirst, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, painful flatulence, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dehydration, and more serious allergic reactions.
- When used on the skin, vegetable glycerin should never be used in its purest form. Vegetable glycerin pulls moisture from the deeper layers of the skin (the dermis) toward the outer layer (the upper dermis), rather than pulling moisture from the air. For example, in extremely hot weather, pure vegetable glycerin on the skin can cause the skin to dehydrate and cause blistering. This is why, in order to achieve its skin moisturizing benefits without any negative side-effects, vegetable glycerin is mixed with other ingredients. In addition, pure vegetable glycerin in its undiluted form can cause yeast infections in women when used vaginally.
- People who are allergic to coconut or palm oil should not use products containing vegetable glycerin. Allergic reaction to using vegetable glycerin may include itching, rashes, inflammation, and blistering. Allergic reaction to ingesting vegetable glycerin may include anxiety, confusion, vertigo, irregular heartbeat, and breathing problems. Animal-based forms of vegetable glycerin made from animal fats can be used instead. It’s important to note that the amounts typically used in over-the-counter food products are not enough to warrant an allergic reaction.
- Vegetable glycerin in vaping products has been known to cause increased thirst, dry mouth, and throat irritation.
- Vegetable glycerin is not recommended for individuals with diabetes, heart conditions, digestive issues, kidney disease, or those suffering from dehydration.
In summary, vegetable glycerin appears safe to use when the source is non-GMO, USP grade, allergen free, and kosher certified. While it is not bad for you, it is clear that allergens should be avoided altogether by persons known to have allergies to certain ingredients. Furthermore, dosages and applications should be adhered to. In terms of vaping, more research is needed before long-term effects can be concluded. For complete safety when it comes to using vegetable glycerin consulting a physician seems to be the wisest plan of choice.
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