what is vegetable glycerin & how to use it in skincare routine

Vegetable glycerin, also known as glycerol or VG, is a colorless and odorless liquid that is derived from plants. This versatile and natural substance has a myriad of uses in the food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries, and it has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its health benefits and environmentally friendly properties. 

In this article, we will answer the question of what vegetable glycerin is, how it is used, and why it is so beneficial.

What is Vegetable Glycerin?

Vegetable glycerin is a colorless, odorless, viscous liquid that is derived from vegetable oils, such as palm oil, coconut oil, and soybean oil. It is a viscous and sweet-tasting liquid that is commonly used as a food additive, preservative, and humectant (a substance that helps retain moisture). Glycerin is also a natural byproduct of the soap-making process, where it is produced when fats are broken down into their component parts.

Glycerin is unique in that it is both a water-soluble and oil-soluble compound, meaning that it can dissolve in both water and oil-based substances. This makes it an ideal ingredient for a wide range of applications, from moisturizing creams and lotions to soap and shampoo formulations.

What is Vegetable Glycerin Used for?

Vegetable glycerin is used in a variety of ways, both in commercial products and as a standalone ingredient. Here are some of the most common uses of vegetable glycerin:

Food and Beverages

Vegetable glycerin is commonly used as a sweetener and preservative in a variety of foods and beverages, including:

  • Baked goods
  • Chewing gum
  • Ice cream
  • Soft drinks
  • Wine and beer

Because vegetable glycerin is a natural ingredient that is derived from plants, it is often used as an alternative to artificial sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup or aspartame.

Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Vegetable glycerin is a popular ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products due to its moisturizing properties. It is often used in products such as:

  • Moisturizing creams and lotions
  • Lip balms
  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Soaps and body washes

Because vegetable glycerin is a humectant, it helps to draw moisture to the skin, keeping it hydrated and soft.

Pharmaceutical and Medical Products

Vegetable glycerin has several medicinal properties that make it useful in pharmaceutical and medical products, including:

  • Cough syrups and expectorants
  • Suppositories and enemas
  • Toothpaste and mouthwash

Additionally, vegetable glycerin is sometimes used as a carrier for medicine and herbal remedies, as it can help to facilitate the absorption of these substances into the body.

Benefits of vegetable glycerin for skin

Vegetable glycerin is a versatile and effective ingredient that can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions,” said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist based in New York City. As you know, vegetable glycerin functions as a humectant, attracting moisture into the skin and retaining it. This property is highly beneficial for enhancing the skin’s barrier function and overall skin health.

  • Hydrates and moisturizes the skin and hair: Vegetable glycerin can help to draw water into the skin and hair, which can help to keep them hydrated and moisturized. This is especially beneficial for people with dry, flaky skin or dry, brittle hair.
  • Improves skin barrier function: Vegetable glycerin can help to strengthen the skin barrier, which can help to protect the skin from environmental toxins and irritants. This can be especially helpful for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
  • Reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines: According to a 2021 study published in the journal “Skin Pharmacology and Physiology”: vegetable glycerin can help to improve the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. The study found that vegetable glycerin helped to plump up the skin and increase collagen production. This is because it helps to increase the production of collagen and elastin, which are proteins that give the skin its structure and elasticity.
  • Soothes irritated skin: Vegetable glycerin has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to soothe irritated skin. This can be helpful for people with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, or for people who have irritated skin from shaving or waxing.

potential side effects of vegetable glycerin

Vegetable glycerin, while widely used in skincare and various products, can trigger several potential concerns. Skin irritation is a common issue, particularly for individuals with sensitive skin, often manifesting as redness, itching, and a burning sensation. Additionally, as a sugar alcohol, vegetable glycerin may not be completely digested by the body, potentially leading to digestive problems such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some individuals. 

Allergic reactions are possible, with symptoms ranging from hives and swelling to more severe manifestations like difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis. It’s essential to be aware of these potential reactions and seek medical attention if any adverse symptoms arise after using products containing vegetable glycerin.

How to Use Vegetable Glycerin in your skincare routine

Add it to your moisturizer

Vegetable glycerin can help to hydrate and plump up the skin, making it a great addition to your daily moisturizer. To add vegetable glycerin to your moisturizer, simply mix a few drops with your regular moisturizer and apply it to your skin.

Use it as a toner

Balance your skin’s pH and eliminate residual dirt and oil by preparing a toner with equal parts vegetable glycerin and water. Spray this mixture onto your face after cleansing and gently pat it dry.

Make a face mask

Formulate a simple DIY face mask by combining one part vegetable glycerin with two parts water. Apply this mixture to your face, leave it on for 15-20 minutes, and then rinse it off. You can also add other ingredients to your face mask, such as honey, oatmeal, or yogurt.

Add it to your bath

Vegetable glycerin can also be added to your bath to help hydrate and soften your skin. To add vegetable glycerin to your bath, simply add a few drops to the running water.


  1. What is the difference between vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol? Propylene glycol is a synthetic compound that is often used as a humectant in cosmetic and personal care products. While it shares some similarities with vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol is derived from petroleum and can be potentially harmful when ingested or applied topically. Vegetable glycerin, on the other hand, is a natural and safe alternative to propylene glycol.
  2. Is vegetable glycerin safe to consume? Yes, vegetable glycerin is safe to consume in moderation. It is often used as a food additive and sweetener, and it has no known negative side effects when consumed in reasonable amounts.
  3. Can vegetable glycerin be used on sensitive skin? Yes, vegetable glycerin is gentle and non-irritating, making it an ideal ingredient for those with sensitive skin. It can help to soothe dry or irritated skin without causing any adverse reactions.
  4. Can vegetable glycerin be used as a substitute for alcohol-based extracts? Yes, vegetable glycerin can be used as a substitute for alcohol-based extracts in certain applications. It can help to extract the beneficial compounds from herbs or other plant materials without the harshness or drying effects of alcohol.
  5. Does vegetable glycerin have a shelf life? Yes, vegetable glycerin has a shelf life of approximately two years if stored properly in a cool, dry place.