Glycerin (EU) is one of the most important and widely used ingredients in skin care formulations. It is a water-soluble, odorless, colorless, naturally-occurring humectant commonly used as a moisturizer (EU), solvent (EU), or lubricant. Glycerin has over 1500 known uses in different categories that range from foods to urethane foams. About 300 million pounds of glycerin are used annually in the United States, and it is produced by the continuous high-pressure hydrolysis of natural triglyceride-based oils. Glycerin is also naturally occurring in the body and is produced from the metabolism of fats and oils into fatty acids and glycerin.
Glycerin was accidentally discovered in 1779 by K. W. Scheele, a Swedish chemist, while he was heating a mixture of olive oil (EU) and litharge (lead monoxide). Scheele called glycerin the “sweet principle of fat.” Scheele later established that other metals and glycerides produce the same chemical reaction, yielding glycerin and soap. In 1783, he published a description of his method of preparation in the transactions of the Royal Academy of Sweden, and his method was used to produce glycerin commercially for many years.
Glycerin did not become economically or industrially significant until Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in 1866. After twenty years of experimentation, Nobel’s invention successfully stabilized trinitroglycerin, a highly explosive compound, by absorption on kieselguhr, or diatamaceous earth, which permitted safe handling and transportation.
10 Key Benefits
- Excellent moisturizing properties. Most top performing hand and body lotions contain high levels of glycerin.
- Can improve chronic hand dermatitis.
- Can help promote cell exfoliation.
- Can help reduce wound-healing times. Good moisturizers can reduce wound-healing times by up to 25%.
- Glycerin has been shown to stimulate barrier recovery in vivo after repeated skin washing using sodium lauryl sulfate (EU).
- Can help improve the freeze-thaw stability of oil-in-water emulsions.
- Is an approved category 1 OTC skin protectant (>20%).
- Excellent safety profile and low toxicity.
- Natural-based and cost effective.
- Used to produce glycerin-based esters (EU) widely used in personal care formulations as emollients and emulsifiers (polyglyceryl esters (EU), glyceryl stearate (EU), glyceryl tricaprylate/caprate (EU)).
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