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Glycerin vs Vegetable Glycerin

Glycerin is a humectant substance, that is, it absorbs water from the atmosphere and helps to retain moisture in the skin. It is also a by-product of the production of handmade soap. I repeat, glycerin is a by-product of the production of handmade soap !! Like this:

Oils + Lye => Fatty Acid Salt (Soap) + Glycerol (Glycerin) = Natural Handmade Soap

In other words, ALL the handmade soap, with oils and lye such as caustic soda or potash, contains glycerin. So, technically, all handmade soaps are glycerin soap. That is why natural soaps are usually so moisturizing.

Glycerin was discovered in 1779 by a Swedish chemist, Karl Wilhelm Scheele, who named glycerin as “the sweet base of fat”. In 1811, Michel Chevreul’s, a Frenchman, named this glycerin substance which comes from the Greek “glykys” which means “sweet”.

Glycerin was mainly used for medicinal and personal care purposes until the late 1800s, when Alfred Nobel discovered nitroglycerin as an explosive. As a result of the need for glycerin for the manufacture of nitroglycerin (used in the manufacture of dynamite), a practical method of extracting glycerin into soap (or soap) was invented.

The demand for glycerin turned soap manufacturing into a very profitable business. Until the 1940’s, most glycerin was produced as a by-product of soap manufacturing. Then a method to create glycerin synthetically from propylene, a petroleum byproduct, was developed.


Vegetable Glycerin

Vegetable or liquid glycerin is a liquid, colorless, viscous, sweet-tasting organic compound, which in its commercial form is 95% pure.Glycerin is widely used in the food industry for two main reasons: it has a sweet taste, but less calories than sugar, and it is hygroscopic, that is, it absorbs moisture from the air. Another important use is in the cosmetics industry.

Thanks to its hygroscopic properties, it is used in many moisturizing skin products, as it seems to help relieve dry skin problems. Vegetable glycerin can also be used as a substitute for ethanol (alcohol) to make plant extracts.

Glycerin Soaps

The soaps I make and the recipes I present on this blog are almost all recipes for cold process soap production, natural handmade soap made from roots. There are a lot of websites on the internet that teach how to make handmade soap, not clarifying that they are only presenting recipes using glycerin bases (melt-and-pour) already manufactured by third parties.

These glycerinated or melt-and-pour bases are pre-made using the same chemical process as the handmade soap, with oils and alkaline elements (caustic soda or potash), but where extra steps and more ingredients are added: an alcohol solution and sugars and extra glycerin. The alcohol solution gives it its transparent appearance (prevents the soap crystals from becoming opaque) and the extra glycerin counterbalances the dehydrating effect of alcohol. That is, what many people call glycerin soap, is nothing more than transparent soap, obtained by this process.

As these bases are made with the same ingredients as the handmade soap / soap, they are equally good, with the advantage that being pre-made, it is no longer necessary to deal with alkaline (dangerous) elements and they become easy and safe to handle, even by children. They can be customized with different shapes, dyes and fragrances, including mixtures of colors and shapes. However, they are not soaps made from scratch, and can become more expensive, given the price of the glycerin base.

I have already tried to make “glycerin soap”, also known as melt and pour soap at home and it went very well.

Comparing to cold process, it takes more ingredients, but it’s not so demanding in temperature precision, the soap base can be easily remelted to make your final product – it’s very versatile-, and curing time is much shorter (2 weeks only). On the other hand, it smells strongly of alcohol, which is something I will try to improve with coming recipes.

Check out the following posts to see recipes and experience.

Glycerin Soap Recipes

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4 thoughts on “Glycerin vs Vegetable Glycerin”

  1. Hey there! 

    wow nice article, I never knew there was glycerin soap, this is actually the first time, and I will be looking forward to more of your posts as well 

    But I have a few questions o

    this kind of soap does it has any effect on the hands while been used for washing? 

    what are the other advantages it has? 

    • Hello Astrostar thanks for your comment and your questions.

      To be honest, the only difference between glycerin soap and “normal” soap, for me, is the looks: glycerin soap is transparent and “normal” soap is opaque. Glycerin soap has the advantage of being easy to remelt and remake them, being the perfect soap base for melt&pour;. You can add more ingredients that won’t be destroyed by lye, like a plant extract with medicinal properties.

      As for your question about glycerin soaps having any effect on hands? Well, they wash them xD 

      Now, out of jokes. No natural soap I have tried so far, glycerin or otherwise, is drying to your hands if that’s what you’re asking about. And they are actually better at removing some stains like ink. Your hands will get dry if you wash them a lot, though, but they are gentler than commercial hand gels that we know and use (I refuse to call them “soap” because they are not soap).

      If you mean to ask about if they are desinfectant, because of COVID, well they are good at dissolving lipo molecules, so I suppose that, along with their high pH (7-9) where most bacteria die, they are indeed effective at killing COVID. But again, this is true for glycerin soap, or other natural soap.

      In summary, and this is just my personal experience, glycerin soap is as good as “normal” natural handmade soap, the only difference being that it is transparent – and you can make some fun soaps with that advantage.

      Hope this answers your questions.



  2. Hi Sophia, 

    Wow, I never knew such amazing facts about glycerin, its types and that it’s used in handmade soaps. I always wondered how come handmade soaps are so moisturizing. But then, I have got my answer now.

    I also enjoyed reading the history of glycerine in your post.

    Many thanks for this post where I increased my knowledge of glycerine.

    • Hello Nick, and thank you for your comment. You are as much surprised as I was when finding out those facts. I hope you enjoyed this article.

      Cheers, Sofia


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