Glycerine - Uses and Properties

Even though glycerine has been a staple in my stockroom for ages, it has remained one of those 'background ingredients'.

But that all changed this year.

These past few months, glycerine has made its way into a front and center position due to a series of glycerite how-to's on this blog.

Since you ask.

A glycerite is an extract made with herbs (flowers, or other substance) using glycerine as the main medium of extraction – a glycerine extract, if you will.

That picture up there is a lemon glycerite being strained (and yes, it smells deliciously of fresh lemon).

My recent glycerite how-to's have been so popular with you lovely readers that I have gotten all kinds of feedback and questions from you, so today we're going to take a closer look at glycerine.

Glycerine = Glycerol

Glycerine is also known as glycerol. It's a clear, viscous (read: thick-ish, syrup-y) liquid that is sweet to the taste, slightly sticky to the touch, and categorized as non-toxic.

Glycerine has multiple uses within the food, medical, and cosmetics industries. It has gazillions of applications.

Yes, I'm exaggerating, but it really is very widely used.

As a barely-scratch-the-surface kind of list, you'll find glycerine as a component of
  • vaccines
  • food syrups
  • e-cigarette liquid
  • anti-freeze
  • bio-diesel
  • medicine
  • candy
  • and this list could go on for a very long time....

Glycerine Fun Fact 

Glycerine functions beautifully as a 'water-look-alike' in photography and film studios because it stays where it is put until the shot is done. (Now you know how they can 'capture' that perfect moment of dewy-freshness under a million hot lights that would make real water evaporate in seconds).

Both Animal and Vegetable

Glycerine can be made from both animal and vegetable sources. Vegetable glycerine is most often made from soy, palm or coconut. The non-plant-based version of glycerine is made from animal tallow.


In skin care products, glycerine functions as a humectant – drawing moisture to the skin when it comprises under a certain percentage of a formula. It is generally recommended to keep the total content of glycerine to under 10%.

Added at higher percentages, glycerine is claimed to do quite the opposite and draw moisture from the skin. However, from my research it looks like this is unproven.

Dosage is everything when it comes to glycerine.

Another cool thing glycerine can do is function as a preservative, or aid to a preservative – and, again, dosage is pretty much the key.


A proven ingredient with a long history of use, glycerine is an ideal addition to creams, lotions, serums, tonics, face mists and other products where moisture-boosting is desired.

Soapy goodness: I'm sure you've tried (or at least heard of) glycerine soap, which is often recommended for sensitive skin types.

Glycerine soap is easily recognizable because of its translucent quality.

Guess which one of the soaps below has glycerine?

Ok, that was a total trick question because hand-crafted soap (such as the 2 you see here) will always have a content of glycerine – even if the soap is not translucent. Companies that mass-produce soap will almost always separate out the glycerine to be sold and used in other products.

The glycerine content of artisan soap could very well be why many people with sensitive or very dry skin will better tolerate them. Count yours truly as one.

Up Next

We're going to take a look at the function of glycerine in glycerites and examine its preserving properties.

Meantime, if you're interested in getting to know and work with glycerine as a star ingredient...

... make Your Own Glycerite! 

Here are a few links that will show you how to make an herbal extraction using glycerine

On this Blog (with fresh food):
Cucumber: 1
Cucumber: 2

On Other Sites (with dried or fresh herbs)
Mountain Rose Blog
The Herbal Academy
Growing Up Herbal

Do Tell

How do you use glycerine in your products?


Glycerine Soap (wikipedia)
What you need to know about glycerin... (Colins Beauty Pages)


Chris said…
We know that rubbing lemon on your face is photosensitizing, but does that also apply to lemon glycerite?
LisaLise said…
Hi Chris - great question! I would probably recommend a lemon glycerite for a rinse off product. :)
Unknown said…
Hi Lisa,

I've always been wary of using glycerin, as I read that in very dry weather conditions it will actually draw moisture from your skin and hair (where I live, it can get very dry at times, eg yesterday's humidity was only 9%, and today 28%).

I'm definitely going to try it now, keeping the concentration under 10% as you mentioned :-)

PS, I think I'll try it on another part of my body first, before I try it on my skin or hair... lol
LisaLise said…
Hi Riana - Thanks for your input! Glycerine really is all about dosage. I will usually keep it around 5-7% for leave-on products. Some even keep it down as low as 2%. Best of luck with it!
Unknown said…
Hi Lisa,

I saw glycerine on the ingredient list of a balm made only with shea butter, oils and essential oils. I thought that glycerine can not be mixed with oils? I am really confused about this. This a well knows natural cosmetic brand.

Thank you

LisaLise said…
Hi Audrey - This can be confusing because of the numerous names. Glycerine 99% (or glycerol) has the same INCI name but have different characteristics.You will find glycerine listed on some lip balms but it is most likely glycerol.
Adesola said…

Hi Lisa,

Great post here....if I may ask what is the difference between glycerine and glycerol.
LisaLise said…
Hello Adesola- they are the same thing. :)
Anonymous said…
Hi Lise!
How do you think the lemon glycerine would turn out if one was to use more rind than juicy fruit? For instance, of the 66% lemon, you could use 40+% rind, 26-% rind with fruit? Seems to me that would allow for even more lemony goodness, without the watering-down effect. Your thoughts? TIA
LisaLise said…
Hi - That's entirely do-able if you're trying to avoid a watery effect. Mind you, you will still experience some thinning. If you give it a shot, I'd love to hear your feedback on how it went. :)
Abby said…
I recently tried a sample lotion that I liked. The ingredients did not include any water-based ingredients other than glycerin and the only emulsifier was beeswax... I am familiar with making lotion using a water phase, and oil phase and an emulsifier, but I'd never seen anything like this. Have you ever tried anything similar?
LisaLise said…
Hi Abby - this sounds like an anhydrous formula - but then glycerine has been added. I have heard of some adding glycerine to otherwise anhydrous formulas (lip balms etc), but the reason for doing so escapes me. I haven't tried it myself, but am a bit curious to look into the reasoning behind this. Thanks for inspiring me to do a bit of digging and perhaps do a blog post on this!
Abby said…
Lise, yeah, it was definitely anhydrous. The sample that I tried was similar in consistency to an anhydrous body butter, except it seemed to soak into the skin more quickly and be slightly less greasy. I was intrigued, and thought you might be as well!
LisaLise said…
Hi Abby - The greasiness in body butters can be reduced by introducing additional anhydrous ingredients such as tapioca powder or cornstarch. This would be my go-to before introducing an ingredient with a water content.
Unknown said…
hello Lisa, I have a bottle of Glyceryn 99.5% Anhydrous, was wondering if you know of a way I can make myself a bubble bath? TY!
LisaLise said…
Hi Unknown —check SoapQueen for bubble bath how to’s :)
Taryn said…
Hi Lisa, h

How are you?

I have a couple of questions I hope you can assist me with.

I've made two glycerites, one from the flesh of my aloe vera plant and the other from the flowers of my chamomile plant. The chamomile plant is chamaemelum nobile / anthemis nobilis.

I've learnt from your blogs that you can replace glycerine with a glycerite in most cosmetics formulas. If I were to use xanthan gum in my formulation, could I dissolve it in the glycerite, if I was using that instead of glycerine?

My 2nd question is regarding INCI. What would the correct INCI name for the glycerites be? I'm thinking for the aloe it would be glycerine, aloe barbadensis and then the preservative's INCI name and for the chamomile it would be glycerine, anthemis nobilis and preservative's INCI name. I'm not sure that's correct though, what do you think?

Thanks for all the amazing info you share and for your help.

Warm wishes,
LisaLise said…
Hey there Taryn,

You might want to add the xanthan to your formula if you combine the glycerite with some of the additional liquid in the formula unless your glycerite is very runny. Depending on the herbs used (and whether they were fresh dried, freeze-dried etc), some glycerites are quite viscous. If you have any liquid in the formula other than glycerite, I'd start by adding the xanthan to the liquid first and then add the glycerite. Be mindful the structure may change drastically when the glycerite is added - not all glycerites behave the same. As for the INCI name, you are on track. Most glycerine extracts sold by ingredients suppliers are listed as "glycerine, HERB INCI NAME, preservative(if one is added)* Best of luck with it!
Unknown said…
Hi Lisa!
thank you for being out there for us, i wanted to ask if making glycerite with dried herb why do we need 3:1 ratio of water(3 parts glycerine 1 part water)? and if the water is still needed then the sites you mentioned-Mountain Rose Blog and The Herbal Academy they have not used any preservative and The Herbal Academy stated that the shelf life is 1-2 years, is it possible of having long shel life even if no preservative is used?. Lisa Kindly throw light on my query!

Thank you for sharing your experiences and expertise!

Nisha Suman.
LisaLise said…
HI Nisha - It is indeed possible to have a glycerite with a long shelf life without adding preservatives if the proportions are right. I address this in my book The Art of Making Glycerites for Cosmetics and provide calculations charts for all kinds of materials - both for making glycerites with and without added preservatives. :)
Aus said…
Hi Lisa,
Can I use glycerin with coconut oil in a lip balm and achieve a good result?
Many thanks!

LisaLise said…
HI Ausyln

If you are conservative with proportions and do a few test batches you should be able to get it to work. Best of luck!