Vegetable glycerin is produced using an extraction process called hydrolysis. During hydrolysis, oils are placed under the combined force of pressure, temperature, and water. The ester bond breaks and causes the glycerin to split from fatty acids and be absorbed by water; at which point the resultant is further isolated by distillation to increase purity. Purified vegetable glycerin has a texture similar to an oil or syrup due to its organic molecular makeup, specifically, three hydroxyl groups.
Many household products, including lotions, shampoo, and toothpaste, contain vegetable glycerin. Glycerin is added to these products because it is a humectant; a substance that attracts moisture to the skin. In the cosmetic world, this has two practical applications. First, glycerin leaves your skin hydrated. Glycerin soap, for example, is popular for that very reason. Second, for cosmetic products that deliver an active ingredient, a humectant can increase the solubility of the active ingredient, making it more easily absorbed by the skin.
Vegetable glycerin may be used as a solvent and substitute for alcohol when producing botanical and herbal extracts. This is advantageous for people who wish to avoid alcohol exposure.
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