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Glycerin, also known as Glycerol or Glycol, is an organic compound which is traditionally made from vegetable fat and oil. It is a colourless, odourless and non-toxic liquid. It is sweet to taste.

Glycerin has hydrating properties and acts as an effective treatment for various skin conditions such as dry skin, psoriasis and eczema. It acts as a great moisturizing agent for the skin and has the ability to nourish your skin if it is used regularly. It is also helpful in preventing the adverse reaction of certain chemicals on the skin. Glycerin is generally found in baby care products, soaps and other beauty products.

Owing to its non-toxic and sweetening properties, glycerin is also used as a preservative and food sweetener.

Some basic facts about glycerin:

  • Scientific name: The scientific name of glycerin is Propane- 1, 2, 3-triol
  • Chemical formula: The chemical formula of glycerin is C3H8O3.
  • Common name: Glycerin
  • Sources: Glycerin can be derived from three main sources - animal fats, vegetable oils and petroleum.
  • Some interesting facts about Glycerin: When winter approaches, most of the insects replace the water content in their body with glycerol. This is because glycerol acts as an anti-freezing molecule preventing these insects from freezing, especially in the coldest parts of the world
  1. Glycerin health benefits
  2. Glycerin side effects
  3. Takeaway

Glycerin has anti-ageing properties

Skin is the largest organ in the body and it has various responsibilities including temperature regulation, protection and sensory perception. Skin ageing is a natural process characterized by wrinkles, pale skin, dry and patchy skin and age spots. Research reveals that moisture plays an essential role in the process of anti-ageing. Most cosmetic agents use glycerine as one of the main ingredients because of its ability to retain moisture in the skin, thereby preventing dryness and peeling of the skin.

Glycerin reduces inflammation

Regular use of chemical-based products could lead to allergic reactions and irritation in the skin. Research suggests that glycerin can help alleviate these problems. A preclinical study showed that treating the infected skin with glycerine improved hydration and prevented the collection of white blood cells (lymphocytes) at the injury site. These lymphocytes are responsible for causing swelling and redness after an injury. Also, it was found to reduce the expression of the inflammation inducing cytokines. Thus glycerin could have potential anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory properties against various skin conditions.

(Read more: Inflammation treatment)

Glycerin improves skin permiability

Human skin has low permeability. This is what prevents foreign bodies from entering the body. However, the skin has Natural moisturising factors, which selectively bind to water and keep the skin hydrated. Glycerine is known to be one such natural moisturizing factors (NMF) and this is one of the reasons why many cosmetic products use glycerin as one of the main ingredients.

A dehydrated skin has a much lower permeability than a healthy skin and has much lower wound healing capacity. Research suggests that the hydrating properties of glycerin can significantly improve dry skin problem. It was further demonstrated that glycerin helps the skin to retain some topical drugs which are used for the treatment of skin ulcers

Glycerine exhibits antimicrobial activities

Our skin is prone to various bacterial and fungal infections. Depending on individual factors these infections could range from mild to severe. Apart from being a nuisance they are a major cause of discomfort. Research shows that different types of glycol have antimicrobial properties that are effective against these microorganisms.

A study done on different compositions of glycerin proposed that polyethylene glycol 1000 (PEG 1000) was the most effective against microorganisms followed by propylene glycol. Propylene glycol was effective against disease-causing bacteria such as S. mutans and E. Coli. However, pure glycerin was found to be    effective  only at a 100% concentration

Glycerin protects skin in phototherapy

Phototherapy is a type of treatment which is done by using lights other than sunshine. This method is used to treat various skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. However, erythema is a phototherapy induced condition that is characterized by redness of the skin. It is a necessary part of the process and resolves itself in about 48 hours. A research done on 32 volunteers revealed that application of glycerin before phototherapy significantly improved healing without showing any adverse effects. The research concluded that glycerin could be used on patients with skin diseases before starting the conventional phototherapy.

Glycerin is good for hydration

Workouts can often lead to dehydration which in turn leads to a decrease in performance. It could also cause dizziness, muscle cramping and lack of energy. Research shows that beverages that contain glycerol can help avoid dehydration Glycerin acts to reduce exertion and helps in reducing the core temperature of the body, thereby improving endurance. However, the study concluded that more research is needed to access if glycerin intake can be related to an increase in performance.  

A later research done on 40 volunteers to access the aerobic and anaerobic performance after glycerin supplementation revealed that volunteers who consumed beverages with glycerin exhibited a significant increase in their performance.

Glycerin reduces brain swelling

Brain oedema or brain swelling can be induced by a trauma or conditions such as cancer, stroke and meningitis. It can increase the pressure in the brain which could hamper brain functioning. Research suggests that osmotic diuretics such as glycerin can be used to treat people with brain oedema. Osmotic diuretics are agents that prevent the reabsorption of water thereby reducing swelling. Treatment with glycerin leads to a 50% reduction in intracranial pressure (pressure inside the skull) in oedema patients. However, glycerin did not cause dehydration in the body. 

(Read more: Oedema causes)

Glycerin benefits in glaucoma

Eye pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and the normal range is considered to be 12 - 22 mm Hg. However, when there is too much pressure in the eye, these levels might go up, leading to a condition called glaucoma. Glaucoma could damage your optic nerves and if left untreated could lead to vision loss.

The current line of treatment includes surgery to relieve excess pressure. A number of drugs are also used to reduce intraocular pressure (pressure in the eyes) before or after glaucoma surgery. Studies show that oral intake of glycerin could help releive excess pressure in the eyes. However, the effect was found to be dependant on glaucoma type.

Glycerin is good for constipation

Constipation is a gastrointestinal disorder which is characterized by difficulty in excretion, stomach pain and bloating. Constipation is not a life-threatening disease but it could lead to complications such as rectal bleeding, swollen blood vessels in the rectum and colon cancer if it is left untreated for a long period. Studies show that a prescribed dose of glycerin can act as a good laxative and can be used to treat constipation by making the bowel movements regular.

  • It may not be suitable for all skin types   
    Glycerine might not be suitable for all skin types. Therefore, it is advised to be cautious before using a product with glycerin for the first time. It is also recommended to mix glycerin with other ingredients before using it. For instance, it could be mixed with distilled water or rose water before application.
  • Glycerin could lead to rectal bleeding   
    Glycerin consumption may cause irritation, burning and bleeding in the rectum. It is not recommended to treat yourself with glycerin without consulting a doctor.
  • Other adverse effects
    In a few volunteers, consumption of beverages with glycerin has been found to be associated with nausea, gastrointestinal problems, feeling of dizziness and headache.

Glycerin is a wonderful product which benefits the skin in many ways. It soothes, repairs and heals the skin and has deep moisturising properties. It is considered one of the best products for skin related problems and is present in almost all cosmetic items. However, some people might have an allergic reaction to glycerin and therefore it is best to be careful before adding it to your self-care regime. Apart from skin benefits, glycerin is also used as a good laxative to treat constipation, to treat brain oedema and to treat eye conditions such as glaucoma. 

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References

  1. Szél E et al. Anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory effects of glycerol and xylitol in sodium lauryl sulphate-induced acute irritation. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2015 Dec;29(12):2333-41. PMID: 26370610
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Illness & Symptoms
  3. Björklund S et al. Glycerol and urea can be used to increase skin permeability in reduced hydration conditions. Eur J Pharm Sci. 2013 Dec 18;50(5):638-45. PMID: 23643739
  4. Triveni Mohan Nalawade, Kishore Bhat, Suma H. P. Sogi. Bactericidal activity of propylene glycol, glycerine, polyethylene glycol 400, and polyethylene glycol 1000 against selected microorganisms . J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2015 Mar-Apr; 5(2): 114–119. PMID: 25992336
  5. Fetil E et al. Effects of some emollients on the transmission of ultraviolet. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2006 Jun;22(3):137-40. PMID: 16719867
  6. van Rosendal SP, et al. Physiological and performance effects of glycerol hyperhydration and rehydration. Nutr Rev. 2009.
  7. Suleyman Patlar, Hasan Yalçin, Ekrem Boyali. The Effect of Glycerol Supplements on Aerobic and Anaerobic Performance of Athletes and Sedentary Subjects . J Hum Kinet. 2012 Oct; 34: 69–79. PMID: 23487412
  8. P. AWASTHI, S. N. SRIVASTAVA. ROLE OF ORAL GLYCEROL IN GLAUCOMA. Brit. J. Ophthal. (1965) 49, 660
  9. van Rosendal SP, et al. Physiological and performance effects of glycerol hyperhydration and rehydration. Nutr Rev. 2009.