Animal glycerin vs Veggie glycerin

by kcurly on July 13, 2009

in Ask Kcurly

Comment from Mesha :

What is the difference between glycerin you buy at the whole food store and the one at Walmart? I’m about to BC tomorrow and I bought glycerin at Walmart to make my own spritz. Should I use it?

Thanks for the comment! Animal glycerin is more than likely what is sold at Walmart and the Whole Foods probably has veggie glycerin. Here are characteristics of the two I found while digging:

Animal Glycerin:

  • made from animal fats, such as tallow, grease, or lard
  • cheaper to make
  • usually not purified

Vegetable Glycerin:

  • will not become rancid or ferment
  • does not dry as fast as animal glycerin
  • is food grade and therefore has more uses


  • acts as an emollient to soften the skin
  • thick, clear, odorless liquid
  • may act as an emulsifier and humetcant (draws moisture from the air)

Here is a word of caution about glycerin from (my emphasis, not theirs):

Glycerin is a relatively small molecule compared to many moisturizers, and it contains three hydroxyl groups. This high molecular density of hydrophilic groups makes it an extremely hygroscopic molecule that absorbs water from its surrounding environment. It does this to such a high degree that it will raise a blister if applied in an undiluted state to the skin. If it were applied to hair in such a concentrated state, it could strip all of the moisture from the interior of the hair.

However, when used in a diluted form, glycerin can be a great moisturizer and humectant for the hair. Care should be taken to use it in environments of moderate humidity. If the climate is very hot and humid, glycerin will absorb a lot of moisture from the air and cause the hair to swell, raising the cuticle and disrupting curl pattern, creating coarse, frizzy hair. In weather that is extremely dry, glycerin will seek out moisture from your hair and actually dehydrate it, which can cause damage and breakage.

When making my homemade spritz, I use only a small amount of glycerin and I only use, as of now, veggie glycerin which is sold in bulk at my local health foods store, so not expensive at all. I have however used the walmart glycerin and found no problem with it.  A lot of folks use the animal based glycerin and have great results.

There is also synthetic glycerin which is petroleum based. Here is an article in Biodiesel Magazine you might find of interest.



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  • Bronze Trinity

    Cool, thanks for writing that. I just didn’t want to use an animal product and I read that there might be something bad about animal glycerine but I can’t remember what it was.

  • Tim

    The USP glycerin in the walmart pharmacy is vegetable glycerin and is more pure than the FCC grade in the grocery section (that’s the only difference). Animal based glycerin is limited to products which are NOT consumed by humans, like machine lubricants, fuel, antifreeze, glue…etc. – Sorry for the very late post. Just wanted to help make that clear.

  • Nicole

    @Tim-Thanks! Your comment has been very helpful. I’m reading this b/c I’ve been googling like crazy trying to figure out the difference, if there is one, and whether it’s okay to use the Walmart (Humco) glycerin on my natural hair. I’ve read so many conflicting statements about the different “glycerins” from people that aren’t speaking from experience and are probably not scientists to the least. I’m no scientist either but I’ve read Wikipedia’s breakdown of what glycerin is and it states that as long as it has the USP stamp, it’s safe to use cosmetically.

  • Martin Sheppard

    Just so you know. Any time you see “animal byproducts” listed in the ingredients, it means that the byproduct is the result of dead animals that were sent to the “rendering works”. As a former animal control officer, aka dog catcher, I became aware of what ends up at the rendering works, and that’s just about anything from dead horses and livestock to bloated and putrid dead road kills. Back in the 1980′s I was told most of the oils and fats rendered were exported overseas as a butter ingredient or for make up additives. I would not hesitate using it for non food consumption purposes, but not for anything that goes in my mouth or on my skin, even though I am sure it has been rendered “sanitary” and safe by U.S. manufacturers. However, the same quality standards do not often apply in other countries, especially China. As a retired state health inspector of almost 30 years, I do not consume anything exported from China, for health reasons and not political.

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