Vegetable glycerine is a thick, syrupy, sweet liquid that is derived from vegetable oils. This liquid is used as a lubricant emollient and humectant in various cosmetics and skin care products. Vegetable glycerine is also used in hair styling agents and conditioners---to smoothe and soften hair and allow it to retain moisture. It is mostly derived from palm and coconut oils and is commonly available in health food stores and through online merchants. While considered safe for most external applications, the substance is associated with some health hazards, which must be kept in mind before purchasing it or its derivatives.
Vegetable glycerine derived from coconut and palm oil causes reactions in individuals who are allergic to these substances or their byproducts. Some vegetable glycerine products contain preservatives that are added to extend their shelf lives. Sulphite preservatives (compounds of oxygen and sulphur in combination with sodium sulphite or potassium sulphite) are popularly used to maintain the freshness of vegetable glycerine products, including soaps, shampoos and lotions. They produce asthma-like allergic reactions in allergy-prone individuals, the symptoms of which include itching, nausea, dizziness, diarrhoea, shortness of breath and hives.
Some synthetic vegetable glycerins, such as propylene glycol, are associated with severe side effects. According to Kevin Woodward in the book "Veterinary Pharmacovigilance," propylene glycol is toxic to dogs, cats, horses, cattle and other animals. According to Allan B Wolfson and his co-authors, in the book "Harwood-Nuss' Clinical Practice of Emergency Medicine," ingesting propylene glycol brings about alcohol-like effects, and high doses of the substance, when ingested, can result in central nervous system disorders, renal failure and even fatalities in humans.
Vegetable glycerins, including propylene glycol, are known to cause skin irritations. According to Jan E. Wahlberg and her co-authors in the book "Management of Positive Patch Test Reactions," undiluted 10 per cent and 50 per cent propylene glycol is a skin irritant, and concentrations as low as 5 per cent can also cause irritation. Natural vegetable glycerine, which comprises the active ingredient in many skin care products---including soaps, lotions and face-washes---also causes skin irritation in some users. According to Francine Milford in the book "Aroma Care: Make Your Own Perfume," vegetable glycerine-based perfumes cause skin allergies in certain people.
Mucous Membrane Irritant
According to D. R. Price in the book "Do You Have Kitchen Disease," vegetable glycerine can cause irritation to mucous membranes. Shirley Price and Len Price state in the book "Aromatherapy for Health Professionals" that vegetable glycerine irritates the mucous membranes of the genitourinary, respiratory and alimentary tracts, which may cause diarrhoea, aches, irritation of the upper airway, wheezing, swelling of the tongue and gastroenteritis.
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- "Veterinary Pharmacovigilance"; Kevin Woodward; 2009 (Pg 535)
- "Do You Have Kitchen Disease"; D. R. Price; 2007 (Pg 126)
- "Aroma Care Make Your Own Perfume"; Francine Milford; 2007 (Pg 13)
- "Management of Positive Patch Test Reactions"; Jan E. Wahlberg, P. Elsner, L. Kanerva and Howard I. Maibach; 2003 (Pg 86)
- "Aromatherapy for Health Professionals"; Shirley Price and Len Price; 2007 (Pg 63)