Glycerin is a simple polyol compound that is colourless and odourless. It is a viscous sweet-tasting liquid; it is about 0.6 times sweeter than cane sugar. It is soluble in water and alcohol and has a boiling point of 290° C. It is generally obtained from plant or animal matter. Examples include soybean or palm or animal-derived tallow, respectively. It is non-toxic and it is not classified as a Dangerous Good. [1,2]   

Uses [2,3]

Glycerin is used in a myriad of ways, including in the food, medical and beauty product industries. It is used as a sweetener, solvent and humectant in foods and beverages. In the medical world, glycerin is used to treat open wounds and burns, as it has antiviral and bactericidal effects. For cosmetic use, glycerin is used to bring moisture to the surface of the skin and act as a smoothing agent. It is also used in oral and topical medications to help protect the skin and throat from irritants. Glycerin is also used in the ingredients for soap bubbles, and in the film industry for scenes with water in them to stop the water drying out too quickly. 

  • Routes of Exposure [3]

  • People can be exposed to glycerin by skin contact, inhaling it, or by consuming contaminated food, water or other drinks.

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has placed glycerin on its Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) list of chemicals. 

Health Effects

Glycerin poisoning affects a range of systems including the skin, nervous, respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

Acute Effects [1]

Severity of symptoms depend on the level and type of exposure.

If glycerin is ingested, it may lead to cramping, nausea, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, vomiting and diarrhoea. 

If the compound is ingested in large amounts, it may cause dehydration, nausea, vomiting, kidney problems, a coma or death.

Glycerin may cause irritation to the eye, including tearing, a burning sensation and redness. 

If absorbed through the skin, glycerin may cause irritation.

Chronic Effects [1]

Glycerin is toxic to multiple body systems. Long-term ingestion of the compound may cause headaches, dizziness, vision loss or blurriness, disturbance of smell, taste and sleep and trembling of the limbs. It has also been linked to physical weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Chronic glycerin exposure has been linked to toxicity of the kidneys. 


~h2First Aid Measures [4]

  • Ingestion: If ingested, rinse mouth and DO NOT induce vomiting. Immediately contact a doctor or a poison centre.
  • Skin contact: In case of skin or hair contact, remove/take off all contaminated clothing and immediately wash exposed skin with mild soap and water. Follow this with a warm water rinse. Do not re-wear clothing until it has been decontaminated. Immediately call a doctor or poison centre.
  • Eye contact: Flush eyes carefully with water for several minutes. Check for and remove contact lenses if easy to do so. Continue rinsing. Only obtain medical attention if symptoms, such as redness, pain or excessive blinking, persist. 
  • Inhalation: Take contaminated person to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. Allow them to rest and contact a medical professional. 
  • General: Never administer anything by mouth to an unconscious, exposed person.

  • Exposure Controls/Personal Protection [4]

  • Engineering controls: Safety showers and emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure. Ensure there is adequate ventilation. Whenever possible, material should be handled in a laboratory.

  • Personal protection: Safety glasses, protective and dustproof clothing, gloves, an apron and an appropriate mask. 

Regulation [5]

~h2United States:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) concentration for glycerin of 0.05mg/m3. For glycerin mist, they have set a TWA of 5mg/m3, concluding that these limits will protect users against potential long-term use on their kidneys. 

Australia [1]

Safe Work Australia: Safe Work Australia has set an 8-hour time TWA for glycerin of 10mg/m3. However, it should be highlighted that the TWA values are likely to be higher than the biological standards exposure level for the compound; therefore, all reasonable steps must be taken to minimise the level of exposure to a level well below the workplace standard.