Glycerol: Properties, Formula & Uses

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: The Atom

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 What Is Glycerol?
  • 2:05 Personal Care Products
  • 3:00 Pharmaceutical Products
  • 3:48 Food Industry
  • 4:24 Antifreeze and Explosives
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

Have you ever wondered what chemical compounds make up soap and other personal care products? If we look at the product labels on some of them, one of the ingredients is a compound called glycerol. In this lesson we will learn more about glycerol.

What is Glycerol?

Let's think about some products we always use, like soap or shaving cream. Have you ever wondered what component of soap makes it slippery? For the shaving cream, what ingredient in it is responsible for softening your skin? The answer is that both these products have a chemical compound called glycerol.

Glycerol, also referred to as glycerin or glycerine, is a chemical compound that is a generally nontoxic, sweet-tasting viscous liquid. When we say viscous, this term means that the substance is a liquid with a thick and sticky consistency. The formula for glycerol is C3H8O3. It has 3 carbon (C) atoms, 8 hydrogen (H) atoms, and 3 oxygen (O) atoms. In this image, you can see the appearance of glycerol and its chemical formula and structure.

The chemical structure of glycerol shows that each carbon atom is bonded to an -OH group. These -OH groups are what we call hydroxyl groups. Because of this, glycerol is classified as a polyol, which is an alcohol containing more than one hydroxyl group. Glycerol is soluble in water because of the hydroxyl (-OH) groups attached to the carbon atoms. These hydroxyl groups are also responsible for the hygroscopic nature of glycerol, which means that it readily retains or takes up water.

The density of glycerol is 1.261 g/ml. Its boiling point is 290 degrees Celsius, and its melting point is 17.8 degrees Celsius. These values show that glycerol is denser than water (because water has a density of 1 g/mL), its boiling point is higher than water (water has a boiling point of 100 degrees Celsius), and its melting point is higher than water (water has a melting point of 0 degrees Celsius).


Glycerol is mostly known for its use in the food industry as well as in personal care products. It is also used as antifreeze and even as one of the ingredients to manufacture explosives. In this section, we will discuss the various uses of glycerol.

Personal Care Products

Have you ever wondered what it is that makes your toothpaste smooth? It would really not be a very good experience if your toothpaste felt rough! Earlier, we mentioned that glycerol is the ingredient that makes soap slippery, and the ingredient that helps soften your skin when you put shaving cream on. Glycerol is widely used in various personal care products as a smoothing agent, so it's responsible for making your toothpaste smooth.

You may wonder how it is that when you use soap, your skin is still soft and smooth to the touch, not dry and flaky. This is most definitely because of glycerol! It's used in many skin care and hair care products because it serves as a lubricant. Some of us may have used products with herbal extracts. When extracting fluid from a plant or herb, glycerol is used as the solvent to extract enzymes from plants. These herbal extracts are then added to some personal care products.

Pharmaceutical Products

Glycerol is a very widely used component in various pharmaceutical products like capsules, syrups, topical creams, and suppositories. We mentioned earlier that glycerol is sweet tasting. Have you ever taken cough syrup or lozenges that tasted sweet? This is all thanks to glycerol.

Do you also notice how there are tablets or capsules that have a smooth coating? This helps tremendously in making sure they go down smoothly. Have you noticed the nice, smooth consistency of topical creams that go on your skin? This consistency is also because of the addition of glycerol. In drug powders, glycerol is also used as a levigating agent, which helps reduce the particle size when grinding. This helps the powders to be mixed thoroughly and evenly with other ingredients.

Food Industry

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account