Glycerin, also referred to as glycerine or glycol, is a simple compound with a sweet taste. Glycerin is used in the food industry, in cosmetics and toiletries, in pharmaceutical products and botanical extracts, and as a component in antifreeze. Alternatives to glycerin are available for all of these applications. Some cheaper substitutes for glycerin in chemical applications are toxic and dangerous if present in food or cosmetic products.
Diethylene glycol, or DEG, is a liquid with a sharp sweet taste. It is naturally viscous, odorless and colorless. DEG is used as an intermediate substance in the production of chemical products such as polyurethanes, polyester resins and ethylene glycols. DEG can also be used as an antifreeze, as a humectant in tobacco, and as a solvent in cosmetics and paints. DEG can substitute for glycerin in these industrial applications, but is not approved for human consumption in many countries. The Australian government reports that DEG sold as counterfeit glycerin was found in toothpastes and cough syrups, leading to a toothpaste recall in Australia in 2007.
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Propylene glycol is a colorless, odorless liquid with similar humectant, or moisturizing, properties to glycerin. Also known as PG, propylene glycol is commonly used as a glycerin substitute in cosmetic and toiletry products because it is typically cheaper. Derived from petroleum, high-level and concentrated exposure to PG is believed to cause abnormalities of the liver, brain and kidneys. PG is found in commercially available stick deodorants, shampoos and other cosmetic products.
Ceramides may be substituted for glycerin in skincare products such as moisturizers and lotions. EczemaNet indicates that skincare products containing glycerin may increase the dryness of your skin if you have atopic dermatitis. Using ceramides instead of glycerin in moisturizing lotions can help regulate your skin cells. Like glycerin, ceramides have a moisturizing effect, working to repair damaged skin. If your skin is particularly dry or prone to cracking, ceramides may be a good moisturizing substitute for glycerin.
Oils and Butters
Vegetable glycerin is often used as a natural skin care ingredient, according to Dinah Falconi's 1997 book "Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair." Glycerin substitutes include various naturally derived carrier butters and oils which have a similar moisturizing effect to glycerin. If your skin is naturally dry and the dryness is exacerbated by glycerin, you may find that shea butter, jojoba oil, cocoa butter or avocado oil are effective substitutes.