People ask, "Do you make glycerin soap?" or
"What's the difference between between
your soap and glycerin soap?"
The term "glycerin soap" is a misleading term. All real handmade soap, made from scratch, is glycerin soap.
Looking at the process of saponification shown on the right. Saponification is the chemical reaction that creates soap. You can see from the diagram that glycerin is a natural byproduct of the soap making process.
While this moisturizing glycerin remains in a bar of handmade soap, most commercial soap manufacturers use a process to remove the glycerin to create other products such as moisturizing lotions.
Our moisturizing cold processed soaps and shampoo bars have a naturally high glycerin content.
You may notice that when our natural soap sits out in humid conditions, it will shimmer with beads of moisture. The glycerin, a humectant, in the soap will draw the moisture out of the air and onto the soap.
For more about the chemical process of making soap please read What About Lye?
So, What Is Glycerin Soap?
What most people refer to as glycerin soap is a gel-like transparent soap. Transparent soap goes through a process in which regular soap batter is continuously heated with sugar, alcohol and some extra added glycerin until the mixture reaches a clear, jelly-like consistency. The alcohol prevents the soap from crystallizing so the soap remains clear and the extra glycerin balances the drying nature of the alcohol.
Although I have seen soap labeled as 100% glycerin soap, soap cannot be made with only glycerin--it would have no lathering or cleansing properties. Transparent glycerin soaps contain alcohol along with the usual mixture needed to make all soap; oils, water, and lye. Some transparent glycerin soaps contain synthetic foaming and wetting agents, while others contain natural ingredients.
What Is Glycerin?
Glycerin is a humectant. It absorbs water from the air and thus attracts moisture to your skin. Glycerin is a natural by-product of the soapmaking process.
It was first discovered in 1779 by the Swedish chemist, Karl Wilhelm Scheele, who named it “"sweet principle of fat.” In 1811, Michel Chevreul's, a Frenchman, named it glycerin, which comes from the Greek word "glykys" meaning sweet.
Glycerin was mainly utilized for medicinal use and personal care until the late 1800’s when Alfred Nobel discovered the significance of nitroglycerine as an explosive.
As a result of the need for glycerin to make nitroglycerin (used to make dynamite), a practical method for extracting glycerin from soap was invented.
The demand for glycerin turned soap manufacturing into a very profitable business. Until the 1940’s, most glycerin was produced as a by-product soap manufacturing. Then a method to create glycerin synthetically from propylene, a petroleum byproduct, was developed.
Today there is still a profitable market for the glycerin separated from soap. Commercial soap manufacturers remove the glycerin from their soaps to use in products that command a higher price, like the creams and lotions that you need after using their soaps that dry out your skin!