Glycerin: A Common Ingredient
Glycerin is an amazingly diverse ingredient, found in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Despite its widespread use, consumers often know little about this colorless, odorless liquid. One aspect of glycerin, which is of relevance to the Muslim community, is its status as a doubtful, or mashbooh, ingredient. So what exactly is glycerin and why might it not be halal?
Glycerin has a wide variety of benefits when used in personal care products. The Dermatology Review states, “Apart from moisturizing, [glycerin] also has cleansing, lubricating, and soothing properties.” Glycerin keeps skin toned, moisturized, and hydrated through its ability to absorb and retain moisture. It also increases the thickness of the epidermal layer, which helps keep dangerous chemicals out and traps moisture in. Soaps and lotions containing glycerin are less drying on the skin and cleansers with glycerin can be used on both oily and dry skin. However, it is important to use glycerin infused products, not pure glycerin, which can cause irritation.
Personal care products and cosmetics that contain glycerin, says IFANCA Food Scientist Haider Khattak, include shaving cream, toothpaste, mouthwash, eyebrow pencils, lip colors, and many other skin and hair care products.
This versatile ingredient can also be found in a wide array of foods. You’ll find it in cookies, cakes, granola bars, candy, gum, and ice cream as a way to sweeten without sugar, in addition to giving the products a creamy texture, helping to increase product shelf-life. Glycerin is also added to prepared frosting to ensure it does not set too hard.
Processed, canned, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables, such as those in cereals and sauces, often contain glycerin to prevent drying out; while fresh fruits and vegetable are free from the additive. A common preservative, glycerin is routinely added to jams and jellies. You’ll also find it in extracts and liquid flavorings.
Since glycerin is commonly used as a sugar substitute because of its sweet flavor, it can often be found in low-fat and low-carb foods. Cough syrups, in fact, use it as a sweetener.
Glycerin has two main sources: animal fat and plants. It can also be made synthetically in a lab, but this is less common. Khattak explains, “Glycerin is a sugar alcohol that can be obtained from natural sources or can be synthesized. Glycerin, also referred to as glycerol, is a component of all animal and vegetable fats and oils.” It is the source that glycerin is derived from that determines if it is halal or not. Khattak goes on to add, “Vegetable-derived glycerin and synthetic glycerin are considered halal. Animal derived glycerin may not be.”
When boiled down to the basics, the reason glycerin is mashbooh when applied topically or ingested in foods, is it has the potential to be absorbed into the body. Product labels do not list where the glycerin comes from, leaving customers to wonder what exactly their body is taking in. It is up to the consumer to ask manufacturers what the source of the glycerin is. However, given the number of products containing this syrupy liquid, this can be quite a challenge. Thankfully, IFANCA has made this process a bit simpler by certifying several glycerin-containing products as halal for the following manufacturers:
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While some of these products are available in retail outlets, others are available for purchase online and still others through direct marketers. IFANCA ensures that companies that receive halal certification meet required halal guidelines. Look for the Crescent-M logo on these products or visit www.ifanca.org to check the halal status of your favorite products.
Taskeen Khan is an award-winning writer based in Chicago. She also writes for Huffington Post, Islamic Horizons, and The Glen Bard.