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Why does Sorbolene cream make me feel sticky?

February 20, 2009

Sorbolene cream is available from many different manufacturers with some being stickier than others!  If your brand is leaving you feeling a bit sticky it probably contains a high percentage of Glycerine (also known as glycerol or glycerin). So lets investigate this ingredient further…..

What is glycerine?

Glycerine is a bi-product of saponification (soap making). Today most glycerine used in personal care and cosmetics comes from natural feedstock such as palm. In the past glycerine has been sourced from animals (as animal fats were used in soap making for both cosmetic and industrial applications). However, the use of animal glycerine was greatly reduced due to consumer demand for “animal free” ingredients, the opening up of Asian markets and the outbreak of BSE or Mad Cow disease in the 1990’s. With soap making we mean the big soapers or surfactant manufacturers. The majority of glycerine is produced during the conversion of palm oil fatty acid chains to surfactants (such as Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulphate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine and more). Glycerine is also produced when you make bar soaps but this is more of a secondary source!

Glycerine is used in a wide range of applications from Tobacco manufacturing through to food, medicinal and personal care. The ingredient is also in many industrial applications including the manufacture of nitroglycerine!

What makes Glycerine sticky?

Glycerine is a very good humectant which means that it attracts water which then binds to it  (hydrogen bonds if you are interested!). In humid conditions there is a lot of water in the air and so the glycerine becomes waterlogged! This can be good for your skin, especially when skin is very dry but it is not good for the skin feel – sticky and slightly damp.

In dry conditions the glycerine will pull moisture from your skin and although this happens at a slow rate it can actually result in your skin becoming dryer. Therefore in very dry climates creams without so much glyerine would be more beneficial.

Other ingredients with good water binding capacity (humectancy) are Propylene Glycol, Sorbitol and Urea. These are also found in many cosmetic products and are used to aid in skin moisturisation and in some cases to prevent the product from drying out (toothpaste).

So is glycerine natural?

Yes it is. Glycerine is produced in our bodies when the body stores fat so from that point of view glycerine is not a foreign chemical.

How safe is Glycerine?

The glycerine that you can buy from the supermarket may be labelled BP, EP or USP grade meaning that it complies to that pharmaceutical standard meaning that that particular bottle of glycerine is safe for use in a pharmaceutical application.

Like most chemicals (including water) glycerine is not 100% safe and care should still be taken when handling it. The  toxicity for Glycerine is  low so in normal useage situations should present no problems. Keeping it  out of the reach of children goes without saying!

Environmentally glycerine is classed as completely biodegradable and is not listed as a marine pollutant. MSDS available here.

Should I keep using Sorbolene cream?

The short answer is yes. If you have dry skin then this is a cost effective way to add some moisture back. However,if you are finding the stickiness a bit hard to bare then either try out another brand of sorbolene cream (they do differ unless they state a pharmacopea) or try out something like an aqueous cream that does not contain glycerine. If you have dry skin and live in a very dry climate then you may want to consider a barrier cream during the day and a more emolient cream for night time and go easy on glycerine containing creams.  Speak to your pharmacist for information about your specific condition as dry skin is prone to irritation and changing routine should be done cautiously.

Realize Beauty will post some recipe’s for simple creams and lotions shortly. Check the recipe section regularly for more info.

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