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Skincare FAQ

Your Guide for Gluconolactone in Skincare: A Gentle Exfoliating Acid for Sensitive Skin

The benefits of gluconolactone for skin go further than its exfoliating power.

Another hard-to-pronounce ingredient pops up in more and more skincare products, and for a good reason. Enter: gluconolactone. Even if it doesn’t sound like it, gluconolactone is an acid, more precisely a polyhydroxy acid (PHA). Their chemical structure and effects are similar to the ones of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which most likely you’re familiar with, just that PHAs are gentler. Great news for those who want delicate exfoliation.

What is gluconolactone?

Gluconolactone is a polyhydroxy acid made by removing water from gluconic acid. When gluconic acid loses a water molecule from its structure, gluconolactone is formed. On the same principle, when gluconolactone is added to water, it converts into gluconic acid. They’re interconnected, have similar benefits, and in skincare, you can see both forms, gluconolactone and gluconic acid.[1]

Naturally, gluconolactone is found in honey, wine, fruit juices, and fermented products, while in skincare is mostly lab-made. 


What are gluconolactone benefits for skin?

Due to its mild exfoliating power as well as moisturizing and protecting properties, gluconolactone has been studied as a gentle yet potent alternative to other harsh exfoliants such as glycolic acid. Below we explain the role of gluconolactone in skincare and how it can improve the skin.

Gently exfoliates the skin

Gluconolactone benefits for skin go further than its exfoliating activity. Thanks to its large molecular weight, gluconolactone doesn’t penetrate the skin as much, acting more on the surface. And this is what makes it suitable even for sensitive skin, so feel free to add it to your skincare routine if you have hard times tolerating AHAs. 

Has antioxidant properties

Lesser known is the fact that gluconolactone has antioxidant benefits, being a potent free radicals scavenger, helping prevent premature skin aging. Even though it’s not the most powerful antioxidant out there, gluconolactone still hunts for free radicals thanks to its chelating properties (aka it reacts with metal ions to form a stable, water-soluble complex). 

For this reason, gluconolactone is widely added to skincare products to boost the preservative system’s performance. Yep, gluconolactone can be added to our skincare products either as an active ingredient to benefit the skin or an additive to help improve products’ formula.

Defends the skin against UV damage

The benefits of gluconolactone for the skin don’t stop here. Scientists widely analyzed the protection of gluconolactone against UV damage. It comes out that gluconolactone, due to its chelating properties, is able to provide up to 50% protection against UV radiation.[2] This makes it a great addition to your routine if you want to dodge photoaging skin — wink, wink.

It’s hydrating too

In addition to its mild exfoliating properties, gluconolactone is hailed as a potent moisturizing agent. Since the molecules that form gluconolactone are attracted to water, the thirsty molecules pull moisture from the environment into the skin when topically applied. Yep, this makes gluconolactone act as a humectant, softening the skin while helping prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL)


Helps reduce acne

Science serves as proof that gluconolactone benefits for skin go even further. It seems gluconolactone does a great job at treating adult facial acne when used in combination with retinoic acid without side effects or irritations.[3]

Who can use gluconolactone?

All skin types can use gluconolactone, especially those with easily reactive skin that can’t tolerate AHAs. Because, in a way, this is what gluconolactone is, a kind alternative to AHAs. 

Whenever you want to gently exfoliate your skin, gluconolactone is your ally. It acts as a delicate exfoliator on the skin’s surface, loosening the buildup of dead cells, softening, smoothening, and brightening the skin. And all without irritation.

The takeaway

Mild exfoliation, hydration, antioxidant protection, non-irritant — gluconolactone gives all that. So, if you want to gently speed up cell turnover for smoother, softener skin and better makeup application, look for gluconolactone.

To help you, we’ve rounded up some products infused with gluconolactone that’ll give myriad benefits to your skin.

Best products with gluconolactone

  1. Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength 10% PHA Exfoliating Liquid – View on Peter Thmoas Roth
  2. Perricone MD No Rinse Exfoliating Peel – View on Amazon
  3. Ole Henriksen Truth On The Glow Cleansing Cloths – View on Ole Henriksen
  4. StriVectin Daily Reveal Exfoliating Pads – View on StriVectin
  5. Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum – View on Amazon
  1. Showing metabocard for Gluconolactone, Human Metabolome Database
  2. Bernstein EF, Brown DB, Schwartz MD, Kaidbey K, Ksenzenko SM. The polyhydroxy acid gluconolactone protects against ultraviolet radiation in an in vitro model of cutaneous photoaging. Dermatol Surg. 2004 Feb;30(2 Pt 1):189-95; discussion 196. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.2004.30060.x. PMID: 14756648.
  3. Grimes PE, Green BA, Wildnauer RH, Edison BL. The use of polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) in photoaged skin. Cutis. 2004 Feb;73(2 Suppl):3-13. PMID: 15002656.
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