Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Shreya Singh (Pharmacist)  on 13th Oct 2020

Meet Gluconolactone: The Exfoliator Extraordinaire Particularly Meant For Sensitive Skinned Individuals

Meet Gluconolactone

Understanding chemicals in skincare can be a tough row to hoe, and not to mention the overwhelming range of face acids that are all the rage right now.

Not all acids are harmful!  

Although the words' acids' and 'skincare' don't sound right together and smearing a layer of acid all over your face might be pretty intimidating for many people out there.

But the truth is, when used in the right concentration, face acids can genuinely transform your skin around, and the trick lies in choosing the suitable acid to meet your skin's specific needs.

Skincare acid is one of the most effective ways of achieving brighter, softer, and healthier skin.

Having raved about all the popular chemicals in skincare, such as salicylic, glycolic, lactic, and hyaluronic acid, there is one more under the radar ingredient that most of us would probably have never heard of.

And since the whole beauty industry is going insane about the face acids in skincare, we recently added a new budding player to the excellent acid army- Gluconolactone!

Today we will be giving a lowdown on what exactly gluconolactone is, what benefits it brings along for the skin, who it is suitable for, what potential risk factors are associated with its use. Just read along to get all the deets on this lesser-known ingredient. 

What is gluconolactone? 

Gluconolactone is a white crystalline powdery substance derived from gluconic acid, which is naturally produced by mammals to metabolize carbohydrates. It is also commercially manufactured from corn.  

This difficult-to-pronounce ingredient belongs to the family of face acids called poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs).

PHAs such as gluconolactone are considered the 'milder cousins' of alpha-hydroxy acids and second-generation AHAs. Like any other face acid, it is also a chemical exfoliant that buffs away the dead skin cells built up to reveal the fresh, youthful skin underneath. 

How are PHAs different? 

However, unlike any other AHAs and BHAs, PHAs work their way onto the skin's superficial layers without sinking in more in-depth.

And the hydroxyl group present in it gives it a unique property of acting as a humectant for the skin by holding on to water molecules. Therefore, gluconolactone works as a chemical exfoliant for the skin and helps retain water molecules within the skin, resulting in a plumped-up, dewy complexion. 

Fun fact:

If you recall some of the basics that you've learned in your high school chemistry, you may retrieve that 'poly' means 'many,' and 'hydroxy' means the pairing of oxygen and hydrogen atoms. Therefore, the unique structure containing multiple hydroxyl groups makes PHAs such as gluconolactone stand apart from the most common face acids in the skincare world consisting of AHAs and BHAs. 

Gluconolactone Vs. AHAs and BHAs for the skin

The group of acids representing poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs) is often sidelined by the more popular face acids, such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) due to which gluconolactone is very rarely spotted as a key ingredient in skincare products.

And just like the more familiar acids like glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid, gluconolactone also works essentially as a chemical exfoliator to slough off the dead skin cells, resulting in enhanced skin tone and texture.

However, its larger molecular size and structure work its way specifically on the skin's topmost layer. It is not believed to penetrate deeper, making it a gentler counterpart to be used on every skin type.

And while AHAs and BHAs are stealing all the limelight and rightly so, some significant downsides come with their use, which can agitate sensitive skin and cause irritation and side effects.

And this is the reason why PHAs, more particularly gluconolactone, deserves its definite place on the block since it is way more tolerable for sensitive skin without any potential risk of adverse effects.

And as an added advantage/bonus, it also acts as a hydrator for the skin, making it notably milder than any other face acid that can be efficiently utilized by sensitive skinned individuals.  

Pro tip:

If you are one who finds some of the most conventional exfoliators irritating, switching to a milder approach like gluconolactone can prove to be your safest bet and save your skin from other harsh chemical exfoliants. 

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What are the benefits of gluconolactone for skin? 

Although PHAs have been around for quite some time, they are getting their moment in the spotlight only recently because of the vast array of benefits they host for the skin while being gentle at the same time.

Following are some of the key benefits delivered to the skin: 

1). Gets rid of dead skin cells: 

When your skin is riddled with layers of dead skin cells, your pores expand, oiliness increases, pigmentation doesn't fade away, and fine lines look more prominent, leading to congested and lackluster skin, which is prone to breakouts and acne.

Exfoliation can help prevent all of this and reveal brighter, healthier skin beneath.

Gluconolactone works by sloughing off the dead cells and debris sitting on the skin's superficial layers by dissolving the bonds between corneocytes (skin cells on the topmost layer).

This helps in flushing away excess sebum and flakiness, improving the skin's overall texture and tone, and making it flawless, softer, and luminous.

This not only gives an overall brighter, even-toned, and softer complexion but also helps in the better absorption of other skincare actives and makeups.

And since gluconolactone is a gentle exfoliant, it doesn't penetrate deeper into the skin, making the potential risk of adverse effects like redness and irritation, minimal. 

2). Hydrates the skin:

Its unique structure containing different hydroxyl groups makes gluconolactone act as a 'moisture magnet' by drawing water molecules from the surroundings into the skin and boosting the present hydration levels.

The additional humectant and moisturization properties help enhance the skin's overall barrier function and make it more supple and dewy looking.

This out-of-the-box benefit is what makes it less irritating than any other traditional AHAs and BHAs. 

3). Acts as an antioxidant: 

Although its antioxidant properties are not comparable to that of some well-known ingredients like vitamins C and E. There is some evidence that gluconolactone can act as a free radical scavenger and shield the skin against the damage caused by UV rays and pollution.

It can be attributed to its chelating property, which grants it the ability to bind to the free radicals and neutralize it, preventing them from causing cellular damage to the skin. 

4). Protects against photodamage: 

PHAs such as gluconolactone is proven to exhibit a photoprotective effect on the skin and reduce the photosensitizing effects.

Therefore, unlike AHAs and BHAs, which make the skin susceptible to photodamage, gluconolactone helps make the skin less prone to sun damage and defends it against the harmful UV rays.

According to a 2004 research, published in the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, gluconolactone provided up to 50% protection against UV radiation, and that too without significantly increasing the sunburn cells in human skin.

Are there any potential side effects? 

Typically, gluconolactone is considered to be gentle and safe for most of the skin types, including those with hypersensitive skin. There have been minimal/no side effects reported for this ingredient so far.

Dr. Dray, a board-certified dermatologist and skincare enthusiast, quotes 

There are very low irritation risks associated with using PHAs, gluconolactone, in particular, making them a great ingredient to consider for people with sensitive skin or even rosacea who are looking for likely exfoliating their skin, eliminating rough patches and improving skin's texture.

Even though there are minimal risk factors, you need to be cautious when using any face acid if you have some existing skin conditions. The skin's protective barrier is compromised, such as eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, or atopic dermatitis.

And not to mention, some mild redness and dryness are common with face acids. Still, if you experience some extreme side effects such as burning, itching, or inflammation, you must halt its use and seek the advice of your dermatologist.

Performing a patch test is highly recommended before its generalized use to avert any unfavorable conditions. 

Key Takeaways

There are all sorts of varieties for face acids in skincare these days. They range from the harsh and burning to the skin, like glycolic or salicylic acid, which tends to be stealing the limelight, to the extremely gentle and skin-loving types such as gluconolactone.

It mostly depends on your choice of picking the right one according to your skin type.

If your skin is on the sensitive type, you should introduce yourself to all the chemical magic that PHAs, especially gluconolactone, has to offer, while being gentle at the same time.

And even though gluconolactone does deliver some photoprotection level for the skin, it does not mean that you can avoid the SPF step.

Therefore, whatever the type of acid you're using, always equip your skin with an adequate amount of sunscreen (SPF 30 or more) before stepping out in the sun.