Written by Grove Collaborative

Gluconolactone for skincare: What you need to know

Last Updated: November 1, 2021

Gluconolactone is a gentle exfoliant that helps shed dead skin cells. Read on for more info on this skincare ingredient from dermatologist, Anna Chacon, M.D.

Skin naturally sheds dead cells every 28 days, but certain things — dry air, indoor heating systems, air conditioning, and stress — can slow down the shedding process.

Gluconolactone is a gentle exfoliator that helps jumpstart cellular turnover without drying out skin or causing irritation like other chemical exfoliants. Read on for more information on this skincare ingredient and learn if it’s safe to incorporate it into your beauty routine.

What is gluconolactone?

Gluconolactone is a naturally-occuring poly-hydroxy acid (PHA) that’s commonly found in creams, serums, sunscreens, and exfoliating products. It’s sometimes listed as gluconic acid in ingredient lists on skincare products.

Like its cousins, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHA), gluconolactone increases cell turnover, stimulates skin growth and repair, and helps improve the appearance of aging skin.

Gluconolactone and other PHAs have a larger molecular structure than AHAs and BHAs. Because of its larger chemical structure, gluconolactone doesn’t penetrate past the first layers of skin, meaning it’s gentler on the skin for those with sensitive skin.

The downside to this is that gluconolactone doesn’t work on wrinkles under the surface of the deeper layers of the skin.

Other common types of PHAs in skincare include:

  • Galactose
  • Lactobionic acid

Now that we know more about gluconolactone … how do you actually say it? Watch this YouTube video to learn the correct pronunciation.

Are chemical exfoliators good for you?

While physical exfoliators, like a sugar scrub or exfoliating gloves, scrub dead skin cells away, chemical exfoliants like AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs use acids to dissolve and remove dead skin.

Chemical exfoliants don’t rub and pull at the skin like physical exfoliants do, so they offer a more gentle form of exfoliation for some skin types. If your skin is sensitive, dry, oily, or acne-prone, consider using a chemical exfoliator in your skincare routine.

Confused about the different acids used in skincare? Read up on the differences between AHAs and BHAs here.

Shop natural products with PHA from Grove.

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3 benefits of gluconolactone

1. It exfoliates the skin

Gluconolactone dissolves dead skin cells, improves the appearance of fine lines and discoloration, and can help remove excess oil from the skin.

Because the molecules in gluconolactone are larger than other acids, they don't penetrate the skin as deeply, which lessens the likelihood of redness and flaking after use.

2. It hydrates the skin

Gluconolactone is a humectant, which means it pulls moisture out of the air and absorbs it into the skin to help hydrate and soothe dry skin. Other acids don’t have this “water-hungry” property.

Gluconolactone is unique in that it simultaneously exfoliates and hydrates, making it a gentler alternative for people whose skin can’t handle stronger acids or physical exfoliators.

3. It contains antioxidants

Gluconolactone isn’t an antioxidant in the traditional sense, like vitamins E or C. Rather, it’s a chelating agent that binds to toxic metals and removes them from the body.

This may help protect against the effects of free radicals that cause sun damage.

Are there side effects of gluconolactone?

Gluconolactone is a mild exfoliator that’s suitable for nearly every skin type. While AHAs and BHAs can cause irritation, redness, flaking, or allergic reactions — especially when used too often or in large amounts — gluconolactone and other PHAs aren’t as acidic and have a lower instance of side effects.

If you have eczema, dermatitis, or highly sensitive skin, talk with your dermatologist before incorporating any acid into your skincare routine.

Chemical exfoliators aren’t for you? Check out Grove’s collection of exfoliating scrubs. Instead of using acids to buff away dead skin, they use ingredients like jojoba beads and walnut shell powder to physically exfoliate, leaving you fresh-faced and ready for your day.

How to use gluconolactone

Generally, this depends on which products you’re already using. Gluconolactone is gentle enough for everyday use on most skin types if you’re not using other chemical exfoliators in your routine.

If you have highly sensitive skin or use multiple acid exfoliators, use gluconolactone two to three times a week to avoid over-exfoliation.

Gluconolactone mixes well with…

A few more tips for incorporating gluconolactone into your skincare regimen

Don’t forget to moisturize

It’s important to give your skin lots of moisture after using chemical exfoliators — jojoba oil, hyaluronic acid, and products that contain squalene are all great options for post-exfoliation hydration.

Always wear sunscreen

Acids dissolve dead skin cells, which leaves your skin more sensitive and susceptible to damage from the sun.

After you exfoliate and moisturize, apply sunscreen to make sure your skin is protected against harmful UV rays.

Watch out for over-exfoliation

Gluconolactone is a mild acid and works well with other skincare ingredients. The only thing you should watch out for when using any chemical exfoliator is over-exfoliation.

Using acids too often or in large amounts can cause burning, inflammation, and sensitivity.

Shop for more natural skincare products from Grove.

About the author: Dr. Anna H. Chacon

Dr. Anna H. Chacon is a double Ivy League-educated board-certified dermatologist. Following medical school at Brown University, Dr. Chacon completed a fellowship in dermatologic & laser surgery at the University of Miami, in which she authored many articles, book chapters, and managed several clinical research studies. She then completed a one-year surgical internship at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

She completed her dermatology residency at LAC+USC Medical Center in Los Angeles. She is currently a board-certified dermatologist in South Florida. She speaks multiple languages including English, Spanish, and French; and aspires to treat her patients like family. She has an interest in rural health and providing healthcare to underserved areas. She serves as the first and only dermatologist that provides medical care to the Native Americans of the arctic slope of Alaska.

She currently is the most licensed female dermatologist and is licensed in 46 states to practice medicine across state lines. She loves dermatology and also enjoys writing in publications, magazines, online websites, research studies, and scientific articles.

Read more from Grove.

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