Gluconolactone: The sensitive side of hydroxy acids

Gluconolactone: The sensitive side of hydroxy acids

The last in this series of hydroxy acids is the softly exfoliating gluconolactone. This PHA is quickly becoming a go-to for chemical exfoliation for our sensitive-skinned friends.

Chemical structure

The molecule is big and bulky which means it takes longer to penetrate the skin surface and causes less irritation than an AHA like glycolic acid. The basic structural moeties (the groups that make it a hydroxy acid) is still there but with multiple hydroxyl groups (blue). Hence the “poly” part of the name.


Science and comparison

Exfoliation action

They have the same effect as AHAs in that they slough off dead skin cells to give you smooth glowing skin while also hydrating because of their humectant properties (they attract water to the skin). Even the skin elasticity was comparable. They measure this by pinching the skin and measuring the time it took to return to normal. Wonderful imagery! They also assessed the crow’s feet improvement by making silicon replicas and comparing the imprints which is a pretty cool method I think. We do something similar in the materials testing field for micro-structures of metals. So if you think of your skin as a biological material, then same idea. I love crossovers in science!


The big draw for PHAs, particularly gluconolactone, is that it shows very little skin irritation. This is because of their large size, they can’t penetrate as deeply as AHAs like glycolic acid. That makes it ideal for sensitive skin types – the people with whiney, dramatic skin. I feel you!

Other properties – bonus!

  1. Acne – Gluconolactone has been shown to be as effective as benzoyl peroxide, a popular anti-acne ingredient, without the drying and irritation.
  2. UV radiation protection – Preliminary studies show that it could protect skin and also doesn’t promote sun sensitivity like AHAs do.
  3. Antioxidant properties – This little compound, and compounds similar to it, has shown that it can deal with some free radicals on the skin which helps with UV damage.

I think I’ll be looking out for this promising ingredient. Does anyone have any suggested products I should try and then review?


  1. Comparison with glycolic acid: Edison et al. 2004 – Cutis
  2. NeoStrata Poster
  3. NeoStarat poster 2
  4. Acne – Hunt et al. 1992 – Australian Journal of Dermatology
  5. UV protection – Bernstein et al. 2004 – Dermatologic Surgery

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