Gluconolactone: Finally, An Exfoliant That Plays Well With Other Actives

Gluconolactone in Skin Care

You may have heard about polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) and were on your way to grab the first PHA exfoliant you could find. The thing is polyhydroxy acids don’t show up as, well, PHAs on the ingredient list. Nope! You’ll find them listed as maltobionic acid, lactobionic acid, and gluconolactone. Given that gluconolactone is the most widely used polyhydroxy acid found in skincare products, you were right to start with it. And you will not be disappointed. Here you’ll find everything you need to know about the use of gluconolactone in skincare products, how it helps your skin, and how to properly use it.

What Is Gluconolactone?

Gluconolactone is a type of polyhydroxy acid and it’s derived from corn (1). It’s used in skincare products as a gentle exfoliant to aid in skin turnover. Think of a large family tree of hydroxy acids.

We have alpha hydroxy acids and a list of acids like glycolic acid under that. And we have beta hydroxy acids, which basically consist of salicylic acid. And then we have polyhydroxy acids, which include gluconolactone, lactobionic acid, and maltobionic acid.

Gluconolactone, just like other PHAs, has a larger molecular size. It penetrates the skin slowly and gradually to gently resurface the skin, and improve skin tone and texture.

And gluconolactone is one of the gentlest exfoliants so much so that it’s even suitable to use on sensitive skin and people with rosacea and atopic dermatitis (2).

But the main difference between gluconolactone and every other type of acid is its unique makeup, which is why it has additional benefits for the skin.

Benefits of Gluconolactone For Skin

Gluconolactone has numerous benefits for your skin including gentle exfoliation, skin hydration, and skin protection. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of gluconolactone for your skin.

It Exfoliates

First and foremost, gluconolactone is a chemical exfoliant. It sloughs off dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and increases skin turnover. And because gluconolactone is an exfoliant, it has anti-aging benefits for the skin. But that’s not all.

It Has Anti-Aging Effects

Gluconolactone has anti-aging benefits comparable to glycolic acid. But gluconolactone has the advantage of being gentle and tolerable for the skin (3).

It Has Antioxidant Properties

Gluconolactone has been shown to protect the skin against UV radiation (ultraviolet damage from sun exposure) for up to 50% (4). This does not make it sunscreen. But it does mean that gluconolactone has antioxidant properties. And it neutralizes the damaging effects of free radicals in a preventative manner.

It Hydrates The Skin

Gluconolactone, because of the attached sugar molecules, is a humectant. It attracts water to the skin and hydrates it, giving it a smooth and plump appearance. That’s why gluconolactone, in addition to exfoliating serums, also comes in hydrating face serums.

It Does Not Induce Photosensitivity

Another important benefit of gluconolactone is that, unlike other hydroxy acids, it does not cause photosensitivity. It means that your skin is no more sensitive to sunlight just because you’re exfoliating.

It Is Suitable For All Skin Types

Almost all skin types can use gluconolactone because it does not sting, burn, or irritate the skin. This includes people with sensitive skin, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis.

It Can Be Used with Other Active Ingredients

Gluconolactone can also be used in conjunction with other active ingredients including retinoids. Most active ingredients like glycolic acid and vitamin C can’t be paired together because that increases the likelihood of irritation. That’s not the case with gluconolactone. So layer it with whatever you like. Moreover, the use of gluconolactone together with azelaic acid reduces skin redness, and the look of broken capillaries, and increases skin tolerance (5).

It Can Be Used Post-Procedure

In fact, Dr. Zoe Diana Draelos, a clinical and research dermatologist, or the dermatology goddess as I like to call her, says that “PHAs and bionic acids are gentle enough to be applied to the skin immediately following cosmetic procedures such as microdermabrasion and non-ablative laser procedures, providing complementary anti-aging benefits while helping to reduce redness” (Draelos, 2010).

How To Use Gluconolactone in Your Skincare

So what does this all mean? And how exactly one should go with incorporating gluconolactone in their skincare routine?

In light of what we’ve been talking about so far, there are several ways you can use gluconolactone to benefit your skin. But it all depends on what you need and expect from it.

If you have rosacea or sensitive skin, you probably can’t use glycolic or salicylic acid to reduce wrinkles or acne. But you can safely use gluconolactone to exfoliate your skin without irritating it.

If you’re using retinoids and currently dealing with retinol peeling and dryness, you can safely layer your retinol product with gluconolactone to prevent dryness, get rid of flakiness, and reduce redness.

Additionally, if you’ve been doing at-home treatments like derma-rolling or micro-needling, and you somehow irritated your skin, you can use gluconolactone to reduce the look of redness.

And lastly, if you have dry or dehydrated skin, you can use gluconolactone or a product that also happens to contain gluconolactone to increase the water content in your skin and achieve a healthier, smoother, and plumper complexion.

Side Effects of Gluconolactone

Gluconolactone has no known side effects. I mean if you can use it with retinoids, I really doubt it does something bad to your skin. However, it’s still an exfoliant.

So someone with sensitive skin should always be cautious towards an active ingredient and should slowly incorporate it into their routine.

In sum, gluconolactone, as a polyhydroxy acid, is a gentle exfoliant any skin type can benefit from. Be it for anti-aging or overall skin improvement, gluconolactone is an ingredient that’s definitely worthy of your attention.


  1. Draelos, Z. D. (2010). Chapter 40: Clinical uses of hydroxyacids: Polyhydroxy acids [E-book]. In Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures (1st ed., pp. 328–334). Wiley-Blackwell.
  2. Grimes, P. E., Green, B. A., Wildnauer, R. H., & Edison, B. L. (2004). The use of polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) in photoaged skinCutis73(2 Suppl), 3–13.
  3. Edison, B. L., Green, B. A., Wildnauer, R. H., & Sigler, M. L. (2004). A polyhydroxy acid skin care regimen provides antiaging effects comparable to an alpha-hydroxyacid regimenCutis73(2 Suppl), 14–17.
  4. Bernstein, E. F., Brown, D. B., Schwartz, M. D., Kaidbey, K., & Ksenzenko, S. M. (2004). The polyhydroxy acid gluconolactone protects against ultraviolet radiation in an in vitro model of cutaneous photoaging. Dermatologic surgery : official publication for American Society for Dermatologic Surgery [et al.]30(2 Pt 1), 189–196.
  5. Draelos, Z.D., Green, B.A. and Edison, B.L. (2006), An evaluation of a polyhydroxy acid skin care regimen in combination with azelaic acid 15% gel in rosacea patients. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 5: 23-29.
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