Gluconolactone is a natural substance derived from gluconic acid. This important chemical is found in the bodies of many mammals. In animals, it is used to break down carbohydrates during digestion, so that their sugars can be used to produce the energy needed to power cellular activity. When gluconolactone is produced for use in products, it is typically derived from gluconic acid that has been manufactured in a laboratory, rather than extracted from a natural source.
In its raw form, gluconolactone is a white powder comprised of tiny crystals. The ingredient has a variety of other names, including glucono delta-lactone, E575, d-gluconic acid and 1,5 gluconolactone. Many skin care companies include gluconolactone in their products, and the substance can perform a wide number of functions in formulations. Gluconolactone is also used as a flavoring agent in many foods, such as wine, honey and fruit juice.
In skin care products, gluconolactone can serve either as an active ingredient (an ingredient that is included in a formula to provide benefits for the skin) or as an additive (an ingredient that is included to help improve the overall quality of the product). As an active ingredient, gluconolactone is often added to formulas because of its skin-conditioning properties.
The molecules that come together to form gluconolactone are naturally attracted to water. When the ingredient is applied to the skin, these "water hungry" molecules pull moisture out of the air and allow it to be absorbed by the skin. By drawing water droplets from the air in this way, gluconolactone helps to soften and soothe dry skin and replenish lost moisture. In addition, gluconolactone forms a barrier on the skin, preventing moisture already present in the tissue from evaporating. As a result, the substance is often used as an active ingredient in moisturizers, hair conditioners, body lotions and body butters.
Clinical studies on gluconolactone that have occurred in recent years suggest that the substance may have additional benefits when used as an active ingredient; however, more research is necessary to prove definitively that gluconolactone possesses the properties that these initial studies show. Some evidence exists to suggest that gluconolactone is a mild anti-bacterial and may be useful in products designed for treating acne. The ingredient may also improve skin cell turnover and function similarly to alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid.
A 2004 study published in the journal of "Dermatologic Surgery" found that gluconolactone may function as an antioxidant, a substance that protects the skin from premature aging by neutralizing free radicals. The study also suggested that the ingredient has sun-protective properties and can help prevent damage to the skin that is caused by exposure to harsh ultraviolet radiation. In fact, the results of the study showed that gluconolactone boosts UV protection by as much as 50 percent.
Based on this initial study, some skin care companies have already begun adding gluconolactone to the formulas of anti-aging serums, lotions and creams and to products that offer sun protection. While these products may offer benefits for preventing wrinkles, age spots and expression lines from forming, it is still unclear as to whether this is because of gluconolactone or another ingredient in their formulas.
As an additive, gluconolactone can serve many purposes in skin care products. The ingredient is a chelating agent, meaning that it removes metallic atoms that can contaminate skin care products and reduce their effectiveness. Gluconolactone is also used in deodorizing products to absorb unpleasant odors. When added to products that are a mixture of oily and watery ingredients, gluconolactone helps to stabilize the product to prevent separating.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has listed gluconolactone under its category of those "Generally Regarded as Safe" for use for consumption and topical applications. The ingredient is not known to have any toxic properties and in clinical studies, has been found to not irritate sensitive skin. As of June 2012, the ingredient had not been evaluated by any of the major consumer safety panels that evaluate beauty products.
The natural origins of gluconolactone have led to its approval by ECOCERT, meaning that the ingredient can be used as a preservative or additive in products that bear the organization's prestigious organic certification. As a result, many skin care brands that specialize in natural cosmetics and treatments utilize the ingredient.