Not An Allergen.
Derived from sugarcane, glycolic acid is not an allergen. But, like all alpha-hydroxy acids, it is an irritant, which is part of why it is such an effective micro-exfoliant. Because glycolic acid is an irritant, some brands use diluted forms of it or use a lower percentage than what is proven to be effective in clinical studies. Other brands use pure, unbuffered glycolic acid but reduce the risk of irritation by omitting allergens in the rest of the formulation, by providing clear instructions on how to use the product (such as slowly increasing application frequency), and by encouraging other safe practices such as using lower-pH cleansers and daily sunscreen. While using glycolic acid, it is also a good idea to avoid allergens and irritants in other products applied on your skin to prevent redness, flaking, visible peeling, tenderness, and later, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. And while glycolic acid itself may not be on published common allergen lists, some glycolic acids (the ingredient itself) may contain allergens like a preservative, in the raw material. Usually, it is only the company that manufactures the product that can confirm this, as they would have the material breakdown of the ingredient (in most cases, it is only the ingredient that needs to be declared on the ingredients list, not necessarily all the components of the raw material). If you are reacting to a glycolic acid product even though the ingredients list shows none of your patch-tested allergens, you can try contacting the manufacturer to confirm if any of raw materials contain your allergens.
If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.
On the prevalence of skin allergies, see Skin Allergies Are More Common Than Ever and One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients.
To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.
Regularly published reports on the most common allergens by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (based on over 28,000 patch test results, combined), plus other studies. Remember, we are all individuals — just because an ingredient is not on the most common allergen lists does not mean you cannot be sensitive to it, or that it will not become an allergen. These references, being based on so many patch test results, are a good basis but it is always best to get a patch test yourself.
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