Glycolic acid

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Glycolic acid
style="background: #F8EABA; text-align: center;" colspan="2" | Identifiers
CAS number 79-14-1 YesY
ChemSpider 737
RTECS number MC5250000
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style="background: #F8EABA; text-align: center;" colspan="2" | Properties
Molecular formula C2H4O3
Molar mass 76.05 g/mol
Appearance white, powdery solid
Density 1.27 g/cm3
Melting point

75 °C

Boiling point


Solubility in water 70% solution
Solubility in other solvents alcohols, acetone,
acetic acid and
ethyl acetate[1]
Acidity (pKa) 3.83
style="background: #F8EABA; text-align: center;" colspan="2" | Hazards
R-phrases R22-R34
S-phrases S26-S36/37/39-S45
NFPA 704
Flash point 129 °C[2]
style="background: #F8EABA; text-align: center;" colspan="2" | Related compounds
Related α-hydroxy acids lactic acid
Related compounds acetic acid,
 YesY (what is this?)  (verify)
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Infobox references

Glycolic acid (or hydroxyacetic acid) is the smallest α-hydroxy acid (AHA). This colorless, odorless, and hygroscopic crystalline solid is highly soluble in water. It is used in various skin-care products. Glycolic acid is found in some sugar-crops.


It is prepared by the reaction of chloroacetic acid with sodium hydroxide followed by re-acidification. The net reaction can be summarized as follows:


In this way, a few million kilograms are produced annually. Other methods, not apparently in use, include hydrogenation of oxalic acid and the hydrolysis of the cyanohydrin derived from formaldehyde.[3] Glycolic acid can be isolated from natural sources, such as sugarcane, sugar beets, pineapple, canteloupe, and unripe grapes.[4].

Glycolic acid can also be prepared using an enzymatic biochemical process which produces fewer impurities compared to traditional chemical synthesis, requires less energy in production and produces less co-product. This process is used by the specialty chemical company CrossChem.[5]


Due to its excellent capability to penetrate skin, glycolic acid finds applications in skin care products, most often as a chemical peel performed by a dermatologist in concentrations of 20 to 70% or at-home kits in lower concentrations between 10 and 20%. In addition to concentration, pH also plays a large part in determining the potency of glycolic acid in solution. Physician-strength peels can have a pH as low as 0.6 (strong enough to completely keratolyze the epidermis), while acidities for home peels can be as high as 2.5. [6] Glycolic acid is used to improve the skin's appearance and texture. It may reduce wrinkles, acne scarring, hyperpigmentation and improve many other skin conditions, including actinic keratosis, hyperkeratosis, and seborrheic keratosis. Once applied, glycolic acid reacts with the upper layer of the epidermis, weakening the binding properties of the lipids that hold the dead skin cells together. This allows the stratum corneum to be exfoliated, exposing live skin cells.

Glycolic acid is also a useful intermediate for organic synthesis, in a range of reactions including: oxidation-reduction, esterification and long chain polymerization. It is used as a monomer in the preparation of polyglycolic acid and other biocompatible copolymers (e.g. PLGA). Among other uses this compound finds employment in the textile industry as a dyeing and tanning agent, in food processing as a flavoring agent and as a preservative. Glycolic acid is often included into emulsion polymers, solvents and additives for ink and paint in order to improve flow properties and impart gloss.

From the commercial perspective, important derivatives include the methyl (CAS#[96-35-5) and ethyl (CAS# 623-50-7) esters which are readily distillable (b.p. 147-9 and 158-159 °C, respectively), unlike the parent acid. The butyl ester (b.p. 178-186 °C) is a component of some varnishes, being desirable because it is nonvolatile and good dissolving properties.[3]


Glycolic acid is a strong irritant.[7] Like ethylene glycol, it is metabolized to oxalic acid, which makes it dangerous if ingested.


  1. "DuPont Glycolic Acid Technical Information". Retrieved 2006-07-06. 
  2. "Glycolic Acid MSDS". University of Akron. Retrieved 2006-09-18. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Karlheinz Miltenberger "Hydroxycarboxylic Acids, Aliphatic" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2005.
  4. 3Dchem: Glycolic acid [1]
  5. GlyAcid at
  6. Glycolic Acid Essential Actives, KAVI.
  7. "Glycolic Acid MSDS". ICSC:NENG1537 International Chemical Safety Cards (WHO/IPCS/ILO). Retrieved 2006-06-08.  Text " CDC/NIOSH " ignored (help)

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