Alpha hydroxy acids are a group of natural compounds with broad cross-market applicability. They are used as dyeing agents for textiles, flavour additives in the food and beverage sector, intermediates in organic synthesis of polyglycolic copolymers, and so on. But one of the most critical markets for α-hydroxy acids from a growth perspective is the cosmetics industry.

What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid (C2H4O3) is considered the golden standard AHA for antiaging cosmetics and for the treatment of superficial skin conditions. It is considered such a powerhouse reagent that the global cosmetics market accounts for approximately 40% of the world’s total glycolic acid market share. However, excessive use can cause irritation and inflammation, and though most commercial manufacturers tout the natural origins of glycolic acid, it is more often produced synthetically.

There are two primary avenues for glycolic acid synthesis: it can be derived from monochloroacetic acid or from the carbonylation of formaldehyde.

Combatting Glycolic Acid Impurities

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed formaldehyde as a probable carcinogen in 1987. Ironically, it was about then that glycolic acid derived from formaldehyde carbonylation was first introduced into personal care products. This traditional route was not developed with the intention of producing cosmetic-grade reagents. In fact, it is unlikely that personal care products factored at all into the decision-making process. Conventional formulators subsequently cannot make the claim that their products are formaldehyde-free, often claiming instead that their products are within safe limits of detectability. Many undesirable compounds can be present in off-the-shelf glycolic acid chemical peels and cosmetics, including trace levels of formaldehyde. Yet the main issue with formaldehyde carbonylation is the prevalence of undesirable by-products like methoxyacetic acid (MAA) (C3H6O3); a toxic metabolite which has been banned by the European Commission.

High-purity cosmetic-grade glycolic acid is increasingly sought after by a discerning customer base demanding clinical-strength solutions with minimal negligible side effects. The need to combat impurities like formaldehyde and MAA is being driven both by regulatory necessity and consumer demand. Hence chemical synthesis routes that yield MAA-free and low formaldehyde solutions are increasingly preferred conventional methods.

High-Purity Glycolic Acid from CABB

At CABB, we believe that monochloroacetic acid derivatives yield the highest quality glycolic acids which set a new benchmark for cosmetic-grade AHAs. Our products are readily biodegradable, exempt from VOCs, non-flammable, REACH-registered, and MAA-free.

GLYCOS® Clear is our flagship glycolic acid product for cosmetic applications, and it is currently one of the most popular ingredients on the market for antiaging chemical peel products. Want to learn more? Contact a member of the CABB team today with any questions.