Is Glycolic Acid Vegan? What Is Glycolic Acid Made Of?

By Anett Rannamets. Updated: April 2023.
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Glycolic acid is a water-soluble alpha hydroxy acid derived from sugar cane or other plants. Therefore, it does not contain any animal-derived ingredients and is 100% vegan.

When used regularly, glycolic acid has numerous proven benefits. Now, let’s dive into it and find out more.

See also: Vegan Glycolic Acid Skincare

What Is Glycolic Acid And What Is It Made Of?

Glycolic acid is a fruit acid that belongs to a group of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). It is mostly obtained from plants and is therefore totally vegan.

The fruit acid has the smallest molecular size of the AHAs. Glycolic acid is also water-binding. Due to the small molecule size, it can penetrate deep into the top layer of skin, the epidermis. 

The naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy acid is found in unripe grapes or other fruits. But mostly, glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane. It can also be produced synthetically. All the versions of glycolic acids are molecularly the same.

Why Is Glycolic Acid Used In Skincare?

Glycolic acid is used in skincare because it loosens dead and dehydrated skin cells. It accelerates the skin renewal process. It reduces fine lines, evens the skin tone, and improves radiance.

Glycolic acid, like all AHAs, has a keratolytic effect on the skin. This means that it breaks down the bridges between hardened outer layers of skin. So that they can be detached. 

This removes the dead skin cells revealing smoother and more radiant skin. So, glycolic acid stimulates the skin renewal process. Therefore, it reduces signs of age spots and hyperpigmentation.

In addition, glycolic acid has a positive effect on collagen and elastin production. That reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Overall, the skin becomes softer and the complexion smoother and more radiant.

The fruit acid also promotes hydration. It exfoliates the skin and removes dry skin. But when it is used with powerful emollients to strengthen the lipid barrier, it prevents the skin from becoming dry and flaky again.

In the case of acne scars and pimple marks, glycolic acid can also speed up the healing process of the skin. Due to the peeling effect the scars appear paler. 

Glycolic acid offers a gentle yet effective chemical exfoliation. Unlike a mechanical or physical peeling, which could easily injure the skin. Still, after any type of chemical peel, the skin is more susceptible to damage from environmental aggressors. It is therefore important to definitely apply sun protection after use.

Glycolic acid is commonly found in exfoliators.

Is Glycolic Acid Suitable For Every Skin Type?

The active ingredient is mostly suitable for every skin type. But it particularly benefits oily and mature skin. However, using glycolic acid might be irritative on sensitive and overly dry skin.

Glycolic acid products can vary in strength. It is important to find the right concentration for the skin. Products with less than 4% glycolic acid are very gentle, for example. With dry and sensitive skin, it is recommended to use it in a washable form.

To combat impurities, hyperpigmentation or wrinkles, a concentration of 4-15% is recommended. Higher concentration is no longer suitable for use at home and should only be handled by a professional.

When it comes to skincare routine, glycolic acid can break down vitamin C and niacinamide into compounds not that skin-friendly. 

So, it is recommended using vitamin C products and niacinamide in the morning. And glycolic acid in the evening. Or wait at least an hour between applying the products. Glycolic acid can be beneficial in conjunction with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid. 

Further, glycolic acid should not be used at the same time as retinol. It could irritate, cause redness, and dryness on the skin. If you want to incorporate both, alternate between active ingredients on different evenings.

FAQ About Glycolic Acid

What is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is a fruit acid that belongs to a group of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). It is a chemical exfoliator commonly used in skincare.

What is glycolic acid made of?

The naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy acid is found in unripe grapes or other fruits. But mostly, glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane. It can also be produced synthetically.

Is glycolic acid vegan?

Yes. Glycolic acid is always vegan.


Glycolic acid is a versatile vegan skincare ingredient. It can help fight breakouts and improve skin’s appearance. The fruit acid accelerates cell turnover, allowing dead skin cells to shed. That reveals a smoother, more radiant complexion. 

Glycolic acid is best for normal, oily, and combination skin types. Those with very dry and sensitive skin are advised to use glycolic acid in a washable form. To minimize the risk of skin irritation.

Although glycolic acid is always vegan, other ingredients in a skincare product may not be. That’s why we recommend shopping from vegan skincare brands.

See also: Vegan Glycolic Acid Skincare, Vegan Skincare Products

Anett is a passionate journalist, writer, and magazine editor with almost 7 years of experience. Through engaging articles, she brings kinder and more environmentally-friendly choices closer to everybody.