Sodium Glycolate: What Is It, Cosmetic Benefits & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: April 26, 2023
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We’ve all been there – standing in the cosmetics aisle, staring at the back of a product, and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the seemingly endless list of ingredients. It can feel like you’re trying to decipher a foreign language, leaving you unsure of which products are truly beneficial for your skin and which ones you should avoid.

One ingredient that frequently appears in cosmetic products is Sodium Glycolate. It’s a common yet lesser-known ingredient that serves specific functions in the formulations it’s part of. This article will delve into the world of Sodium Glycolate, exploring its role in cosmetics, its benefits, and potential side effects. By gaining a better understanding of this ingredient, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions about the products you use on your skin.

What is Sodium Glycolate?

Sodium Glycolate is a chemical compound commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products. It is the monosodium salt of glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is derived from sugar cane.

The primary function of Sodium Glycolate in cosmetic products is to act as a buffering agent. Buffering agents help maintain the pH level of the product, ensuring its stability, efficacy, and safety for use on the skin. This is important because our skin has a natural pH balance, and using products that are too acidic or too alkaline can potentially disrupt this balance and cause irritation or other issues.

Sodium Glycolate is typically found as part of a wider formulation of ingredients, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the product. It can be found in various concentrations depending on the specific product and its intended purpose.

Who Can Use Sodium Glycolate?

Sodium Glycolate is a versatile ingredient that can be suitable for various skin types. It is generally well-tolerated by most people, including those with sensitive skin. However, the concentration of Sodium Glycolate in a product and the presence of other ingredients may impact its suitability for specific skin types.

For individuals with oily or acne-prone skin, Sodium Glycolate can be beneficial due to its ability to help maintain pH balance and support exfoliation. This can contribute to a reduction in clogged pores and breakouts. For those with dry or mature skin, Sodium Glycolate can aid in gently exfoliating dead skin cells, revealing a smoother and more radiant complexion.

It is important to keep in mind that individual skin types and concerns can vary greatly, so it’s essential to consider the overall formulation of a product containing Sodium Glycolate and how it may interact with your specific skin needs.

As for vegans and vegetarians, Sodium Glycolate is derived from sugar cane, which is a plant-based source. This makes it suitable for those following vegan or vegetarian lifestyles, as it does not involve the use of animal-derived ingredients. However, it’s always a good idea to check the label of the specific product to ensure that all other ingredients align with your personal values and preferences.

Sodium Glycolate Cosmetic Benefits

Sodium Glycolate offers several benefits in cosmetic products, based on its official function as a buffering agent. Here are some of the key advantages:

  • pH Balance Maintenance: Sodium Glycolate helps regulate the pH level in cosmetic products, ensuring that the product is neither too acidic nor too alkaline for the skin. This is important because maintaining the skin’s natural pH balance is crucial for overall skin health and preventing irritation or other issues that may arise from using products with an imbalanced pH.
  • Enhanced Exfoliation: Although not its primary function, Sodium Glycolate, being a derivative of glycolic acid, can contribute to gentle exfoliation. This can be particularly beneficial for those with dry, rough, or mature skin, as it helps remove dead skin cells and reveal a smoother, more radiant complexion.
  • Improved Product Performance: By maintaining the optimal pH balance of a product, Sodium Glycolate contributes to the overall efficacy of the cosmetic formulation. This means that the active ingredients in the product can work more effectively, leading to better results for the user.
  • Increased Product Stability: Sodium Glycolate’s buffering capacity also helps ensure that the product remains stable over time. This translates to a longer shelf life and consistent performance throughout the product’s lifespan, giving you peace of mind that the product you’re using is safe and effective.

It is important to note that the beneficial effects of Sodium Glycolate are not permanent. To maintain these benefits, continuous use of products containing this ingredient is necessary. As with any skincare routine, consistency is key to achieving and maintaining desired results.

Sodium Glycolate Potential Side Effects

While Sodium Glycolate is generally well-tolerated and safe for use in cosmetic products, it is important to recognize that side effects and reactions can vary from person to person. This variation is due to individual differences in skin type, sensitivity, and the presence of other ingredients in the product. To better understand your skin’s specific needs and sensitivities, it is helpful to find your skin type.

Here are some potential side effects and interactions that may occur with the use of Sodium Glycolate:

  • Skin irritation: Some individuals may experience redness, itching, or a burning sensation when using products containing Sodium Glycolate, particularly if they have sensitive skin or are using a product with a high concentration of the ingredient.
  • Dryness: In some cases, Sodium Glycolate may cause skin dryness, especially when used in higher concentrations or in combination with other exfoliating agents.

If you experience any of these side effects while using a product containing Sodium Glycolate, it is advisable to discontinue use and consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional to determine the best course of action. They can help identify the cause of the reaction and recommend alternative products or ingredients that may be better suited for your skin.

It is worth noting that adverse reactions to Sodium Glycolate are relatively rare, and generally speaking, the ingredient is safe and effective when used as directed in cosmetic products.

To minimize the risk of adverse reactions, it’s crucial to perform a patch test before using any new cosmetic product. A patch testing guide can help you determine whether a product is compatible with your skin, reducing the likelihood of experiencing an adverse reaction when applying the product to your face or other sensitive areas.


While Sodium Glycolate may not be as well-known or popular as some other ingredients in the world of skincare, its buffering properties and potential benefits make it a valuable addition to various cosmetic formulations. As a derivative of glycolic acid, it can offer gentle exfoliation and contribute to overall product efficacy and stability.

To sum things up, Sodium Glycolate is a versatile and generally well-tolerated ingredient in cosmetic products. By understanding its functions and potential benefits, as well as being aware of potential side effects, you can make more informed decisions about the products you choose to incorporate into your skincare routine. Remember that consistency is key, and with the right approach and some experimentation, you can achieve and maintain healthy, radiant skin.

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