The key difference between buffered and unbuffered glycolic acid is that for buffered glycolic acid, the pH is adjusted such that it is safer to use in skincare products than the unbuffered glycolic acid. But, for unbuffered glycolic acid, the pH is not adjusted and therefore, the skin care products containing this can be aggressive and harmful to our skin.
Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxyl acid. The source of it is sugar cane. Also, this compound occurs naturally in some fruits and foods. The products containing this acid are useful as a skin treatment because it can renew a person’s old or damaged skin via peeling. We call this exfoliation. There are two main factors that affect the quality of a product containing this acid; free acid concentration of the product and the pH of the product. According to the pH, there are two types as buffered and unbuffered glycolic acid.
1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Buffered Glycolic Acid
3. What is Unbuffered Glycolic Acid
4. Side by Side Comparison – Buffered vs Unbuffered Glycolic Acid in Tabular Form
What is Buffered Glycolic Acid?
Buffered glycolic acid is a form of glycolic acid in which the pH is adjusted to get a good use of it. The buffering process optimizes the moisturizing benefits of the skincare product. Buffering the acid means that the manufacturer has changed the pH of the glycolic acid to bring it closer to the natural pH of the skin of humans. Hence, this makes a less irritating product and also the glycolic acid retains its moisturizing properties.
Figure 01: Different Skincare Products
Moreover, if we use buffered glycolic acid in products, there is less discomfort and redness in the process of exfoliation. The exfoliation takes place in a less visible manner as well. Additionally, it provides the product with a time-release quality. That means, it gives prolonged effectiveness.
What is Unbuffered Glycolic Acid?
A unbufferred glycolic acid is a form of glycolic acid in which the pH is not adjusted. The pH of this form is very low (lower than pH 2). Thus, the products that use this unbuffered glycolic acid can become very aggressive and produce faster results. But, it is more harmful because it can cause skin irritations. Therefore, for best result, only a skincare professional or a dermatologist should apply these products. However, lower the pH, greater the exfoliation.
Figure 02: Redness due to use of Unbuffered Glycolic Acid
Also, this form of glycolic acid can cause discomfort and redness during the exfoliation process. Nevertheless, this process takes place in a more visible manner. But, unlike buffered glycolic acid, the unbuffered form does not provide long-lasting effectiveness.
What is the Difference Between Buffered and Unbuffered Glycolic Acid?
Buffered glycolic acid is a form of glycolic acid in which the pH is adjusted to get a good use of it but, it is not so in unbuffered glycolic acid. The pH of the buffered form is in the range of pH 2 to 4. But the unbuffered form has a pH less than pH 2. So, this is the fundamental difference between buffered and unbuffered glycolic acid.
Arising from the fundamental difference between buffered and unbuffered glycolic acid is another difference. That is, when considering the safety, it is safe to use the buffered form in skincare products rather than the unbuffered form mainly because the unbuffered form is highly aggressive due to its low pH. Moreover, the effect of buffered form is long-lasting than that of unbuffered form.
The below infographic shows the difference between buffered and unbuffered glycolic acid in tabular form.
Summary – Buffered vs Unbuffered Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxyl acid that we often use in skin care products as a major ingredient. There are two forms as buffered and unbuffered glycolic acid. The key difference between buffered and unbuffered glycolic acid is that buffered glycolic acid is safe whereas unbuffered glycolic acid is aggressive and can be harmful to our skin.
1. “Skin Care Resource Guide » Unbuffered Glycolic Acid.” Skin Care Resource Guide RSS. Available here
2. “Glycolic Acid: Is Buffered Better?” DERMAdoctor Blog, 26 Mar. 2014. Available here
1.”17942076211″ by Pseph (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
2.”34200046211″ by Kylie Aquino (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
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