Glycolic acid (or hydroxyacetic acid) is the smallest α-hydroxy acid (AHA). It appears in the form of a colorless, odorless and hygroscopic crystalline solid that is highly soluble in water and related solvents. Glycolic acid is associated with sugar-crops and is isolated from sugarcane, sugar beets, pineapple, canteloupe, and unripe grapes.
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.
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.