Glycolic acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), is one of the most popular exfoliating ingredients in skincare. Having a range of applications such as anti-acne and anti-aging procedures, glycolic acid is favored for its versatility. In addition to that, it is considered to be less irritating and drying than salicylic acid, making it a common choice for individuals with dryer or more sensitive skin.
In this article, we will review some of the best glycolic acid products we think are worth considering if you want to incorporate this exfoliant into your routine.
Best glycolic acid: shortlist
- Kiehl’s — best glycolic acid serum for smoothing skin texture
- Evolve Organic Beauty — best glycolic acid for acne
- The Ordinary — best budget-friendly glycolic acid for dullness
- QRxLabs — best glycolic acid pads for fine lines
- Neostrata — best glycolic acid for daily use
- MedPeel — best medical grade glycolic acid peel
- Paula's Choice — best glycolic acid gel exfoliant
- The Inkey List — best glycolic acid product for pore-minimizing
How we choose the best glycolic acid products?
|Transparent and reliable brand
|Glycolic acid percentage
|Different concentrations of glycolic acid
- Brand reputation. We picked products manufactured by reputable brands that have expertise in skincare. When considering reputation, reviews and overall customer experience were taken into consideration as well.
- Glycolic acid percentage. We chose to include products containing different percentages of glycolic acid because the most suitable product for you will depend on your experience with this or other AHAs. In addition, we preferred products that clearly state the percentage of glycolic acid on the label.
- Other ingredients. When analyzing the products, we also checked other ingredients within the formula. This approach can give you a broader understanding of the product and its possible effects.
- Price. To help you find products that fit within your budget, we included goods in various price ranges.
Top picks: best glycolic acid
The goal of this article is to give the reader an overview of various glycolic acid products available on the market. For this reason, we selected items from a wide range of options. The choice of the best glycolic acid product will highly depend on your preferences, goals, and experience with AHAs.
1. Kiehl’s — best glycolic acid serum for smoothing skin texture
Kiehl’s Ultra Pure High-Potency Glycolic Acid Serum stands out as our top choice due to its simple and gentle formula made from 7 ingredients only.
The main skin concern that is proposed to be targeted with this serum is skin dullness and uneven skin texture. Moreover, it may help with acne and reduce the appearance of pores.
The product contains 9.8% of glycolic acid and is intended for the evening routine. According to the brand, this product is suitable for all skin types.
Right now, you can purchase this Kiehl’s serum for $35 without a subscription.
2. Evolve Organic Beauty — best glycolic acid toner with salicylic acid for acne
If your main skin concern is acne, this Liquid Radiance Glycolic Toner could be a perfect choice. Not only does it contain glycolic acid, but it also features salicylic acid which is often regarded as the best active ingredient for reducing sebum production and managing breakouts.
Moreover, the product is intended to reduce dullness and exfoliate the skin without irritation.
As the brand claims, all active ingredients within their formula are natural in origin, including glycolic acid, which is derived from sugar cane, and salicylic acid from willow bark. However, Evolve Organic Beauty does not specify the total percentage of glycolic acid or other ingredients within the formula.
Right now, you can buy this toner for $28.
3. The Ordinary — best budget-friendly glycolic acid toner for dullness
Made by customer-favorite budget-friendly brand The Ordinary, this glycolic acid toner is presented as a product that targets dullness, uneven skin tone, and textural irregularities.
This toner by The Ordinary features 7% glycolic acid and is recommended to be used in the evening routine. According to the brand, you should not use this toner with retinoids, peptides, vitamin C, and other acids such as BHAs.
This product is intended to be suitable for all skin types. However, people with sensitive or compromised skin are advised against this product.
Right now, you can purchase this The Ordinary toner starting from $8.70 for a 100 ml bottle.
4. QRxLabs — top glycolic acid resurfacing pads for fine lines
Designed to exfoliate and reduce the appearance of fine lines, QRxLabs offers resurfacing pads with glycolic acid as a convenient and easy-to-integrate solution.
Keep in mind that this product features 20% glycolic acid — meaning it can be too irritating, especially if you have never used any AHAs before.
To make the product less irritating, green tea and calendula extracts, along with allantoin, were added to the formula.
If you opt to purchase QRxLabs, one jar of these pads would cost you $24.95 (or $0.50 per pad).
5. Neostrata — best glycolic acid for everyday use
Glycolic Renewal by Neostrata is a lightweight serum for everyday usage. This serum is crafted to help you achieve a more radiant complexion and smooth out uneven texture. According to the brand, this product can be used under makeup.
Although intended to be used daily, glycolic acid should be introduced into your routine gradually, and it is not recommended to use it every day if you are experiencing side effects such as skin peeling, redness, or itchiness.
Neostrata contains 10% of glycolic acid. In addition, it contains lactobionic acid, another ingredient with exfoliant properties.
Currently, this Neostrata product is retailed at $85 as a one-time purchase.
6. MedPeel — best glycolic acid peel for more advanced users
For more advanced and experienced users, MedPeel presents an at-home peeling kit. This peeling kit includes 3 products in total: peel prep solution, the serum containing glycolic acid, and neutralizer solution spray.
As this product contains 50% of glycolic acid, it is the strongest on our list. Please follow the instructions from the manufacturer carefully and consult a dermatologist if you have doubts about this product.
You can purchase this peeling kit for $38. Keep in mind that the kit contains 5-7 applications in total.
7. Paula's Choice — best glycolic acid exfoliator
Made from 8% glycolic acid, this gel exfoliant by Paula’s Choice is proposed to be a gentle and non-abrasive leave-on exfoliant for everyday use. It is designed to target such skin concerns as dullness and uneven skin tone. Moreover, Paula’s Choice suggests that this product may have anti-aging effects.
Although this product is not advised to be used for people with sensitive skin, it can be integrated into your routine if you have normal, dry, oily, or combination skin.
Right now, you can purchase this Paula’s Choice product for $37. For those who want to save money on their purchase, the subscription-based model is also available.
8. The Inkey List — best glycolic acid toner for pore-minimising
Formulated to be used as a pore-minimizing toner, this Inkey List product is well-suited for those who are looking for ways to improve their skin texture.
The product contains 10% of glycolic acid. According to the brand, this toner is suitable for more experienced acid users. Moreover, it is recommended for oily, normal, and combination types of skin.
In addition to glycolic acid, The Inkey List features witch hazel extract, which is proposed to reduce breakouts and control excess oil.
At the moment, you can get this toner for $14 for a 100 ml bottle.
|Glycolic acid percentage
|Skin texture refinement
|Evolve Organic Beauty
|Does not specify
|Skin texture refinement
|Skin texture refinement
|The Inkey List
Glycolic acid for sensitive skin: choosing the best option
Glycolic acid may be used on sensitive skin if introduced with caution and depending on the severity of the sensitivity.
The common approach to introducing glycolic acid into your routine is to do it gradually. Always aim for lower-concentration products, and check the manufacturer’s recommendation to see whether the product is suitable for sensitive skin. Do not start using the glycolic acid product every day even if it is advised by the brand if you have not used AHAs before.
Moreover, it is recommended to do a patch test before starting any new cosmetic product. This may be especially important if you have sensitive skin. To perform a patch test, put the new product on a small part of your skin and wait 24 hours to see if you have any unwanted reactions.
Incorporating glycolic acid into your skincare routine
Glycolic acid is often recommended to be used in the evening as it can increase photosensitivity. It is also important to apply SPF when using AHAs, including glycolic acid, during the day.
Some experts suggest that glycolic acid should not be used with other products that contain such active ingredients as retinoids or other acids. However, this may vary depending on the formulation and your skin condition. It is always recommended to consult a dermatologist for more tailored advice based on your skin type and concerns.
Keep in mind that some people may experience irritation with glycolic acid. Side effects such as skin peeling and redness are also possible, especially if you choose high-percentage glycolic acid products. If you have not used this compound, other AHAs, or BHAs, it is best to start from products that have lower concentrations of glycolic acid.
Unveiling the science behind glycolic acid’s benefits
Glycolic acid is used for various skin conditions. Below, we will present a few of the usages of this acid that have been supported by evidence from clinical trials.
- Acne. One of the most common applications of glycolic acid is acne. Research studies indicate that even lower percentages, like 5%, may help to reduce mild to moderate acne.
- Acne scars. Since glycolic acid is proposed to exfoliate the skin, it is often used for acne scars. Studies indicate that glycolic acid peels may prove to be effective for this concern.
- Anti-aging. Several clinical trials indicate that glycolic acid may have anti-aging effects if used on photodamaged skin.
- Melasma. Clinical trials indicate that glycolic acid could be a beneficial ingredient for patients with melasma — dark spots on the skin. However, most studies on melasma combined glycolic acid with other ingredients and had higher percentages of this acid (from 30%).
If you are unsure if glycolic acid can help you achieve your desired results, it can be beneficial to consult with a professional who can adjust your routine accordingly. For more prominent results, it is recommended to have glycolic acid treatments done professionally at higher strengths in a clinic.
Concluding recommendations for best glycolic acid
Glycolic acid is one of the most widely used AHAs out there, and not without reason. With multiple studies backing up its effectiveness, this compound is one of the dermatologist's favorites for acne, dullness, and uneven skin tone — especially for patients with drier skin.
If you are considering trying out glycolic acid for the first time, pick products with lower concentrations, as this exfoliant may be irritating, especially if introduced too fast. In addition, AHAs may make your skin more susceptible to UV rays, and thus, SPF should become a part of your day routine when using glycolic acid.
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Are there any side effects of using glycolic acid?
Yes, glycolic acid may cause certain side effects. Most commonly, the side effects of glycolic acid include skin peeling and redness. However, glycolic acid is generally well-tolerated and safe.
Can glycolic acid help with acne and acne scars?
Yes, multiple studies support using glycolic acid to reduce acne and acne scars. With glycolic acid, it is important to keep a consistent routine, as improvements may be seen within 1-6 months of usage.
Is it safe to use glycolic acid during pregnancy?
Currently, there are no studies examining the safety of glycolic acid during pregnancy. Most likely, it should not be a concern, especially if used in lower concentrations. However, it is always best to consult your healthcare provider for further evaluation.
Are there dermatologist-recommended glycolic acid products?
Glycolic acid is commonly used by dermatologists for chemical peeling. However, specific brands and products used vary between different specialists. Professionally, glycolic acid is used in concentrations from 20%–70% for all skin types. However, it is recommended not to use more than 10% of glycolic acid at home.
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- Bosnian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences. Side effects assessment in glicolyc acid peelings in patients with acne type I.
- Canadian Family Physician. Safety of skin care products during pregnancy.
- Dermatologic Surgery. Glycolic acid versus Jessner's solution: which is better for facial acne patients? A randomized prospective clinical trial of split-face model therapy.
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Efficacy and safety of 5% glycolic acid-based Gel essence in the treatment of mild to moderate acne.
- Dermatologic Surgery. Clinical evaluation of glycolic acid chemical peeling in patients with acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, split-face comparative study.
- Dermatologic Surgery. Efficacy of Microneedling With 35% Glycolic Acid Peels Versus Microneedling With 15% Trichloroacetic Acid Peels in Treatment of Atrophic Acne Scars: A Randomized Controlled Trial.
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Efficacy of microneedling with 70% glycolic acid peel vs microneedling alone in treatment of atrophic acne scars-A randomized controlled trial.
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Combination of microneedling and glycolic acid peels for the treatment of acne scars in dark skin.
- Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy. Glycolic acid peels versus amino fruit acid peels for acne.
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Antiaging efficacy of a retinaldehyde-based cream compared with glycolic acid peel sessions: A randomized controlled study. h
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Comparative study of 15% trichloroacetic acid peel combined with 70% glycolic acid and 35% trichloroacetic acid peel for the treatment of photodamaged facial skin in aging women.
- Dermatologic Therapy. Topical 5% tranexamic acid with 30% glycolic acid peel: An useful combination for accelerating the improvement in melasma.
- Dermatologic Surgery. Modified Jessner's Solution Combined With Trichloroacetic Acid 20% Versus Glycolic Acid 70% Combined With Trichloroacetic Acid 20% in the Treatment of Melasma.
- Dermatologic Therapy. Microdermabrasion assisted delivery of glycolic acid 70% peel for the treatment of melasma in dark-skinned patients.