Here's Why Beauty Experts Swear by Glycolic Acid—Plus, Their Top Picks
If you want a bright, youthful complexion (think: reduced wrinkles, fine lines, and increased radiance), it's time to think about adding glycolic acid into your skincare regimen. It's an alpha hydroxy acid, or a naturally occurring compound found in plants like sugarcane, that penetrates the top layers of the skin to gently exfoliate dead skin cells, leaving it brighter and more even-toned. It also helps regenerate collagen and thicken the skin, says Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.
Glycolic acid is not to be confused with salicylic and lactic acids—each one serves a different purpose. Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid, is lipid soluble, meaning it penetrates the pores and breaks up oil, which is why it's included in many acne-fighting products, Nussbaum says. Lactic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid, is considered a little more gentle than glycolic acid and more hydrating. (It's generally recommended for those with sensitive or dry skin.) Glycolic acid has the smallest molecule of the three acids, Nussbaum says, which means it most effectively penetrates the skin to achieve the best results.
Glycolic acid comes in a variety of products, from cleansers and masks to serums, peels, and pads. Cleansers generally contain the least concentration of glycolic acid and peels generally the highest. "The best thing about glycolic acid is that it can be used on all skin types, as you can start with a low concentration and gradually move up, as long as your skin can tolerate it," Nussbaum says. (As a reminder, you should be wearing sunscreen every day, but especially when you're using glycolic acid in the morning. Glycolic acid, like all acids, can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.)
Here, some of our favorite glycolic acid products to try.
This doubles as a moisturizer and exfoliator—just put it on at night and wake up with a fresh, hydrated complexion.
Shop Now: Glyderm Face Lotion Lite Plus 10, $40.50, dermstore.com.
Gently exfoliate every single day with this renewing cleanser.
Shop Now: Peter Thomas Roth 3% Glycolic Solutions Cleanser, $38, ulta.com.
This mask contains a trifecta of acids: glycolic, lactic, and salicylic. It also infuses antioxidants like matcha into your skin, and the deep acid exfoliation will ensure the antioxidants get way down into your pores.
Shop Now: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, $80, sephora.com.
For an at-home peel, use this gel few times per week. Leave it on for 10 minutes and rinse off.
Shop Now: Glytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel, $64, dermstore.com.