By now, we all understand the importance of exfoliating our skin. Exfoliation sloughs away dead skin cells, keeping skin happy and healthy, and ensures pores don't get super clogged, which can cause breakouts. But knowing what to exfoliate with has become a bit of a minefield. Gone are the days when popping down to your local Boots to grab a St. Ives face scrub was sufficient; now we're a little more advanced, particularly when it comes to understanding our acids.
Glycolic acid is a staple for many skincare routines, and it's one of the most effective exfoliants out there. It's typically a derivative of sugar cane, and is an alpha-hydroxy acid that penetrates the skin's surface in order to effectively exfoliate away dead skin cells and even skin tone.
So what are the benefits of using it over other acids available out there? "Glycolic acid is an AHA with the smallest molecular structure of the group, which allows it to penetrate the skin for the deepest exfoliation," explains Dennis Gross, MD, skincare expert and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare.
Because of its ability to deeply penetrate skin, it has some unique and impressive benefits. "It's used to improve the skin's appearance and texture through exfoliation while also reducing fine lines, hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and uneven skin tone," continues Gross.
The fact that it's able to penetrate deeper than other AHAs means you should approach with caution if you have particularly sensitive skin. Glycolic acid suits most skin types, but the regularity you should use it with may vary. "Those with sensitive skin need to start once to twice a week and build up," explains Mark Curry, co-founder of The Inkey List.
By comparison, normal to oily skin types can begin with a three to four-days a week, with the potential to build up. When it comes to the type of product you can find the ingredient in, you'd be hard-pressed to find a category that hasn't dabbled in glycolic acid. From cleansers to serums, the way you use glycolic acid is really down to preference. However, Mark does recommend first trying a toner or leave-on serum/moisturiser in order to ensure that you get the benefit of deep exfoliation.
Keep reading to discover my edit of the very best glycolic acid products, spanning across all skincare categories.
If you don't have the time or money to buy a dedicated glycolic peel, toner or mask, simply invest in a cleanser like this one to wash your face with.
It's cheap, it's cheerful, and it gets the job done; you can't go wrong with The Inkey List's exfoliating toner.
Under £10 for members, this excellent liquid exfoliant leaves skin with a noticeable radiant glow.
If you're really keen to give your skin a deep exfoliating tingle, a peel like Caudalie's is a great weekly option.
A best-selling treatment that can be used in place of your daily serum, this is a glycolic treatment I can't get enough of. I notice a definite glow after each use, making it a favourite.
Using a potent blend of lactic acid as well as glycolic, this gel mask features exfoliating extracts from fruits including pineapple and papaya.
With a high percentage of glycolic and other acids, this is one for the brave. Apply it before bed time to wake up to a renewed complexion.
A beloved daily peel that contains two steps (little wipes saturated in product), these DDG pads are a great place to start.
If you want things done right, turn to Skinceuticals—especially when it comes to effective exfoliation.
Another cult classic, this has five-star reviews for a reason, and it will leave your complexion glowing like no other.
Up next, read all about the best anti-ageing serums we recommend.