Treating breakouts, evening out skin texture, and removing dead skin cells all at once may seem like a big ask from a single beauty product — but there’s one potent ingredient that can tackle all three concerns (and more) all on its own: glycolic acid. “The water-soluble alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), of which [glycolic acid] is the smallest, is most often used as an exfoliant in skin-care formulas,” explains cosmetic chemist Stephen Alain Ko.
While providing powerful exfoliation, the powerhouse AHA also improves skin tone, texture, and minimizes hyperpigmentation. You can also expect some boosts to skin’s collagen production —and since the acid helps remove dead skin cells and prevents other buildup from clogging your pores, products with the ingredient can help stop acne breakouts. In short, there’s very little that glycolic acid can’t do.
If you’re new to glycolic acid, it’s best to ease into using the chemical exfoliant. “Start using it slowly, with a lower concentration of 10 percent or less, or with a glycolic acid cleanser,” says Corey L. Hartman, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. As your skin adjusts over time, you can start adding products with the sloughing acid into your regime in higher concentrations. However, if you have sensitive skin, it’s best to err on the side of caution and check with your dermatologist before using the ingredient at all.
No matter what the season, using glycolic acid will keep your skin clear and bright year-round. Ahead, we’ve gathered up 16 of the best glycolic acid treatments — recommended by dermatologists and Allure editors — in a range of concentrations and formats, to help get you glowing no matter what the state of your skin at the moment.
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