It's time to wise up on your acids...
Chemical exfoliants, like lactic and glycolic acid, have taken off in recent years, so we’re shining a spotlight on each to explain what they all do individually.
Glycolic acid is a naturally occurring acid and the smallest of the AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids).
While BHA, salicylic acid, penetrates deep into your pores to un-clog them, glycolic acid’s structure means it only exfoliates the surface layer of your skin.
It does this by breaking down the bonds that hold dead skin cells together as well as dissolving sebum, the oil naturally produced by your skin – making it suitable and effective on both dry and oily skin types.
Read on to discover the different types of glycolic acid products available on the market, as well as Team Marie Claire‘s favourite recommendations.
Remember: During the day, always follow up with one of the best SPF moisturisers with a factor of at least 30.
Glycolic acid peels
Max-strength peels are performed by a professional, but you can buy some less powerful (and less expensive), 15-minute treatments that you can do in the comfort of your own home around once a week.
These usually contain an active ingredient of glycolic, lactic, or combination of acids at a concentration of around 10% – we recommend Paula’s Choice or Kate Somerville for a strong exfoliating treatment.
These usually cause a slight stinging or warming sensation on the face, so don’t be alarmed that you’re having a bad reaction if your face starts to tingle.
Glycolic acid toners
AHA toners leave your skin brighter and fresher looking as they slough off pore-blocking dead skin cells from the surface. If you choose to use one in the morning rather than at night time, remember to always follow up with a high SPF, as the freshly-revealed skin underneath will be especially sensitive.
These are a good first step if you’re using AHAs for the first time, as they tend to come in lower concentrations, so you can introduce them to your skin gradually. Start with once a week with a 5% exfoliant (less if your skin is particularly sensitive), then build your way up to as much as every evening.
Read on for the Marie Claire edit of the most effective glycolic acid products we keep on our beauty shelves.
Possibly the most popular liquid exfoliant on the market, Liquid Gold has earnt itself cult status. As well as glycolic acid, it also contains licorice, a great anti-inflammatory agent. It definitely tingles upon application so you can feel it working, but skin feels soft afterwards.
A fruity concoction for your skin, this fast-acting mask works to slough away dead skin cells and reveal radiant skin underneath. It’s a bit like slathering lemon curd all over your face – just, you know, far better for your skin.
Suitable for both morning and evening cleanses, this fruity cleanser contains pumpkin, papaya and pineapple for a glycolic and lactic wash. It’s super creamy, foaming very slightly for a really satisfying clean; we found that skin’x texture looked better after just one use.
If you’re a fan of pads – pre-soaked discs with just the right amount of product for each application – Dr Dennis Gross makes some of the leading daily peel pads; these are gentle enough to use every day for brightening of the skin. While glycolic acid has the highest concentration, the pads also contain BHA, citric, lactic and malic acids. That’s a lot of exfoliation!
Let it be known that Paula knows her acids – this 5% formula is suitable for daily use, smoothing over fine lines and reducing the appearance of age spots, as well as being super hydrating. Always use a SPF afterwards if you’re using this in the AM.
Glow Tonic is one of the most recognisable glycolic exfoliating toners on the market, a gentle formula containing no oil. It’s alcohol free, meaning those with sensitive skin tend to get on well with it too.
This citrus mask is great for an instant hit of radiance when you’re looking for a pre-party quick fix. Very tingly at first, it dies down as the leaves your skin with that soft, fresh, baby face feeling.