Glycolic acid: Everything you need to know about the skincare saviour

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

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, while Dr Dennis Gross’s pads are great for every day use.

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.

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