Glycolic Acid is a naturally occurring substance that is commonly used in skincare products. It offers many benefits to the skin, from rejuvenating to anti-aging and moisturizing. Considered as the holy grail for exfoliation, glycolic acid effectively removes the outermost layer of dead skin cells from your complexion, revealing brighter and fresher skin. It is also often used to treat scarring, skin discoloration, and signs of premature aging as well as acne and acne scars.

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What is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is a member of the class of chemical compounds known as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). These compounds consist of a carboxylic acid (-COOH) substituted with a hydroxyl group (-OH) on the adjacent carbon in the alpha position, hence the name. AHAs can be naturally derived from fruit and milk sugars or synthetically produced. For example, glycolic acid can be isolated from natural sources like sugarcane, sugar beets, pineapple, cantaloupe, and unripe grapes.

What makes glycolic acid unique?

AHAs are frequently used in skin care products because they have the ability to exfoliate the skin, stimulate the skin’s natural regeneration process, and help the skin to retain moisture. Other AHAs include lactic acid, mandelic acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, and citric acid. Glycolic acid is unique because it has the smallest molecular size out of all the AHAs. So why should you care about molecular size? Molecular size matters because the smaller a molecule, the more easily it gets into the skin. Thus, glycolic acid penetrates the skin better and faster than all of the others. This is why glycolic acid is considered to be the strongest AHA.

There are plenty of skincare acids out there, but none quite as beloved—or universally effective—as glycolic acid. The alpha-hydroxy acid, or AHA, is derived from sugarcane and offers a litany of different benefits, working on multiple layers of the skin. “It’s one of the most potent alpha-hydroxy acids that help to exfoliate superficially while also stimulating deeper collagen production,” explains Dr. Shereene Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.  In short, it’s great for fading spots and evening out skin tone, while also helping to smooth fine lines in the long-term.

What does glycolic acid do for skin?

  • Exfoliates + smooths
  • Boosts skin hydration
  • Promotes a youthful complexion
  • Helps prevent acne

You can find the ingredient in everything from masks to moisturizers, but glycolic acid-based cleansers offer some unique benefits, says Idris. “Glycolic acid cleansers usually contain the lowest-strength of the ingredient. In addition to being ideal for sensitive skin due to the short contact time, they’re also a good option for those who have dry skin, as the ingredient is even hydrating in of itself,” she explains. They’re also great if you’re starting to use a retinoid in your routine and want to minimize the risk of irritation, she adds. And, top tip, if you don’t have sensitive skin and want to really capitalize on the ingredient’s effects, you can even let the cleanser sit on your skin for five to 10 minutes before rinsing.

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Bottom line: A glycolic acid cleanser is well-worth adding to your skincare routine. Here are 15 of the best glycolic acid facial cleansers that improve skin’s appearance.

15 of the best glycolic acid facial cleansers that improve skin’s appearance

Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Facial Cleanser

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This glycolic acid cleanser has a clay base that clears oil from your face and washes away dirt and dead skin cells. It makes your skin firm and smooth. This product has a gentle formula that cleans your skin without drying it. It is formulated with PureScience formula and is suitable for all skin types.

Pros

  • Contains volcanic ash
  • Contains kaolin clay
  • Contains natural herbal extracts
  • Certified organic
  • Dermatologist tested
  • Can be used as a mask
  • No synthetic fragrance
  • No artificial colors
  • Cruelty-free

Cons

  • None

InstaNatural Glycolic Cleanser

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This cleanser works to reduce skin issues like blackheads, irritation, and clogged pores. It is oil-free and helps in controlling breakouts and keeping your skin hydrated. It also claims to heal chapped and flaky skin.

Pros

  • Naturally derived extracts
  • Contains lactic acid
  • No parabens
  • No SLS and SLES
  • No synthetic dyes
  • No petroleum and PEGs
  • No mineral oils
  • No formaldehyde releasers

Cons

  • The fragrance might be overpowering for some.

SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser

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This is a purifying cleansing gel. It has a 3% optimized blend of key ingredients, which include glycerin, glycolic acid, and other ingredients. This unique combination brightens up your dull skin tone and improves skin texture. It conditions your skin, leaving it feeling refreshed and renewed.

Pros

  • Mild formula
  • No parabens
  • No sulfates
  • No artificial fragrance
  • No dyes
  • Alcohol-free
  • Suitable for all skin types

Cons

  • None

Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, and an New York-based dermatologist says, “I love that this cleanser combines glycolic acid to help eliminate dead skin buildup with a mild sulfate-free surfactant to remove excess oil, dirt and debris, leaving the skin feeling renewed and refreshed. The glycerin helps to condition the skin making it a suitable option for all skin types.

Anthony Glycolic Facial Cleanser

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It contains 4.9% glycolic acid that removes dirt from your skin effectively. It cleanses your skin without stripping it of its natural oils. It is a non-drying formula that does not cause breakouts. It is non-foaming, and it gently exfoliates your face, leaving it smooth.

Pros

  • Dermatologist tested
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Gluten-free
  • No parabens
  • Hydrating formula
  • Contains vitamins A, C, and E

Cons

  • Packaging is not good.

IS Clinical Cleansing Complex

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This product contains willow bark and sugar cane extracts. Both are the natural forms of salicylic and glycolic acid. These natural forms are mild and gentle and also help in controlling excess oil production.

Pros

  • Doubles as a toner
  • Can be used as a makeup remover
  • Suitable for all skin types
  • No parabens
  • Reduces blemishes
  • Best for sensitive skin

Cons

  • Cannot remove makeup as effectively as claimed.

Replenix Acne Solution Gly/Sal 10-2 Cleanser

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Replenix Gly/Sly 10-2 cleanser is best for acne-prone skin. It contains glycolic (10%) and salicylic (2%) acids that encourage healing. It unclogs the skin pores and eliminates dead skin cells, whiteheads, and blackheads. It also helps in brightening your skin tone.

Pros

  • Contains green tea extracts
  • Suitable for normal and oily skin types
  • Contains witch hazel
  • Non-comedogenic
  • Contains anti-aging ingredients (peptides, hyaluronic acid, and retinol)

Cons

  • Not suitable for all skin types

QRx Labs Glycolic Acid Gel Cleanser

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This cleanser contains 5% glycolic acid. This advanced formula contains natural extracts and is extremely gentle. It helps in controlling acne breakouts and diminishing age lines. It claims to fade your blemishes and spots and improve your skin radiance.

Pros

  • Contains honey and coconut milk extracts
  • Contains vitamin E
  • Contains witch hazel
  • Moisturizing formula
  • Contains organic jojoba oil

Cons

  • Contains alcohol

Claridad Glycolic Face Wash

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It is a gentle glycolic acid face wash that claims to even out your skin tone, fade age spots, exfoliate your skin gently, and also improve your acne scars. It promotes healthy skin by stimulating new cell development. It cleanses dirt, impurities, and traces of pollution and keeps your skin feeling refreshed throughout the day.

Pros

  • 100% cruelty-free
  • No parabens
  • Natural glycolic acid (extracted from sugar cane)
  • Medical grade ingredients
  • Developed by dermatologists
  • Contains yucca extracts for skin soothing effect

Cons

  • Might be a bit harsh for sensitive skin

Toulon Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleansing Gel

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This product has a superior AHA exfoliating formula. It controls breakouts effectively. It uses the powerful antioxidant properties of vitamin C to protect your skin from the harmful effects of free radicals. It diminishes the signs of aging. It also comes with a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy.

Pros

  • Contains AHA (glycolic acid, lavender, and burdock)
  • Gluten-free
  • Paraben-free
  • Cruelty-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Hypoallergenic

Cons

  • Might irritate sensitive skin

Botanic Tree Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser

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This is an anti-aging face wash that sloughs away the dead skin cells from your skin and unclogs the pores. It works well on age spots, dark spots, blemishes, discoloration, and signs of aging.

Pros

  • 100% organic extracts
  • Contains seaweed, peppermint extracts
  • Contains 10% glycolic acid
  • 100% cruelty-free
  • No parabens

Cons

  • May make dry skin drier
  • Might irritate the skin

Body Merry Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser

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This formula contains 2.5% glycolic acid and a combination of many ingredients that ensure deep cleansing. It claims to remove dark spots, sun spots, and discoloration. It also claims to prevent premature aging and brighten a dull complexion.

Pros

  • Contains kojic acid
  • Non-drying formula
  • Removes makeup
  • Does not cause breakouts
  • Contains AHA

Cons

  • Not suitable for all skin types
  • Might cause dryness

Mederma Advanced Dry Skin Therapy Facial Cleanser

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This facial cleanser can also double as a shaving cream (for sensitive areas, such as the face and underarms). It contains glycolic acid. This product belongs to the brand’s advanced dry skin therapy products and is suitable for all skin types. It improves skin irritation and heals shaving bumps.

Pros

  • Hypoallergenic
  • Non-comedogenic
  • No added fragrances
  • Dermatologist recommended
  • Non-drying formula

Cons

  • Contains parabens

Serious Skincare Glycolic Cleanser

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Its low pH balanced formula gently removes all the dead skin cell build-up from your face. It is completely oil-free and suitable for all skin types. It is extremely gentle and ensures deep-pore cleansing.

Pros

  • Low pH balanced
  • Contains chamomile extracts
  • No foaming formula

Cons

  • Contains parabens
  • Contains urea
  • Can be drying

Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser

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This cleanser is suitable for all skin types. It lathers well and gives you a deep cleansing effect. The exfoliating effects of glycolic acid make your skin smooth and glowing. It removes all traces of makeup and dirt and reduces skin discoloration.

Pros

  • Contains natural herbal extracts, such as marshmallow and sage
  • Suitable for sensitive skin
  • Packaging ensures hygiene
  • No breakouts
  • Non-drying

Cons

  • Contains SLS
  • Contains parabens
  • Contains urea

Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser

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This is an extremely mild and lightweight cleanser that exfoliates your skin gently and rejuvenates it. It contains glycolic acid and a hydrating formula that leaves your skin soft and smooth.

Pros

  • Enhances the effects of skin procedures (such as chemical peels)
  • Anti-aging effects
  • Dermatologist recommended
  • Brightening effect

Cons

  • Contains SLS
  • Might not work on all skin types

Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, and an New York-based dermatologist says, “This gentle but effective wash is a great option for those with normal to oily skin to help gently exfoliate the skin, helping to brighten the skin and improving the tone and texture. It also contains glycerin to provide moisture leaving the skin feeling soft and smooth. It is a lightweight cleanser making it easy to use all year round.

Should I use glycolic acid?

What’s great about glycolic acid is that it can be used by almost every skin type, except for those with very sensitive skin and those with rosacea. Glycolic acid can improve many common skin conditions, including blackheads, enlarged pores, discoloration, acne, and signs of aging. If you have one of these skin conditions, you may want to consider adding a glycolic acid cleanser to your skin care routine. Glycolic acid is also available in different types of products, which we will discuss below.

If you want youthful and glowing skin, glycolic acid is your best friend. If you have never used glycolic acid products, try any of these today. If you think we missed out on including any product in this list, let us know in the comments section below.

How often should I use a glycolic acid cleanser?

In the previous section, we explained how a glycolic acid cleanser usually provides the lowest strength of glycolic acid out of all the different glycolic acid products. This means that cleansers provide gentle exfoliation, and you can typically use them once daily. However, if your face begins to feel irritated or shows signs of sensitivity with red, dry patches, you should decrease how often you use your glycolic acid cleanser.

15 Best Glycolic Acid Facial Cleansers That Improve Skin’s Appearance

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