12 glycolic acid treatments to try, from creams to serums and toners

If you’re not using glycolic acid products in your skincare routine yet, what are you even doing?

Creams and serums containing alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) are highly recommended for skincare these days, and all experts including dermatologists, skincare specialists, and beauty enthusiasts will say the same thing. One of the most widely used AHAs is glycolic acid. It is naturally found in fruits and plants like grapes, pineapple, sugar cane and sugar beets.

Benefits of glycolic acid treatments and products

Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant that helps peel off dead cells to renew your skin and enhance its complexion. The acid dissolves the glue that holds the dead cells together, fades marks left by hyperpigmentation, and accelerates the production of collagen that maintains the elasticity of the skin. The best part is that glycolic acid products are very gentle. While it’s a great exfoliant, it doesn’t hurt your skin like a rough brush or an aggressive scrub. 

The best time to use glycolic acid products

If you want to get the best results, use glycolic acid at night as the formula can make your skin photosensitive. You can opt for a night cream or serum. If you prefer using it during the day, layer it up with good sunscreen (SPF 30 or above). Or else, the process might reverse the benefits and instead cause sunburns or your skin might develop signs of premature ageing. To make the acid more effective, you can pair it up with retinol or antioxidants. For beginners, a low percentage of glycolic acid, like 5%, is ideally considered a safe amount.

The market abounds with a diverse range of products infused with glycolic acid. From creams to serums to peel-off masks, there is a variety of options to choose from.

(Hero & featured image credit: Sunday Riley)

The article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur.

Check out these glycolic acid products to include in your skincare regimen

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

If you would like to improve your skin’s texture, try this toning solution by The Ordinary. It’s formulated with 7% glycolic acid that gently exfoliates your skin to bring out its natural glow and give you an even skin tone. The solution also contains calming plant-based ingredients like aloe vera, ginseng root, and Tasmanian pepper berry that can soothe your skin and keep it healthy. 

Image credit: The Ordinary

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution CAUDALIE Vinoperfect Dark Spot Correcting Glycolic Night Cream

Let your skin soak in the goodness of viniferine, papaya enzymes, and glycolic acid all through the night to give you soft, glowing skin in the morning. Caudalie’s Vinoperfect Glycolic Night Cream is a miracle for those who wish to get rid of dark spots. Glycolic acid removes dead skin cells and replenishes your skin, thereby minimising the appearance of dark spots. The cream acts like a peel-off mask and is oil-free.

Image credit: Caudalie

CAUDALIE Vinoperfect Dark Spot Correcting Glycolic Night Cream Cosrx AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner

Treat your skin with this gentle glycolic acid toner from COSRX, formulated with AHA+BHA+botanical purifying ingredients. The solution deeply cleanses your skin by unclogging your pores and removing impurities. The product uses organic ingredients like willow bark water and apple fruit water which are safe and healthy for all skin types. 

Image credit: Cosrx

Cosrx AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner SUNDAY RILEY Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment

Say goodbye to dull skin with this glycolic acid treatment from Sunday Riley. The solution contains purified glycolic acid that works like magic on dry, sun-damaged skin. It is made from unique ingredients like extracts of fermented prickly pear and lemongrass that refine your skin’s texture by unclogging your pores. The product is devoid of toxic chemicals like sulfate and paraben. 

Image credit: Sunday Riley

SUNDAY RILEY Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA (Glycolic Acid) Gel

Treat your skin with this gel by Paula’s Choice and give it the love it deserves. The formula is concocted with AHA and glycolic acid that helps remove built-up layers of dead cells to replenish your skin’s texture and brighten the complexion. The gel-based solution evenly spreads across your skin and works its magic to give your face a youthful glow.

Image credit: Paula’s Choice

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA (Glycolic Acid) Gel IT COSMETICS Hello Results Baby-Smooth Glycolic Peel + Caring Oil

Give your skin a boost of hydration and nourishment by applying the Glycolic Acid Peel + Caring Oil from It Cosmetics. It’s a leave-on peel that gently exfoliates and hydrates your skin at the same time. The mix of botanical oils like argan oil and meadowfoam seed oil helps deeply nourish your skin to bring out its natural glow and keep it supple to the touch. 

Image credit: IT Cosmetics

IT COSMETICS Hello Results Baby-Smooth Glycolic Peel + Caring Oil BIOSSANCE Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Facial Mask

Incorporate BIOSSANCE’s Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Facial Mask into your skincare routine for refined, healthy-looking skin. The formula contains a melange of acids—malic, lactic, tartaric, and glycolic—that brightens your skin tone and minimises the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Besides, it also contains squalane and hyaluronic acid that provides balanced hydration, leaving your skin baby smooth and plump. 

Image credit: Biossance

BIOSSANCE Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Facial Mask Pixi Glow Tonic

Cleanse your face with the glycolic acid cleanser – Pixi Glow Tonic to achieve youthful-looking, healthy skin. This gentle toner contains 5% glycolic acid that helps wipe off dirt and excess sebum while removing dead skin cells. The solution is infused with red ginseng and aloe vera, which are known for their soothing properties. 

Image credit: Pixi Beauty

Pixi Glow Tonic DR. DENNIS GROSS Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

Powered by 5 AHA/BHAs, the universal daily peel by Dr. Dennis Gross is the ultimate cleanser and toner for those with combination skin. The 5 acids seamlessly take care of all skin issues, from refining pores to minimising fine lines. Besides, the solution has a soothing effect on the skin through the infusion of chamomile and green tea extracts. 

Image credit: Dr Dennis Gross

DR. DENNIS GROSS Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Dior Capture Youth New Skin Effect Enzyme Solution

The first step to getting younger-looking skin is to keep your skin hydrated and exfoliated. With Dior’s New Skin Effect Enzyme Solution, you get both benefits with a single swipe. This lightweight formula quickly penetrates your skin to remove dead cells and minimise the appearance dark spots or any other imperfection

Image credit: Dior

Dior Capture Youth New Skin Effect Enzyme Solution Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Skincare Night Serum

Packed with lactic, salicylic, tartaric, glycolic, and citric acids, this nourishing night serum by Drunk Elephant can transform your skin’s texture from drab to fab. The solution doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals and is gentle on the skin. It pulls out excess sebum from the pores and intensely hydrates the skin to keep it supple and fresh. 

Image credit: Drunk Elephant

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Skincare Night Serum Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator

The Retexturing Activator by Skinceuticals is an innovative solution that reinforces the skin’s barrier and intensely exfoliates the outer layer to bring out impurities and excess oil. The solution contains 20% glycolic acid that replenishes your skin and adds a natural lustre. The serum is oil-free and devoid of toxic chemicals.

Image credit: Skinceuticals

Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator

Frequently Asked Questions

Salicylic acid vs glycolic acid: What is the difference?

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s naturally derived from sugarcane. It’s a great exfoliant and helps shed off dead skin cells to brighten your skin tone and reduce fine lines. Glycolic acid does wonders on skin with hyperpigmentation or any skin imperfections.

On the other hand, salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) which is found in willow bark and wintergreen leaves. Like glycolic acid, this too is good for skin exfoliation. Salicylic acid is best to control oily skin and cleanse pores to reduce the growth of blackheads. It is known for its anti-inflammatory properties which helps heal acne breakouts quickly. 

What are the benefits of using glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid comprises tiny molecules that easily penetrate into your skin and gently exfoliate it to remove dead cells and improve the skin’s texture. It helps enhance your skin’s complexion and prevent the development of acne.

Lactic acid vs glycolic acid: What is the difference?

Both lactic acid and glycolic acid are AHAs that work as exfoliants to shed off dead cells. While lactic acid is found in milk, glycolic can be naturally extracted from sugar cane. The one difference between the two acids is that lactic acid is a bit gentler than glycolic acid and is hence recommended for extra sensitive skin.

How to use glycolic acid for hyperpigmentation?

If you wish to control hyperpigmentation, it’s best to use glycolic acid peels. They have been proven effective for removing dark spots and are also anti-inflammatory, which means they won’t irritate your skin.

Can I use glycolic acid with niacinamide?

It is not advisable to combine niacinamide with glycolic acid because of their varying pH levels. Niacinamide has a much higher pH level then glycolic acid and as a result, your skin might not be able to completely absorb it.

Can I use glycolic acid during pregnancy?

Glycolic acid is safe for use during pregnancy as pregnant women suffer from various skin concerns during the nine months. However, it is recommended that you limit the acid concentration to 7% or less. It is best to consult with your gynaecologist before you apply any glycolic acid-infused product. 

Do glycolic acid work for acne scars?

If used consistently, glycolic acid can prove to be an effective remedy for acne scars. Ideally, salicylic acid is regarded as a more effective solution to healing acne breakouts. 

Can I use glycolic acid and salicylic acid together?

Glycolic and salicylic acids are two potent exfoliants. If you apply them together, your skin might not be able to tolerate the reaction and lead to redness or irritation. In some cases, a pre-formulated blend of the acids might work. But it is best to consult a dermatologist or do a patch test to figure out if it’s safe for your skin.

How to recognise fake glycolic acid?

Since glycolic acid is an active ingredient, it might leave a slightly tingling sensation on your skin even if it’s well-adjusted. Besides, AHA/BHAs have a mildly sour, vinegary scent. If your glycolic acid smells rosy or somewhat fragrant like a perfume, then there are high chances that it’s a fake. 

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