About four years ago, if anyone had told me I would have any acid serums as part of my skincare routine, I would have laughed so hard and told them they had to be out of their minds. Me! Mess with acids? No, thank you. I still love to have my face all in one piece! Even the names were scary (I mean, doesn’t the word glycolic acid sound a little intimidating?) Unknown to me, all my fears were unfounded and rooted in a lack of information. It wasn’t until I met a hero aesthetician who told me all the fantastic benefits of acid serums and what my skin was missing because of my unfounded fears that I decided to give glycolic acid a try.
Today, I am happy to say that I’m a glycolic acid convert, and I want to share with you the best glycolic acid serums for your skin to get rid of those annoying scars, acne, wrinkles and achieve that extra glow. But first, if you’re a starter, let’s take a look at what glycolic acid is and why you should include it in your skincare regimen.
What is glycolic acid and how does it work?
Glycolic acid is one of the most potent skincare actives, known for its exfoliating effects. It’s a type of alpha hydroxyl acid (AHA) derived from sugarcane, and it’s an all-time favorite for most dermatologists when it comes to fighting breakouts and wrinkles. A powerful exfoliant, glycolic acid contains specific properties that, according to the board-certified dermatologist of Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York, Dr. Jessica Krant, help to “separate the connection between skin cells in the outer layers of the skin and promotes exfoliation. In this way, it can speed up cell turnover and bring fresher younger cell to the surface.”
This acid penetrates deeply into your skin to remove dead skin cells, help make the skin firmer, and restores a more even skin tone by boosting collagen production. In fact, “Glycolic acid stimulates fibroblasts in the dermis to produce increased amounts of collagen,” says Kenneth Howe, MD, a dermatologist at Wexter Dermatology in New York City. One ingredient that does so much! If I’d only knew it before…
Are there any side effects when using glycolic acid serums?
Your skin type plays a considerable role in this matter. Sensitive skin or a dry one might get easily irritated. Hence, if this is your case, you should do a spot test on a small area of your skin before using it on your face. Also, due to its exfoliating effects, it can make your skin photosensitive, so always apply sunscreen (at least 30 SPF) while using a glycolic acid serum to prevent sun damage. If your skin is not protected against sun rays, you might get the opposite effect and develop sunspots, premature aging, and hyperpigmentation — a BIG no, no.
10 Best AHA Serums with Glycolic Acid
So, either you want to get rid of these annoying scars, fight acne or reduce wrinkles, these are the best glycolic acid serums you can choose from right now. Enjoy!
1. Murad Vitamin C Glycolic Brightening Serum
It’s true that every glycolic acid serum brightens to some degree, but this particular one is in a class of its own when it comes to giving your skin that revitalizing glow. Suitable for all skin types, this powerhouse serum has proven to be useful also in hydrating the skin and smoothening out wrinkles thanks to the rice and yeast amino acids, peptides, and castor oil addition. It reduces the layers of dead skin cells, often the culprits of acne, blackheads, and dark spots. Plus, the patented resorcinol technology and tranexamic acid work together to soothe, even out tone, and brighten.
2. ISDIN Night Peel Glycolic Acid Serum
If you are in search of a glycolic acid serum that deeply hydrates the skin, supporting and improving the skin’s barrier function while stimulating exfoliation in superficial skin cells, this product is for you. It has a proven track record of reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles with its hydrating properties — thanks to the tartaric acid — to reveal a softer and more radiant complexion. While the glycolic, malic and tartaric acids help remove dead cells buildup, vitamin C will act as an antioxidant, protecting against free radicals damage. Found in ampoules, this serum is pretty powerful, providing your skin with highly concentrated active ingredients. It’s that quick booster your skin needs!
3. Sesderma Aglicolic Serum
A must-have if you want to look forever young. It’s a versatile, all-rounder anti-aging product that hydrates, moisturizes, boosts cell renewal, and banishes fine lines and wrinkles with multiple types of ceramides and hyaluronic acid. It also includes antioxidants — vit C and soybean seed extract — that have skin regenerating and protective roles. So if you have been fighting a losing battle with hyperpigmentation and other skin woes caused by free radicals, it’s time to add this serum to your skincare routine.
4. La Roche Posay Glycolic and B5 Serum
This one goes just perfect for aging and hyperpigmented skin. It combines 10% pure glycolic with tranexamic and kojic acids and vitamin B5 to reveal brighter and even skin while reducing dark spots. The lightweight formula gets quickly absorbed in the skin, leaving a perfect canvas for moisturizer application in your PM skincare routine. Enjoy!
5. Bliss Renew and Smooth Night Serum
This gentle but super effective resurfacing night serum is a superhero product that visibly transforms dull and wrinkled skin to brighter and smoother overnight. It contains a blend of glycolic acid, fruit acids, and polyhydroxy acids to gently exfoliate dead skin cells and retain sufficient skin moisture without causing any irritation. Squalane, vitamin C, and a rich blend of botanical extracts will leave your skin protected and hydrated at once. It’s great at treating large skin pores, fading acne scars, and improving the overall skin texture in just a matter of days!
6. SkinCeuticals C + AHA
You aim for daytime antioxidant protection and exfoliation? If so, you might want to check this out. It’s got a mix of 15% vitamin C to neutralize free radicals, 10% AHAs (glycolic and lactic acids) to improve skin texture, plus glycerin and HA to hydrate. It checks all the boxes for skin protection and renewal, making a great addition to all skin types routines.
7. Tree to Tub All-In-One Night Serum
If your skin is on the sensitive side and want your glycolic acid serum to work while you sleep, look no further. Tree to Tub made this fabulous serum infused with nourishing ingredients, such as B5, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, retinol, vitamin C, aloe vera, tea tree, to name a few. And it’s all vegan, cruelty-free, working for all skin types!
8. Pixi Beauty Glow Tonic Serum
A delicate daily defoliant that works wonders for dry skin types. It plumps and even out skin tones while gently soothing skin inflammations, acne, and breakouts. For well purified and naturally glowing skin, this product should be included in your skincare regimen. It boosts your natural luminosity and infuses the skin with beneficial nutrients, such as cucumber fruit extract, aloe leaf, vitamin C, and arginine needed to achieve a balanced complexion, restore radiance and defend against free radicals. Armed with the Pixi Glow Tonic Serum, you can finally say goodbye to hyperpigmentation, blackheads, fine lines, and wrinkles!
9. Cos De BAHA Glycolic Acid 10% Serum
If you’re into natural skincare, you should know that this glycolic acid serum is made with 78% organic ingredients! Presuming you’re fighting acne, hyperpigmentation, dull skin, or uneven skin tone, this facial peel serum provides a one-time solution to all these problems. Rich in ingredients like glycolic, aloe leaf extract, arginine, and propanediol, it helps to smoothen scars, improve skin elasticity, remove dead skin cells and enhance skin hydration. And it’s so, so affordable!
10. QRxLabs Glycolic Acid Renewal Serum
Have you got some stubborn sunspots that don’t seem to budge no matter what facial peels you use? Or you want a skincare product that’s completely free of artificial fragrances, coloring ingredients, and guarantees healthier-looking skin? This serum might be that one! With a unique combination of AHAs (glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, and tartaric acids from natural sources), it proved to significantly fade dark sunspots, reduce signs of premature aging and refine that uniform skin tone you’ve always wanted.
Got questions about glycolic acid?
- Can I use glycolic acid every day?
Depending on your skin type, the concentration of glycolic acid in your product, and your skin sensitivity, you may or may not use glycolic acid every day. However, it's considered OK to daily use glycolic acid in concentrations of 1-2% if it's about a rinse-off product, like a cleanser. Creams containing 5-10% glycolic acid may also be used daily if your skin tolerates it, but on the safe side, three times a week will do. It's best to start with a low concentration of glycolic acid and gradually increase it while your skin gets used to it.
- Am I too young for glycolic acid?
Again, your skin type matters and how sensitive it is, or if you have any underlying medical conditions that would react badly with glycolic acid products. It also depends on the concentration of glycolic acid. Youngers should aim for soft cleansers or toners with glycolic acid and avoid chemical peels — they don't need it anyway. However, if you are in doubt, consult a derm.
- What shouldn't you mix with glycolic acid?
Because the exfoliating effect caused by glycolic acid usually leaves behind dryness and increased skin sensitivity, it's best not to mix it with other heavy ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C, or salicylic acid. Retinol and salicylic acid are both peeling agents, like glycolic acid, and when used together, they can over-exfoliate and damage the skin. On the bright side, it's good to use hydrating agents, such as hyaluronic acid, together with glycolic acid. Basically, anything that hydrates and keeps the skin from drying out is great.
- What percentage of glycolic acid is safe but also effective?
Usually, glycolic acid in 5-10% concentrations is ideal for most skin types and should not cause significant adverse effects. However, if it's your first time with glycolic acid, don't rush and start slowly with low concentrations. Once your skin feels used to it, you can go for heavier products.
- Can you leave glycolic acid overnight?
Depending on your type of product, you can leave or not glycolic acid on the skin overnight. If we're talking about a peeling product, by no means you should leave it overnight. But as long as you use glycolic acid in a serum or cream, it definitely can be worn all night without an issue. These products usually contain ingredients to counteract the possible drying or irritating effects of glycolic acid.
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