Glycolic Acid: Everything You Need to Know, Plus the Best Products

glycolic acid

Discover the facts behind this year’s hottest skincare ingredient, plus find out the best products to buy now

Words Joy Montgomery

Acid skincare has been the hot topic on the lips of beauty editors this season. They might sound intimating (and conjure images of SATC’s Samantha Jones’ red visage) but these hero ingredients are now being incorporated into at-home products with impressive results.

Glycolic acid is one of the most highly-prized of the beauty acid family. Heralded for its complexion-smoothing, pigmentation-clearing abilities – it’s 2017’s answer to grainy exfoliators. We discover the facts behind this wonder product…


Glycolic acid is the smallest a-hydroxy acid (AHA) and is odourless, colourless and highly soluble in water. It is used in various skincare products due to its ability to penetrate the skin. It is often used as a chemical peel, performed by a dermatologist, in low concentrations (between 20% and 70%), but can also be found in home kits in 10% to 20% concentrations.


Skin acids work by dissolving the upper layer of cells to trigger repair. Once applied it reacts with the upper layer of the epidermis, weakening the binding properties that hold dead skin cells together. Because glycolic acid is the smallest of all the acids, it offers the best results. These include an improvement in the skin’s appearance and texture, reduction of fine lines, acne scarring and hyper pigmentation. It isn’t, however, effective for deep wrinkles.


Unlike retinoids (which repair skin by kick-starting inflammation) acids merely dissolve the upper layer of cells without being abrasive. This means that everyone, including those with sensitive skin, can use glycolic products. They are particularly good for those in their 20s and 30s, when fine lines and pigmentations are key issues.

If you are feeling tentative about trying an acid product then start by using a glycolic cleanser once a week and monitor your skin’s response. If it doesn’t feel uncomfortable then increase usage. A light tingling is normal – painful burning is not!

Six of the best glycolic acid products to try today

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