Achieve Your Smoothest, Most Radiant Skin Ever With This 1 Key Ingredient


There are so many acids floating around the skin care world — like salicylic, lactic, and hyaluronic, to name a few — but glycolic is undoubtedly one of the all-time best. Naturally derived from sugarcane, glycolic acid is made up of super-small molecules that easily penetrate skin for deep exfoliation. The best glycolic acid serums all have lightweight, fast-absorbing formulas (like any good serum should) and are balanced out by soothing and moisturizing ingredients to counteract any dryness or irritation. That said, finding the right one for you will largely depend on your skin type. To find out more about this powerhouse ingredient, I spoke with Dr. Loretta Ciraldo M.D. F.A.A.D., a Miami-based, board-certified dermatologist.

“Glycolic has two major effects on the skin,” Dr. Loretta tells Bustle. “First, it unglues cells from each other, so it helps to unclog pores, minimize acne, and lessen excess pigment stored in dead [skin] cells. The second benefit is that it seems to increase collagen production."

Although you might be tempted to overdo it on this miracle ingredient, ignore that impulse. Glycolic acid can be irritating, but particularly to people with sensitive skin. Dr. Loretta recommends gradually building up your tolerance by applying your serum every other night for the first week, following it up with something soothing and rehydrating, then regrouping from there. Glycolic acid can also make your skin more photosensitive, so apply it only at night and slather on sunscreen the morning after. It should also be abundantly clear that you shouldn’t layer it on with other potentially irritating products at first, like retinol and high concentrations of vitamin C.

With that in mind, scroll on for four of the best glycolic acid serums you can get on Amazon, plus a tub of glycolic facial pads (Dr. Loretta’s vehicle of choice) for your smoothest, most radiant skin ever.

Editor's note: Interested in more products with glycolic acid? Then check out these glycolic acid toners and glycolic acid lotions.

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The Best Budget Glycolic Acid Serum

This serum from L'Oréal Paris costs just over $20 — a reasonable price for any serum, let alone a serum so effective. Reviewers confirm that a nightly dose of this drugstore serum made their skin look clearer and feel smoother, evening out any inconsistencies in their complexion's tone and texture along the way. This contains 10% glycolic acid, which is among the highest concentrations you’ll find in an over-the-counter serum, but aloe is also included in the formula to provide some calming and soothing effects.

The Best Premium Glycolic Acid Serum

This Glytone Enhance Brightening Serum contains everything you could ever need for brighter, smoother skin. In addition to glycolic acid, this professional-grade serum features azelaic acid, which has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as hyaluronic acid for stimulating collagen production and encouraging moisture retention. Despite its potency, reviewers with sensitive skin say it worked well for them. Others report a change in their skin’s overall appearance as soon as the next morning. Well worth the $74 price tag.

The Best Glycolic Acid Serum For Sensitive Skin

If you have very sensitive skin, anything by La-Roche Posay should work well for you — this beloved French pharmacy brand specializes in creating gentle but high-performing products made especially for reactive skin types. In addition to glycolic acid, this Effaclar serum features lipohydroxy acid, a gentler chemical exfoliant that’s especially useful for clearing breakouts. Hyaluronic acid and the brand’s signature thermal water contribute to this serum’s fluid consistency and refreshing feel. Even though this glycolic acid serum is the safest bet for sensitive skin, it’s still potent. I.e.: Not an excuse to skimp on your morning-after SPF.

Another Great, Budget-Friendly Pick

All glycolic acid products are ideal for achieving a more even complexion, but this $23 Bliss serum is packed with even more active ingredients that work overtime to boost your skin's radiance. After glycolic acid, polyhydroxy acid is the star ingredient here: It’s an AHA that’s less irritating than glycolic, but it’s similarly useful for helping restore elastin and collagen. Exfoliating fruit acids feature heavily in this vegan formula, too. And you’ll find lots of skin-soothers to counteract any irritation, like squalane, aloe, and oat kernel oil.

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Dr. Loretta okay’d glycolic acid serums, though she recommends getting your daily (or every-other-day) dose of glycolic acid in pad form. “Pads give you the closest experience to an in-office glycolic micro-peel that you would get at the dermatologist's office,” she explains. Pads are even easier to apply (and travel with), too: Just swipe and go. I’m partial to these First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads. They’re soaked in both glycolic acid and lactic acid, the latter of which gives you all the same exfoliating, toning, and smoothing powers of glycolic, though with a more soothing feel.


Dr. Loretta Ciraldo M.D. F.A.A.D., a Miami-based board certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare.