Active acids, like lactic, glycolic, hyaluronic, and salicylic, are becoming more and more popular in at-home skincare products. And, if you're interested, knowing what they are and what they do can make a big difference between a smooth, radiant complexion and irritated, over-exfoliated skin. The best glycolic acid lotions, for example, work by shedding dead skin cells to reveal smoother, brighter skin. Also, because they cause fewer side effects than other chemical exfoliators, glycolic acids (depending on the formula) are considered pretty gentle, which makes them perfect for everyday use on all skin types.
So what exactly are glycolic acids? Well, they fall into the category of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) because they are a derivative of sugarcane. When applied to the skin in tolerable amounts, they exfoliate, loosen, and clear the oil, dead skin cells, and debris that build up on the top layer of your skin. Additionally, glycolic acids stimulate the production of collagen and elastin in your skin, which accelerates healing and reduces discoloration.
When thinking about which glycolic cream might be best for you, look closely at the other ingredients included in the formula. Things like oils, vitamin E, and chamomile are great for dry or combination skin, while additions like antioxidants, salicylic acid, and citrus are great for more sensitive or acne-prone complexions. Below, you'll find six of the best glycolic acid lotions and creams that will leave you with your smoothest, softest skin ever.
1. Best For Dry Skin: Mario Badescu Glycolic Skin Renewal Complex
Perfect for drier skin types, Mario Badescu's Glycolic Skin Renewal Complex is an intensely hydrating and refreshing cream that also boasts the skin resurfacing power of glycolic acid. In addition, the formula contains a blend of papaya extract, honey, vitamin, E and vitamin A, which, while hydrating the skin overnight or during the day, both brighten and soothe dull, dry skin.
What fans say: "I use a retinol based product for my acne, so it leaves my skin very dry and noticeably flaky. Last year I got this cream at Ulta and it smoothed the flakes out from the first day I used it but I ran out last month. I found it on amazon and bought it again, since my skin became [extremely] dry again from the retinol and flakes were everywhere. I put it on last night and woke up with amazing smooth skin!"
2. Best For Oily Skin: Vichy Normaderm Anti-Aging Resurfacing Moisturizer
If you're looking for a glycolic acid cream that works for oily and/or acne-prone skin, try Vichy's Normaderm Anti-Aging Resurfacing Moisturizer. The formula is lightweight, non-sticky, and non-comedogenic, and it provides a matte finish that's perfect for complexions that tend to look shiny. Also, with its blend of glycolic acid, vitamin C, and LHA's, it targets imperfections by clearing away dead skin, unclogging pores, fighting and prevents breakouts, and refining the skin's texture.
What fans say: "I have used so many products over the years and I have to say, within 1 week of using this moisturizer, i am happier than I have ever been with a moisturizer! I am always worried about putting moisturizer on because my skin is so oily and I break out easily. Not the case at all with this -- my face honestly has never been smoother, my pores have shrank, my makeup is so even, i feel like I am glowing. if you're hesitant, don't be- give it a try."
3. Best For Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion
Believe it or not, glycolic acid (at certain concentrations) is perfectly safe for sensitive skin. As for glycolic acid lotions, Paula's Choice Skin Revealing 10% AHA Lotion is a great option for sensitive skin because its non-abrasive and contains skin-soothing ingredients, like Shea butter, and powerful antioxidants, like green tea. The 10 percent glycolic acid acts as a leave-on exfoliant that gently loosens and clears built-up layers of dead skin for a smoother, softer, and clearer complexion. The formula is also fragrance free and has an optimal pH range of 3.5–3.9, which protects your skin from any unwanted reactions or dryness. While this might technically be labeled as a "body lotion," reviewers love using it on their faces and necks as well.
What fans say: "I just got this product yesterday, and decided to try it out after a shower before bed. It tingled on the skin for a bit but the sensation quickly subsided. My skin felt nice, but I figured it would soak in and that would be that and my skin would go back to being my normal skin. Well, I woke up this morning and my skin felt like someone else’s skin... like the kind of skin that I always thought only genetics could give you. Five hours later, I still can’t [believe] this is my skin. I actually can’t wait to keep using this every day."
4. Best For Hyperpigmentation: NeoStrata Resurface High Potency Cream AHA 20
If you're not new to exfoliating acids, NeoStrata's Resurface High Potency Cream is the best way to step up the strength of your skincare's active ingredients while still providing your face with the moisture it needs to stay healthy and smooth. The high-strength formula, which is free of oils and fragrances, contains 18 percent glycolic acid, 2 percent lacto bionic acid, and vitamin E, which work to even out skin tone and fade discoloration and acne scars by turning over skin cells at a faster rate.
What fans say: "Probably one of the best products of its kind. If your skin isn't extremely sensitive, then I recommend it for anyone to incorporate into their skincare routine. I have dry, acne-prone skin that scars no matter how I treat my pimples, so I have some hyperpigmentation. I also have huge, easily clogged pores and stubborn sebaceous filaments on the sides of my nose... This stuff helps immensely with every problem mentioned above and then some. My skin tone is very even, the texture is gone, leaving my skin very smooth, and the breakouts are almost nonexistent; the pimples that do pop up are very short lived and barely any scarring is left behind, if any at all."
5. Best For Redness: Alpha Skin Care Essential Renewal 10% AHA Lotion
This popular glycolic acid lotion is seriously affordable and has a track record for helping minimize breakouts and redness. Formulated with 10 percent glycolic acid, this fragrance-free and paraben-free lotion won't be too harsh on sensitive skin. It's also packed with vitamin E which helps to brighten your complexion. In fact, this lotion has won over so many die-hard fans, that many Amazon reviewers call this their "holy grail" beauty product and say they've been using it for years.
What fans say: "I used to suffer from frequent breakouts and I would always have red spots, blemishes, left over from the acne once it healed. I tried this product almost 4 years ago, and a couple weeks after consistent use, my breakouts stopped and all the redness was gone. My skin has never looked more evenly toned. This stuff is amazing."
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This post was originally published on March 6th, 2018. It was updated and republished on June 25th, 2019. Additional reporting by Amy Biggart.
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