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Glycolic acid isn’t something you want to use willy nilly. This deep-penetrating, fast-acting, pore-reducing, and skin-brightening alpha-hydroxy acid requires a certain level of caution. It comes in serums, toners, pads, and creams with concentrations anywhere between 1% and 10%. When things start to sound cosmeceutical rather than simply cosmetical, it becomes difficult to find drugstore glycolic acid products that are both effective and affordable.
Some of them will definitely let you down. But there are great drugstore glycolic acid products that work just as well as the more expensive options you can buy from Sephora.
Glycolic acid is the golden child of exfoliants. It’s an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that exfoliates the top layer of the skin by loosening the bond between the dead skin cells.
By removing the top layer of the skin, it increases luminosity, radiance, and clarity. It’s also a great anti-aging ingredient that increases cell turnover.
You can use glycolic acid to tackle several skin issues. It can reduce acne, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. But if you’re a beginner, there are things you need to keep in mind.
Glycolic acid increases sun sensitivity. So, be careful around the sun and remember to use SPF daily. Don’t mix glycolic acid with other products in your routine if they also contain acids or retinoids.
Also, whichever glycolic product you use, start using it 2 times a week at first. It can cause sensitivity. So it’s important to go slow and build up a tolerance.
From toners to cleansers, below are the best drugstore glycolic acid products you can rely on.
Best Toner: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
This toner has made glycolic acid available for anyone and it does deliver results! The deep penetrating formula removes dead skin and eliminates flakiness. It refines the skin texture and gives you a smoother and definitely more radiant complexion.
As glycolic acid can be irritating, the toner also contains aloe and botanicals to soothe the skin. Use cotton wipes to smear the toner all over and let glycolic acid do its thing.
Best Peel Pads: E.l.f. SuperBrighten Peel Pads
If you prefer your glycolic acid pre-soaked in cotton pads, these are the ones to wipe your face with. The peel pads are super gentle on the skin.
And they contain anti-inflammatory witch hazel as well as energizing citrus fruit extracts. They’ll help revive dull skin and increase skin clarity. Plus, you get 45 pads for $10!
Best Mask: Versed Doctor’s Visit Instant Resurfacing Mask
Exfoliating masks come in handy when you’re new to hydroxy acids. And this mask is a great way to introduce AHAs to your skin to build tolerance. It’s formulated with two AHAs; glycolic and lactic. And it has salicylic acid from the beta-hydroxy acids family as well, which helps with acne and inflammation.
In addition, papaya and pineapple enzymes enhance the resurfacing action as they are natural exfoliants. The formula helps with hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores dullness, and blackheads. Use the glycolic acid mask as part of your weekly at-home beauty treatment.
Best Cleanser: L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives 3.5% Glycolic Acid Cleansing Gel
A glycolic acid cleanser is a great way to stop congestion in its tracks. You exfoliate daily without giving your pores a chance to get clogged. This cleanser washes away the day’s dirt, makeup, as well as skin flakes to leave the complexion clean and clear. It helps with stubborn scars and textured skin.
But it’s extra helpful if your skin is prone to milia, tiny bumps of trapped dead skin cells. Keep in mind that you need to start slowly when you’re a newbie. A cleanser is to be used twice daily. Using an exfoliating cleanser twice a day may be too much if you’re a beginner.
Best Serum: Pixi Overnight Glow Serum
This one is a potent glycolic acid serum that has a concentration of 10%! It’s anti-aging, anti-acne, and anti-pigmentation. It’s an overall hardworking serum to smooth out the skin, reduce the look of wrinkles and pores, and even out the skin tone. While glycolic acid exfoliates, retinyl palmitate -a retinol ester- stimulates skin turnover.
The combination of vitamin C and vitamin E gives the skin a daily dose of antioxidants against free radicals. And to reduce potential sensitivity, the glycolic acid serum contains soothing aloe and cucumber. This one is a great option to target multiple skincare concerns.
Best Deal: Bliss AM/PM Serum Duo
Each of these serums is a super effective product on its own and is worth $25. But the mini kit is a great way to try out glycolic acid in serum form. The set contains the two essentials that’ll dominate both your AM and PM routine. The daily serum contains vitamin B3 (niacinamide) as well as hyaluronic acid to boost hydration and radiance. It also has soothing aloe and nourishing vitamin E.
The glycolic acid night serum contains gluconolactone, which is a polyhydroxy acid that gently exfoliates but also hydrates. The added fruit acids work as natural exfoliants to amplify the effects. The duo pairs very well. They nourish in the morning and renew in the evening. Plus, it’s super affordable!
Best For Body: Alpha Skin Care Revitalizing Body Lotion
A glycolic acid body lotion is life-saving when you have dry skin and skin flakes all over. It also helps with keratosis pilaris, which are tiny bumps that usually appear on the arms and thighs.
They’re usually the result of dead skin cells building up and clogging your hair follicles. The lotion removes the outermost layer of the skin with every use. As a result, it gives your body a smoother skin texture free of flakiness and rough patches.
Best Cream: A’Pieu Glycolic Acid Cream
Last but not least, this is a Korean glycolic acid cream you can use daily as an exfoliating moisturizer. It’s made with 3% glycolic acid and 0.5% salicylic acid to peel off the dead skin layer and unclog pores. The AHA&BHA combination is perfect for keeping oiliness in check while reducing acne and congestion.
The cream also contains niacinamide and panthenol (vitamin B5) to calm the skin and support the skin barrier. You can grab this one from the nearest Walmart. Exactly, we won’t admit we buy skincare from Walmart. But we all know that place is brimming with under-the-radar gems. You’re not alone. See the video from The Onion below for a good laugh before you add your new go-to drugstore glycolic acid product to your cart.