What Are The Best Exfoliants With Glycolic Acid?

by Gio
5 best glycolic acid exfoliants

I know I sound like a broken record sometimes. But Glyolic Acid IS the best way to exfoliate dry skin. 

Here’s the deal: most exfoliants are one trick ponies. They get those dead skin cells off your body and that’s it.

Glycolic Acid goes TWO steps further:

  1. It exfoliates skin, fading dark spots and imperfections
  2. It hydrates skin
  3. It boosts the production of skin-firming collagen (when used in 10% or higher concentrations)

Show me another exfoliant that can do all that. Told ya!

Glycolic Acid is a powerful weapon. Like all powerful weapons, it can backfire. If you use too much too soon, you’ll get a bad irritation!

The trick is to start with a small concentration twice a week and build up both dose and frequency gradually (for the best way to use it, check out my Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid). If you have sensitive skin, you may not be able to use it all, sorry!

All good? Great. Now that you know why and how to use it, here are my fave products with Glycolic Acid:

Best Glycolic Acid Exfoliant For Dry Skin: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion ($29.00)

Glycolic Acid is made for dry skin but if I had to choose only one product for it, I’d pick Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion. It’s because of its texture. It’s lightweight yet emollient and helps keep dry skin well-hydrated during the day. Plus, like all Paula’s Choice products, it has plenty of antioxidants and soothing agents to prevent premature wrinkles and calm down irritations. Oh, it’s fragrance-free, too!

Available at: Dermstore, Feel Unique, and Paula’s Choice

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin

drunk elephant tlc framboos glycolic night serum

Best Glycolic Acid Exfoliant For Acne-Prone Skin: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00)

If you got dry skin with blackheads, whiteheads, and the occasion pimple, you need Salicylic Acid. It’s an exfoliant that can get inside your pores and remove all excess oil and other gunk that’s clogging them up. Bye bye breakouts! But that doesn’t mean you can’t let Glycolic Acid join in on the fun. You just need an exfoliant that has both.

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum fits the bills to a T. It has 1% Salicylic Acid to keep your skin blemish-free and 12% Glycolic Acid to deal with wrinkles, dark spots and sun damage. Plus, it’s also loaded with anti-irritants that can soothe the redness Glycol Acid sometimes causes. Ands, antioxidants to keep wrinkles away. It literally has everything your skin needs.

Available at: Cult BeautySephora and SpaceNKS

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is The Key To A Blemish-Free Complexion

Confused about The Ordinary? Click on the image below to subscribe to my newsletter and get “The Ordinary Products Guide” Cheatsheet. It’ll help your choose the right Vitamin C serum, the right retinoid serum, and more from this affordable brand:

Best Glycolic Acid Exfoliant For Dark Spots: Paula’s Choice Resist Triple-Action Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA Lotion ($27.00)

Paula’s Choice Resist Triple-Action Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA Lotion contains THREE skin-lightening agents: Glycolic Acid, Hydroquinone and Kojic Acid. Glycolic Acid works by speeding up cellular turnover. In other words, it gets rid of the darker, damaged cells on the surface of your skin so that the healthier, more even-toned ones underneath can finally come to the fore. Kojic Acid and Hydroquinone inhibit the production of melanin, the pigment that darkens your skin.

One word of warning: Hydroquinone doesn’t cause cancer and all the other nasty things Auntie Google says it will. BUT, if you have dark skin, it COULD cause ochronosis (put simply, it gives skin a bluish colour). Hydroquinone is also best used in 4 months cycles (ex: 4 months Hydroquinone, 4 months Azelaic Acid, then back to Hydroquinone for 4 more months). I know, it’s a pain, but if this serum can’t fade your dark spots, then you need prescription meds.

Available at: Dermstore, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice

Related: Myths About Hydroquinone, Debunked!

the ordinary glycolic acid toning solution

Best Glycolic Acid Exfoliant On A Budget: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£6.80)

Who said you need to spend a small fortune to get your exfoliating fix?  The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is dirty cheap but packs a powerful punch. It has enough Glycol Acid to do the job well and is packed with soothings agents to tame the irritation that sometimes comes along with Glycolic Acid. Did I mention it’s a dupe for Pixi Glow?

Available at: Beauty BayCult Beauty and Feel Unique

Related: Are They Dupes?: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution VS Pixi Glow

Best Glycolic Acid Exfoliant For Your Body: Paula’s Choice Skin Revealing Body Lotion 10% AHA ($28.00)

Glycolic Acid ain’t just for your face. Your body needs its fix, too. I know, I know, winter is coming and your body will be covered under layers of clothing. But, YOU will still see it every day. If your skin gets too rough and dull, answer its cry for help and exfoliate it. When summer rolls around again, your skin will be ready. 🙂 Not to mention, if you use a self-tanner, exfoliation will make it go on much more smoothly.

Sadly, there aren’t too many Glycol Acid exfoliants for the body out there. Paula’s Choice Skin Revealing Body Lotion 10% AHA is one of the few options – and a great one at that! It’s also loaded with Shea Butter to moisturise, antioxidants to prevent wrinkles and soothing agents to calm down inflammation. It’s like 3 products in 1!

Available at: Dermstore and Paula’s Choice

What do you think are the best glycolic acid exfoliants? Share your picks in the comments below.



Maya September 13, 2017 - 1:39 pm

Love these products! I’m using Paula’s Choice 5% daily AHA, my skin is reacting well to it. Should I switch it over to the 8%? Is it better to exfoliate once or twice a week at a higher concentration or 3-4 time at a lower one? Thank you!! 🙂

Gio September 17, 2017 - 8:04 am

Maya, I love both exfoliants. I always recommend people start with the 5% a couple of times a week and switch to the 8% after a couple of months if they don’t experience any problems. You can start again with once or twice a week and then build up to 3/4,

Liberty September 14, 2017 - 12:22 am

Great post! I am a big fan of paula’s choice best products by far!

Gio September 17, 2017 - 8:05 am

Liberty, I totally agree!

Amy September 22, 2017 - 4:08 am

Alpha Skin Care Revitalizing Body Lotion Is a good aha body lotion. 12% glycolic acid and it’s sold at Ulta!

Gio September 23, 2017 - 7:43 pm

Amy, thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

Kathleen October 9, 2019 - 6:27 pm

Amy & Gio, I like so many of the Alpha Skin Care products. They also have a glycolic acid & hydroquinone cream. Less $$ than Paula’s Choice. The Ordinary 7% glycolic is a winner, too!

kate October 28, 2017 - 5:09 pm

The ordinary is now very popular in thailand also. all of product from the ordinary is now boom in thailand. but i haven’t try any item of them yet.

Gio November 5, 2017 - 5:15 pm

Kate, you should. They’re very good and so cheap. 🙂

Kathy November 17, 2017 - 12:50 am

I love the Drunk Elephant Framboos Glycolic serum but not the price. My skin is on the oily side, any other suggestions?

Gio November 26, 2017 - 2:27 pm

Kathy, I hear ya! I love Drunk Elephant but I wish it were cheaper too. The reason I recommend it for oily skin is because it’s one of the few products I know that has both glycolic acid and salicylic acid. Imo, if you have oily skin and have to choose between the two, go with salicylic. But if you want to use both, you can buy two separate products. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid and Glycolic Toning Solution are a cheap way to incorporate both into your skincare routine.

Sha June 2, 2018 - 11:35 pm

Hmm Gio, I know this is an old post, but I still have some questions about glycolic acid. I am an 18 y/o trying to improve her skin texture, so I have been thinking of chemical exfoliants (I have normal to combination skin). I am quite worried about using glycolic acid because I heard it can only thicken skin and boost collagen production (not that I really care for this quality at the moment) when it’s concentration is above 10%. So I’m scared that if I use any lower than that I’m going to thin my skin (having thin, photosensitive skin is a nightmare if you live in a tropical country like myself even if you wear sunscreen) without any long term benefits. Can you help to clarify this matter for me?

Gio June 8, 2018 - 1:43 pm

Sha, glycolic acid thins shin at the beginning and thickens it in the long run. That’s why it’s recommended to wear sunscreen every single day if you use glycolic acid. Most exfoliants will thin your skin at first though as they work by removing a layer of dead cells. Just use once or twice a week (at your age, you don’t need much more) and wear sunscreen in the morning and you’ll be fine.

Echo January 9, 2020 - 12:08 am

I’m 28 and starting to see fine lines around my eyes and mouth. They don’t bother me yet but I’d love to keep them from getting more noticeable and very interested in starting to use glycolic acid as an exfoliant. I was looking at the 7% Ordinary Toning Solution but I read somewhere that glycolic acid needs to be 10% free to be effective to boost collagen? Is this true and if so what does the “free” part mean?

Gio January 16, 2020 - 5:46 pm

Echo, yes it’s true you need 10%. That’s a very difficult concentration to find in skincare products – especially because the concentration on the packaging isn’t always the right one.

Glycolic acid is pH dependant. The Ordinary uses 7% glycolic acid at a ph of 3.5-3.7. This means that 4.4% survives at this pH. This is what they mean with free.

Glycolic acid is a good exfoliant, but if you want it to boost collagen, you’re better off going for peels at your dermatologist every 3/4 months.


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