We can invest in all the foundation, highlighters and contouring products that we want—but the truth is, if we don’t have a solid base to start from, our favorite makeup can’t do its thing. When it comes to getting glowy (but not oily), flake-free, youthful skin, glycolic acid is where it is at—and incorporating it into your routine is a easy as washing your face.
Here’s everything you need to know about this skin essential—as well as our guide to finding the right GA product for you.
What is glycolic acid?
Glycolic acid is the smallest molecule in the alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) family—and due to its small size, it penetrates the skin cells easier. As an AHA, glycolic acid naturally exfoliates the skin by removing dead skin cells and allows new, radiant skin cells to grow in place. It’s also an important anti-aging ingredient, as it’s been shown to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It’s also great for those prone to excess oil, as it cleanses and exfoliates without stripping the skin.
How does it work?
Though it can be found in facial cleansers, peels, and creams, a glycolic facial cleanser is the best way to sneak this ingredient into your daily beauty routine—you wash your face every day, after all, so it’s more likely you’ll get reliable results from this ingredient. Plus, since you don’t leave cleanser on your skin for a long period of time, you won’t experience any of the major side-effects of glycolic acid—redness, soreness, peeling—that a GA-rich serum or peel would potentially leave you with. The quick and easy application of a glycolic acid face wash will leave your skin feeling brand new.
Okay, so which face wash is right for me?
We’re glad you asked! Click through for five of our favorite products at every price point.
Originally published November 2015. Updated July 2017.