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 the best glycolic acid face washes available.
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 our favorite products at every price point.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2015.
InstaNatural Glycolic Cleanser
This cleanser is packed with lemon, sugar cane, willow bark, vitamin E and chamomile to create an oil-free product that is still nourishing for dehydrated skin.
$18.87 at Amazon
Jan Marini Bioglycolic Face Cleanser
No toner or astringent necessary after using this clarifying and gentle cream-based wash.
$38 at Jan Marini
Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Facial Cleanser
Vegan, fragrance and paraben-free, this wash can also be used as a purifying mask when left to dry on skin.
Available at Amazon
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
Aloe vera, ginseng and tasmanian pepperberry add to the glycolic acid in this cleansing toner from the brand with a cult-like following, The Ordinary.
$8.70 at The Ordinary
Anthony Glycolic Facial Cleanser
Vitamins A, C, and E pair with chamomile and aloe vera in this soothing, exfoliating cleanser.
Available at Amazon
Body Merry Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser
An exfoliating cleanser that brightens complexion with the help of kojic acid, jojoba, willow bark and plant oils.
Available at Amazon
Maderma Aqua Glycolic Facial Cleanser
This affordable cleanser is truly mighty. Great for acne-prone skin, this face wash goes on gently and leaves your skin feeling smooth. And bonus: if you get razor bumps, this cleanser will help reduce those, too.
$14 at Amazon
Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser
Formulated with herbal extract for soothing benefits, this foaming cleanser will leave your skin feeling radiant. This is amazing for dry skin, as it cleanses and hydrates without stripping skin of the natural oils it needs.
$16 at Amazon
Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser
Perfect for oily skin, this cleanser removes make up, dirt, and oil residue from the skin while helping restore it's natural pH. We especially love the oh-so-clean scent of this cleanser; it makes it a pleasure to use!
$33 at Amazon
SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser
SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser will leave your skin feeling fresh and conditioned. We use this in conjunction with a prescription retinoid to keep our complexions healthy and flake-free—which is just what we want!
$50 at Amazon
Peter Thomas Roth 3% Glycolic Solutions Cleanser
Packed with pro vitamin B5 and arginine, this face wash is amazing for anyone looking to combat fine lines and wrinkles.
$26 at Amazon