The best glycolic acid serums are skin saviors that can tackle a wide array of concerns, from fine lines and wrinkles to dullness, uneven tone, and breakouts. And that’s why everyone is crazy about them.
About four years ago, if anyone had told me I would have any acid serums as part of my skincare routine, I wouldn’t believe it. Unknown to me, all my fears were unfounded and rooted in a lack of information. It wasn’t until I met my hero aesthetician who told me all the fantastic benefits of glycolic acid serums and what my skin was missing from not using one. So I decided to give it a try, and guess what? It didn’t take more than two products to convert me into a glycolic acid addict. The results were amazing, which is why today I want to share with you the best glycolic acid serums you can use to tackle all your skin concerns. But before we go to the good bit, here is a bit of theory for the uninitiated.
What is glycolic acid?
How glycolic acid works
Glycolic acid is like a super-charged exfoliator. It works by accelerating the process of shedding old skin cells and revealing new, healthier ones. But what sets glycolic acid apart is its tiny molecular size. This allows it to penetrate deeper into the skin. Once there, it gives a boost to fibroblasts, the cells responsible for producing collagen. Collagen is like the skin’s scaffolding, providing structure and bounce. So, by stimulating collagen production, glycolic acid makes the skin more elastic and firm.
More than that, glycolic acid has a unique ability to draw moisture from the surrounding environment and lock it into the skin. This not only hydrates the skin but also smooths out fine lines. Given all these benefits, it’s no wonder that dermatologists and skincare lovers alike swear by glycolic acid serums as a staple in their beauty routines.
How to use glycolic acid serum
Since alpha-hydroxy acids make the skin photosensitive, it’s best to apply your glycolic acid serum in your nighttime routine. After cleansing and toning, layer glycolic acid serum and follow with an occlusive moisturizer to seal moisture into your skin. By applying occlusives after glycolic acid you reduce chances of experiencing dry skin, especially if you live in a low-humidity area. If it’s your first time using glycolic acid, start with a low concentration (<5%) and gradually increase as your skin builds tolerance. Use it no more than two-three times a week if you have sensitive skin.
Our favorite glycolic acid serums
Whether your goal is to minimize wrinkles, get rid of dark spots, or fight dullness or pimples, the glycolic acid serums here will get the job done.
1. Murad Vitamin C Glycolic Brightening Serum
Murad made this serum with glycolic acid and vitamin C, a winning duo for addressing uneven tone. These two actives work on different fronts to give you luminous skin: while glycolic acid eliminates pigmented cells, vitamin C hinders the production of melanin responsible for dark spots. Additionally, the formula is loaded with lactic acid and glutathione, two other powerful skin brighteners to diminish dark patches and reveal brighter skin. Bonus points as the product is void of fragrance, drying alcohol, and parabens and has a light texture that absorbs immediately without leaving sticky residues.
2. Sesderma Aglicolic Serum
This serum is an all-rounder packed with 6% glycolic acid to boost cell renewal, smoothing the look of fine lines and wrinkles and firming the skin. There are also ceramides and cholesterol, which have a key role in reinforcing skin integrity and helping retain moisture, while vitamin C supports collagen and diminishes dark spots. Its gel-like texture layers nicely with other serums and moisturizers, a special boon for those who like to mix and match.
3. La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 Serum
La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 is one of the best glycolic acid serums for hyperpigmented skin or whoever wants to maintain a luminous and hydrated complexion. That’s because it’s made with a 10% mix of glycolic acid, tranexamic acid, and lipohydroxy acid to help reduce dark spots and discoloration and reveal an evener tone. I’m also pointing out that this glycolic acid serum is gentle enough for sensitive skin, and the non-comedogenic formula can be safely used on oily and breakout-prone skin.
4. Pixi Beauty Glow Tonic Serum
Pixi created a gentle daily defoliant with glycolic acid and retinyl palmitate to boost skin renewal and produce more collagen for radiant skin. Additionally, two forms of vitamin C brighten dark spots and post-acne marks, while cucumber and aloe leaf extracts replenish hydration and ensure your skin feels smooth and moist.
5. Peter Thomas Roth Resurfacing Serum
Combining a generous amount of 15% glycolic acid with 1.5% encapsulated retinol, this milky serum is your ticket to smooth, radiant, and clear skin. While the formula might sound a little intimidating, it actually suits sensitive skin—a lot of reviewers with sensitive skin attest to it, claiming they didn’t get irritated from using this product. To counteract the possible drying effects, the serum is loaded with niacinamide, vitamin E, squalane, and ceramides, all of which soothe and balance the complexion.
6. Allies Of Skin Goals Multi Acids & Probiotics Perfecting Serum
Here’s a do-it-all serum that works the night shift to help reduce hyperpigmentation, unclog pores, strengthen the skin, and restore hydration. Due to a generous blend of acids, including glycolic acid, pyruvic acid, salicylic acid, and polyhydroxy acid (PHA), the serum exfoliates the skin and decongest pores while speeding up cell renewal. In the long run, this leads to refined pores, improved tone and texture, and glowy, radiant skin — briefly, the #goals.
7. Glo Skin Beauty Renew Serum
This serum vows to give gentle exfoliation in order to renew the skin and leave it brighter and clearer when used in the long run. This is possible thanks to a blend of glycolic acid and salicylic acid but also due to the addition of retinol and retinyl propionate, which spur collagen growth and speed up cell turnover. And because the witch hazel water base has soothing, anti-inflammatory, and pore-refining properties, this trifecta of perks adds up to more balanced, luminous skin. Must mention that this product does not address extremely sensitive skin.
8. Bliss Renew and Smooth Night Serum
This resurfacing serum infused with glycolic acid is serious business when it comes to smoothing and refining the skin due to a slew of acids, among which glycolic acid, PHA, and four other naturally occurring AHAs. It works while you sleep to gradually dissolve dead cells and encourage the skin to renew, visibly transforming dull skin to brighter, evener, and softer. There’s also squalane to hinder moisture loss, plus aloe leaf juice and glycerin, two potent humectants that add water to the epidermis for a plumper look.
9. SkinCeuticals C + AHA
When a serum contains 15% L-ascorbic acid (pure form of vitamin C) and 10% glycolic and lactic acids, you know you’ve got a potent skin brightener that improves texture and minimizes dark spots. Due to glycerin and sodium hyaluronate, the serum doesn’t let the skin get dehydrated, checking all the boxes to be a favorite in your routine. This serum was made with aging signs and acne-prone skin in mind, but anyone can use it, really.
10. Alpha-H Liquid Gold Midnight Reboot Serum
This is the best serum with glycolic acid for those who want to fight aging signs. In addition to 14% glycolic acid, the formula boasts 1% granactive retinoid and tripeptide to soften fine lines and wrinkles while helping induce collagen production for a bouncy look. A pea-sized amount goes a long way since the consistency is rich yet lightweight enough to get absorbed in an instant without ever feeling sticky.
11. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
This cult-favorite serum combines 10% glycolic, lactic, and citric acids with 1% salicylic acid, promising to exfoliate dead cells and resurface for brighter and smoother skin with less visible pores. Moreover, thanks to a mix of natural plant and oil extracts, the serum also nourishes and preserves moisture, while sodium hyaluronate promotes firmness. Since this is a pretty potent formula, it’s advised you start slowly by using it every other night and increase frequency as tolerated.
12. Cos De Baha Glycolic Acid 10% Peel Serum
Hands down, this is the best glycolic acid serum for under $10. What I love most about it is the aloe vera extract base followed by 10% naturally-derived glycolic acid, which translates into both exfoliation and hydration. Besides, the serum is formulated at a pH of 3 to 3.4, which is the value where glycolic acid is most acidic and has the best skin penetration power. The fact that it skips alcohol and fragrance makes it gentle enough even for the most problematic complexions.
Frequently asked questions
- Can I use glycolic acid serum every day?
Serums containing 5-10% glycolic acid can be used nightly if your skin tolerates it. For starters, however, it's recommend to start with the twice-weekly application and increase frequency as tolerated.
- What shouldn't you mix with glycolic acid?
It's best not to mix glycolic acid with other potent actives, such as retinol, vitamin C, or salicylic acid, only if they are in the same formula. When used together, they can over-exfoliate and damage the skin. On the bright side, it's great to use hydrating agents, such as hyaluronic acid together with glycolic acid.
- What percentage of glycolic acid is safe?
Usually, glycolic acid in 5-10% concentrations is ideal for most skin types and should not cause irritations. However, if it's your first time with glycolic acid, start slowly with low-concentrated products.
- Can you leave glycolic acid overnight?
If we're talking about a peeling product, you shouldn't leave it overnight. But as long as you use glycolic acid in a serum or cream, it can be worn all night.