You’ve been relying on alpha-hydroxy acids as your trusty exfoliators, but your sensitive skin may sometimes need a break. Without compromising that instant glow, the gentleness of the best PHA products makes them the perfect addition to your beauty shelf, especially if your complexion is easily reactive.
Polyhydroxy acids are taking the stage as daily exfoliators thanks to their strength in removing old surface-level skin. Not as deep as other acids, PHAs are a better daily driver and more adaptable to most people’s routines. For those of you looking for more freedom in your skincare regimen or if you’re sensitive to other acids, this one is for you. Because they’re less acidic than other exfoliating acids, PHAs can be used by anyone, and they’re found in different formulations, whether you’re an emulsion, cleanser, or toner fan.
Lately, a few PHAs are becoming popular in skincare, namely gluconolactone, galactose, and lactobionic acid. If your routine is taking too long, give them a try. Since PHAs aren’t as restrictive, you wouldn’t have to apply them to a bare face and wait 15 minutes between routine steps. Besides, polyhydroxy acids are great at targeting those stubborn dead cells, clogged pores, and other residues. They work just as well at resurfacing dull skin, smoothing rough patches, minimizing early signs of aging, and brightening the skin.
The best PHA products
We did extensive research and found the best products with polyhydroxy acids for healthy and radiant skin; there’s one for everyone!
Best PHA cleanser
Neostrata PHA Facial Cleanser
This face wash is a great way to kick off your skincare routine because it dissolves makeup and impurities while working to resurface and brighten with 4% gluconolactone. Neostrata’s product even boasts a wow combination of hydrators: not only is gluconolactone a humectant, but the cleanser also benefits from glycine and panthenol. If your skin flushes with most cleansers, the included panthenol is a great way to soothe any irritation. Bonus points because it’s made sans fragrance, alcohol, and essential oil, so anyone can use it.
Best PHA toner
The Inkey List PHA Toner
For fans of the Inkey List, this PHA toner perfectly captures the brand’s identity: straightforward, effective, and wallet-friendly. With the very popular gluconolactone bringing exfoliation, an unexpected addition of aloe leaf juice along with glycerin kicks up the hydration. Long-term acid users have had to separate their actives, but not today. Additionally, niacinamide helps reduce irritation and minimize the appearance of pores — this toner might give you another shot at the Glass Skin Challenge.
Best PHA night treatment
Ole Henriksen Dewtopia 20% Acid Night Treatment
This serum loads a generous amount of 10% PHA plus 10% AHA to exfoliate gently, retexturize, smooth, brighten, and even tone while you rest. In order to counteract possible dryness and soothe skin, the formula packs aloe juice, birch sap, and cotton water. However, if you’re new to acids, you want to integrate this potent serum slowly into your routine, starting with once-a-week use and gradually increasing frequency as your skin adjusts to it.
Best PHA peel
Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength 10% PHA Clarifying Liquid
This PHA liquid exfoliant goes straight to the point with a concentrated formula for maximum skin renewal benefits. For acid lovers, this is your pro-level product since it contains a potent cocktail of 10% gluconolactone, 5% glycolic acid (AHA), and 0.5% salicylic acid (BHA) for that ‘born yesterday’ skin makeover. Besides, it’s gentler than a similar-strength AHA or BHA peel. The added vitamin E further protects against sun sensitivity and softens afterward. Indeed, a game-changer product.
Best PHA exfoliating pads
Neogen Dermalogy Green Tea Moist PHA Gauze Peeling
Neogen has been a longtime favorite for resurfacing pads, and the design shows it. Finger pockets let you take advantage of the two sides; one peeling gauze to remove dead cell buildup and a softer cotton side to help soak in all the active goodness. This skincare superhero does a little of everything. Antioxidant-rich is great for brightening, anti-aging, exfoliation, acne prevention, and all while calming the skin. Besides a bevy of acids, including gluconolactone, these pads also feature cholesterol, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid to plump up newly exfoliated skin and encourage the healing process.
Best leave-on peel
Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Overnight Liquid Peel
This peel loads a supercharged blend of 10% acids, including gluconolactone, alpha-hydroxy acids, and salicylic acid to deliver non-irritating exfoliation while green tea soothes and calms the skin. At the same time, sodium hyaluronate, a more absorbable constituent of hyaluronic acid, penetrates the skin, drawing in long-term hydration. You can just forget it and leave it on your skin because this peel works all night for that perfect next-day complexion.
Best for pores
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA+BHA Pore-Tight Toner
Cute packaging aside, this toner uses actives found in the most effective pore-tightening products: willow bark, tea tree, and betaine salicylate. Together with gluconolactone, they work to clear your pores inside and out. While the oil-soluble betaine salicylate breaks down sebum, PHA removes dead skin and gunk. Meanwhile, more traditional salicylic acid from willow bark and anti-bacterial tea tree prevent further blackheads and pimples. And because some of these actives tend to dry the skin, the formula loads hyaluronic acid to counteract dryness.
Best for acne
PCA Skin Acne Cream
Acne can be a difficult line to tow as stronger acids that fight its causes usually inflame and further irritate sensitive skin. But this is one of the best PHA products to treat acne because it combines super soothing panthenol with the least irritating form of retinol, retinyl palmitate, to maximize skin turnover and healing. The addition of tea tree oil acts as an antibacterial, while lactic acid and vitamin C aim to brighten post-breakout marks. This acne cream also uses two acids, benzoyl peroxide, whose track record in fighting acne is 85 years long, and newcomer gluconolactone to provide greater efficacy and reduce pimples and further breakouts.
Best for brightening
Neutrogena Bright Boost Brightening Moisturizing
Those sparkling faces from beauty ads have the benefit of photoshop, but acids are some of the closest things we have to a blur tool in real life. Rich in mandelic and gluconolactone acids, this PHA moisturizer corrects dark spots and fades dullness for a brighter complexion. The included squalane is a potent emollient that softens skin, while glucosamine is a bleaching agent that hinders the formation of skin discoloration caused by sun damage — goodbye, sunspots! P.S.: You’ll love the gel-like texture that absorbs immediately with no greasy residue and without clogging pores.
Best for early signs of aging
PCA Skin Rejuvenating Serum
When we think of rejuvenation, we often think of medspas and wellness clinics, but this serum is crammed with impressive ingredients to bear the name. EGCG, a nutriceutical attributed to green tea’s anti-aging and healing properties, joins the serum’s team of antioxidants along with tocopherols to fight against photoaging. Gluconolactone resurfaces damaged skin as niacinamide boosts your protective barrier for the freshest, healthiest-looking skin. In the meantime, squalane locks in hydration and, along with peptides, supports collagen and elastin production for a smooth, bouncy complexion. In other news, PCA Skin Rejuvenating Serum is one of the best PHA products with anti-aging benefits you can use to keep fine lines and wrinkles at bay. A winner!
Best PHA eye cream
Neostrata PHA Eye Cream
Acids are great for fighting aging marks, and since the eye area often shows the first signs of aging, targeted acid products are uncommon for this sensitive area. Containing an ultra-soothing and hydrating blend rich in fatty vitamin E and green tea, this eye cream does wonders to plump and revitalizes the skin under the eyes without irritating or dehydrating. It also uses glycerin and sodium hyaluronate to retain moisture and burst hydration while the gentle gluconolactone resurfaces the skin, antioxidants fight inflammation, and caffeine decreases undereye puffiness by shrinking blood vessels.
The bottom line
As you can see, polyhydroxy acids are found in all kinds of products with different formulas that address various skin concerns. From cleansers, toners, and serums to facial peels and exfoliants, PHAs have found their way into every type of skincare formulation thanks to their versatility and gentle nature. To unlock great results, pick a product according to your skin condition and goals. While the above list is a good start to make a better idea about the best PHA products on the market, there might be other options out there that could be a better fit for you. Remember that skincare is a trial-and-error process, so be open to trying different products until you find something that will really make a difference.