Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are a type of naturally-occurring acid that appears in a myriad of skincare products and treatments. Derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid is the most common AHA. Read on and discover the 7 best glycolic acid products available over the counter:

What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid has earned this distinction of being the most popular AHA because of its indisputable results. There is an abundance of research that backs up the claims of its effectiveness, making it the gold standard for skincare enthusiasts and experts. Overtime, expect smooth and radiant complexion, a reduction to your acne breakouts, and even improve the appearance of acne scarring.

This versatile acid is useful as a stand-alone treatment or combined with other skincare products to deliver a more powerful punch. Glycolic acid may also increase the absorption of other products for better results. Of all of the AHAs on the market, glycolic acid is the least likely to cause irritation to the skin. Together, all of these uses make glycolic acid the king of exfoliation.

7 of the Best Glycolic Acid Products (Over the Counter)

The following are the best over the counter glycolic products available today.

1. Paula's Choice 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant (For Acne)

Paula's Choice 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant (For Acne)

It's no surprise that Paula's Choice 8% glycolic acid has a cult like following

Paula's Choice is an undisputed leader in skincare products and this AHA gel is no exception. This leave-on exfoliant encourages a younger-looking and clear complexion by stripping away the dead skin cells. The product boasts a quality combination of gentle ingredients to deliver visible results. The light-weight gel does not make the skin greasy. The gel exfoliant provides hydration through the active antioxidants from the plant extracts. This hydration reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. You can choose to use this product once or twice daily, depending on your individual skincare needs and tolerance.

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2. Alpha Skin Care Essential Renewal Lotion (Wrinkles)

 Alpha Skin Care Essential Renewal Lotion (Body Lotion)

Alpha Skincare Renewal Lotion is an affordable glycolic acid option for those with a tight budget

This anti-aging lotion contains 10% glycolic acid, delivering a host of benefits to the skin each time you slather it on your face. Your skin will immediately feel fresher and smoother. With regular use, this drugstore glycolic acid product will lift off the dead skin cells to promote the emergence of healthier skin. By boosting the production of collagen, the tell-tale signs of aging such as surface wrinkles and fine lines will begin to diminish. This formulation is free of irritating fragrances and parabens. The product is ideal for normal to dry skin types.

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3. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (For Acne)

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (For Acne)

The Ordinary's 7% glycolic acid toning solution is a great choice for fighting acne and balancing your skin tone

This toning solution contains a unique balance of 7% glycolic acid combined with aloe vera, ginseng, and Tasmanian pepper berry. The product is a quality exfoliant, providing clarity and a more refined skin texture with each use. Use this product once per day, ideally at night. You will feel good about using this cruelty-free and vegan product that does not contain the use of alcohol, oil, silicone, nuts, or gluten.

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4. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum (For Wrinkles)

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum (For Wrinkles)

Looking to splurge? Drunk Elephant is an excellent OTC glycolic product for those really looking for that extra oomph.. with added white tea leaf

This premium night serum combines both glycolic and salicylic acid to provide a powerful one-two punch. The addition of yeast extract works to minimize stress to the skin while the white tea leaf extract provides a dose of antioxidants to soothe the skin. By resurfacing dull and tired skin, the serum leaves behind a refreshed and radiant complexion. This serum works well with other treatments because it enhances the absorption rate and effectiveness with additional products. The natural product does not contain essential oils, silicones, or any type of fragrance.

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5. AHA+ Glycolic Acid - 10% (For Acne) AHA+ Glycolic Acid - 10% (For Acne)

Blemishes and acne?'s 10% glycolic acid target treatment is a great combat tool at an affordable pricepoint

This powerful exfoliant contains a formula boasting 10% glycolic acid, making it a significant weapon in the fight against dull and blemished skin. This non-comedogenic product goes on clear so that you are not dealing with the messy aftermath. The treatment spreads easily to reach the areas that need it the most. The fragrance-free and dye-free product also contains licochalcone to calm skin that is prone to blemishes and acne outbreaks. You can use this product as a spot treatment or as a preventative measure.

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6. Pixi Glow Tonic (Hydrating + Bright Complexion)

Pixi Glow Tonic (Hydrating + Bright Complexion)

Pixi Glow is available in most drugstores (CVS, Walmart) and contains 5% glycolic acid

This highly concentrated facial glycolic toner digs deep into the skin's pores to wash away dirt, oil, and other impurities. The end result is a complexion that is fresh and bright. This drugstore glycolic product cleanses and exfoliates with each usage. The alcohol-free tonic is for use day or night. In addition to the 5% glycolic acid, the product also contains red ginseng to energize and revitalize tired and dull skin by boosting circulation. The versatile treatment also contains aloe vera, delivering a soothing and hydrating sensation to the skin. The Pixi Glow Tonic is suitable for all skin types, making it a good choice for nearly anyone who is looking to incorporate the use of glycolic acid into their skincare regiment.

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7. COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid (For Acne)

COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid (For Acne)

Another brand that has amassed a cult like following - COSRX 7% glycolic acid is perfect for acne, evening out skin tone, and overall improved complexion

This custom renewal serum boasts a host of uses, all leaning on the power of glycolic acid to deliver strong results. The treatment first works by diving into the pores to remove sebum and other harmful impurities. With a formulation containing a concentration of 7% glycolic acid, you will feel good knowing that your skin is receiving a vital boost of exfoliating power with each use. The inclusion of 2% niacinamide means that the skin will take on a brighter and more radiant appearance. The entire COSRX line of products is cruelty-free.

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Benefits of Using Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid works by stripping away dead skin cells so that skin is fresh and unblemished as new cells generate. As the new skin cells emerge, the complexion is more radiant and brighter.

  1. Hydration: The treatment also supports the skin's moisture retention efforts so that the skin is properly hydrated. This AHA is also used to mitigate the natural aging process by stimulating the production of collagen.
  2. Collagen Boosting: Collagen is the fiber that encourages firm and plump skin. The right amount of glycolic acid can reverse the sun's damage and help to fend off sunken and sagging skin. This anti-aging effect will also minimize the appearance of fine lines and surface wrinkles so that the skin looks younger.
  3. Helping Hyperpigmentation: Some users also swear by the ability of glycolic acid to treat moderate cases of skin hyperpigmentation. Because glycolic acid promotes rapid cell turnover, the skin becomes more even in its pigmentation.
  4. Acne-Fighting: Additionally, glycolic helps get rid of acne acne because it prevents clogs from forming.
  5. Reducing Appearance of Scars: AHAs are suitable for use on the other parts of the body in s addition to the face. Although glycolic acid will not make acne scars fade completely, regular use may improve the appearance of pitted acne scars.

How to Use Glycolic Acid Products

Over the counter glycolic acid products are for use after you have thoroughly cleansed the skin. Pat the skin dry with a clean towel and then apply the glycolic acid product of your choice. After this application, you can continue your skincare regimen with any treatments, serums, or moisturizers of your choice.

Glycolic Acid Safety Tips

There are a variety of safety tips that you can employ to reduce your risk of irritation or reaction when using glycolic acid. Because this acid makes your skin more sensitive, you should get in the habit of using a daily sunscreen. Picking a sunscreen that prevents tanning will yield the best results.

You can also use the AHAs at night to avoid exposure to the sun and to boost the absorption efficacy. Lastly, discontinue the use of the product immediately if you notice any skin irritation. You do not want to make the problem worse by continuing to use the product.

The Bottom Line

Glycolic acid is a powerful agent in the fight against blemished, discolored, and uneven skin. The acid is a common ingredient in a variety of skincare products over various methods of applications, including serums, toners, and creams. And yes, drugstore glyolic acid products work just as great as their expensive counterparts.

While it may take a little research and experimentation to find the best glycolic acid product for your specific skin type and needs, the right formulation has the potential of delivering powerful results. As one of the most researched and proven types of AHAs, it is no wonder that glycolic acid is so popular with skincare enthusiasts.