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Glycolic acid – what it is, and the best skincare products

Exfoliating acids like glycolic acid have surged in popularity in the last few years; you may have heard some of the hype, but aren’t quite sure what it’s all about. Luckily for you, we’re well acquainted with skincare acids and their incredible complexion-boosting benefits.

Intrigued? Read on for everything you need to know about this wonder ingredient, plus the glycolic acid products that team Marie Claire swears by.

What is glycolic acid?

‘Glycolic acid is one of the smallest molecules of the alpha-hydroxy acid family, meaning it is water-soluable and penetrates deeply into the skin,’ explains Mark Curry, co-founder of The Inkey List. ‘Our glycolic acid comes from sugar cane.

‘It penetrates deeply into the skin and “un-glues” dead skin cells and removes them from the skin, making skin brighter and evening out skin tone – all while encouraging new cells to appear.

‘This is a high-impact formula excellent for ageing skin, acne-prone skin and uneven skin. It’s suitable for all skin types, but those with sensitive skin need to start once or twice a week and build up.’

glycolic acid skincare

Glycolic acid peels

Max-strength chemical peels, in the traditional sense of the word, are performed by a professional, but you can buy some less powerful (and less expensive), 15-minute treatments that you can do in the comfort of your own home.

These usually contain an active ingredient of glycolic or lactic acid, or combination of several usually around the 10% mark. Try Lancer’s Caviar Lime Acid Peel, which also contains retinol for an anti-ageing boost, or Superdrug Naturally Radiant Glycolic Overnight Peel for a lower price point.

These usually cause a slight warming sensation on the face, so don’t be alarmed that you’re having a bad reaction if your face starts to tingle or if there’s some redness after using. Remember: Tingling not burning – if it’s seriously painful then rinse from your face immediately.

Glycolic acid toners

AHA toners leave your skin brighter and fresher looking as they slough off pore-blocking dead skin cells from the surface. If you choose to use one in the morning rather than at night time, remember to always follow up with a high-factor SPF, as the freshly-revealed skin underneath will be especially sensitive.

Dr Dennis Gross’ Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel are pre-soaked pads and a great choice for gentle exfoliation on a daily basis – start with the ‘Ultra Gentle’ version if you’re a bit apprehensive or have sensitive skin.

Glycolic acid solutions should be introduced to your skin gradually. Start with once a week with a 5% exfoliant (or less if your skin is particularly sensitive), then build your way up to as much as every evening if you feel necessary.

Keep scrolling for team Marie Claire‘s favourite and most effective glycolic acid products that we always keep in our bathroom cabinets.

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